Category: Arlington

Take Action: Show your support for missing middle housing

Dear Sonya,

There are just two days left to provide your input on Arlington’s Missing Middle Study. You will find the presentation thought-provoking about the housing challenges facing Arlington, and by responding to the questions you will help us all think about the impact of high housing costs and options for addressing Arlington’s housing needs.

View the presentation and provide feedback  

What is missing middle housing? “Missing middle” refers to the range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Having different types and sizes of homes helps provide more options at different price points. Examples of missing middle housing include duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes. These images are some examples shared in Arlington’s Missing Middle presentation.

The opportunity to provide feedback ends December 31. Visit Arlington’s Missing Middle Study website for more information and to provide your input today!

CSG Testimony re Amazon & Affordable Housing

Coalition for Smarter Growth

March 14, 2019

Arlington County Board

Suite #300

2100 Clarendon Blvd

Arlington, VA 22201


Re:  Amazon incentive package and community needs

Dear Chair Dorsey and members of the Board:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading non-profit in the DC region advocating a network of livable communities – walkable, mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented centers and corridors linked by an expanded transit network including Metrorail, bus, bus rapid transit, light-rail, and street-car as appropriate. Our partnerships span the region’s leading conservation, affordable housing, bicycle/pedestrian, and transit advocacy organizations, as well as progressive architecture, planning and development firms. We are proud that this web of partnerships enabled us to collectively win the first-ever dedicated funding for Metro.

We support Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City/Pentagon City. Their decision is a vindication of Arlington’s long-time leadership and implementation of smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD). It is a vindication as well of our regional advocacy for TOD and of the Council of Governments’ Region Forwardvision and Visualize2045transportation plan commitments to TOD. Amazon is also teaming with one of the region’s most successful transit-oriented developers, JBGSmith, who have a record of good design and placemaking, and recently started a workforce housing fund.

Turning now to the proposed incentives program. We join others in the long-standing concerns about the nationwide use of incentives to attract major corporate entities – particularly given so many socio-economic needs in our communities. But we also recognize that both Arlington and the State of Virginia incentives are performance based. Arlington’s incentives are also being drawn from the growth in revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax, of which 15% will go to Amazon for performance but the remainder to schools, housing and transportation in Arlington. We are pleased that the state transportation investments are among the most progressive seen in the U.S. in that they are focused on transit, bicycle/pedestrian and safe street design investments.

A new area of concern raised by Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government must be addressed – that the proposed agreement includes a provision allowing Amazon “at least two-business days to refute, redact or file a lawsuit when someone seeks records of its interaction with the county” (P. Sullivan, Washington Post, 3/15/19). At CSG we have always placed transparency in government at the core of community planning and engagement and strongly support ever greater transparency in FOIA standards and fewer exemptions. Therefore, this provision which Ms. Rhyne says is unusual, should be removed from the agreement.

While we are supporting the Amazon transit-oriented project, we share the significant concerns about housing affordability in Arlington and the region – an issue which admittedly predates Amazon. While Arlington and Alexandria are pledging $150 million toward affordable housing needs over ten years, our understanding is that these are not new, additional funds. It is good that the Virginia Housing Development Authority will be allocating $15 million per year over five years in low interest loans for affordable housing and added $3 million to the statewide Virginia Housing Trust Fund. But this level of investment is also far short of the need. Since Arlington notes that increased revenues will result from Amazon’s investment and associated development and economic activity, we urge the use of a significant portion of those revenues for affordable housing – to double or more the current annual commitments. We urge the same for Alexandria, Fairfax, and the state.

As for the state commitment to affordable housing, we need to point out the discrepancy between $750 million in incentives for Amazon and $50 million for Micron, while only adding $3 million to the state housing trust fund and the five-year, $15 million per year loan program for Northern Virginia. Similarly, the comparison between the billions we spend on highways and interchanges is stunning when compared to how little we are investing in affordable housing. In fact, housing close to jobs and transit IS a transportation solution, reducing vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled. Investing in affordable housing in smart growth locations creates far more benefits than do our massive highway expenditures, providing family stability, improved health, improved educational outcomes, improved access to jobs and affordable transportation, and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we need both much more public funding support from the state and local governments, but also innovative private sector investment in long-term committed affordable housing for 60 percent of area median income and below.

Beyond funding, we concur with many other groups that we need effective preservation strategies for market-rate affordable housing in our diverse neighborhoods that are potentially impacted by the economic development that will come with Amazon. Arlington, DC, Alexandria and advocates at CSG and the member groups of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance have many ideas for effective tools for both preservation and inclusion of affordable housing, and we need a stronger commitment and an accelerated approach to implementation in each jurisdiction with the full participation of local residents.

Turning back to transportation, and Amazon’s role, we are pleased that Amazon has achieved about a 50% mode share for non-auto commutes in Seattle and has promised that they want to do even better here. We recommend a goal of 65% non-auto mode share. To achieve this, we recommend that Amazon provide transit passes to all employees, and that they minimize on-site parking (as they have discussed) — and price it OR offer equal non-parking benefits to any employee who might be eligible for or offered a parking space but wishes to take transit, walk or bike to work. Include secure bicycle parking, along with showers and lockers for bike commuters.

In addition, the state, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and local jurisdictions should add other projects to the package of transportation investments including:

  • Connecting Metroway through Alexandria to Fairfax’ Embark Richmond Highway BRT
  • Accelerating the Long Bridge rail project and building the separated bike bridge
  • In the I-395 Corridor provide TOD node-to-node bus rapid transit connections between Fort Belvoir, Springfield, Landmark, Mark Center, Shirlington, Pentagon City/Crystal City and Pentagon (and a Kingstown to Van Dorn to Landmark connection).
  • Expansion of Capital Bikeshare
  • Expansion of dedicated bike lane infrastructure

In conclusion, we support Amazon’s location decision, but we urge you to fix the FOIA issue, to advance these additional transportation projects in partnership with other jurisdictions, AND commit to increasing funding for affordable housing, adopting new tools for preservation and inclusion, and including the community in the development of these strategies and programs.

Thank you.

Stewart Schwartz

Executive Director

Arlington’s streetcar is dead. Now what?

As streetcar projects around the U.S. continue to be a magnet for either giddy anticipation or derision — and often both — officials last month voted to kill one such transit plan just outside of Washington, D.C. After an election last month where a county board member who had campaigned on an anti-streetcar platform won a seat by a large margin, the Arlington County Board voted to cancel its long-planned, 7.4-mile streetcar system.

John Vihstadt (I) won his seat in a low-turnout special election last year but on Nov. 4th, won re-election by a wide margin, again campaigning on an anti-streetcar platform. The election, board members said, was a proxy for voter sentiment against the streetcar, which was approved eight years ago and has been in the planning stages since.

“It was disappointing,” board chairman Jay Fisette says. In a statement he made last month, he elaborated: “We … were caught flat-footed when organized opposition to the streetcar surfaced in just the last year or so.”

Just outside of Washington, D.C., Arlington County has an exceptional smart-growth record, with an “incredible” track record of “planning and integrating land use, transportation and … housing,” Fisette says. Forty percent of transit trips in the Commonwealth of Virginia begin or end in Arlington, and while the county’s population has increased by 40 percent over the past three decades, traffic on many major arterials has remained at 1979 levels or even dropped.

So the decision to terminate the streetcar wasn’t just surprising, it was somewhat unprecedented in Arlington. Yet, the motion adopted by the board Nov. 18th authorizes the county manager to “terminate all … agreements the purpose of which are to implement the streetcar projects.” It also instructs the manager to research how the discontinuance of the streetcar will affect the county’s plans for transportation, development and affordable housing and to come up with an alternative solution.

Some advocates — including Fisette himself — are a little skeptical. “I continue to be … supportive of the streetcar as the preferred, the optimal way forward, for transit, for moving people, for creating place and for generating future revenue for the county,” he says.

Others are a bit more blunt. “Really, there’s no plan B,” says Stewart Schwartz, director of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supported the streetcar plan.

Streetcar opponents like Vihstadt argued that bus rapid transit would have been just as efficient but cost much less than the streetcar, whose price tag had reached $550 million. But on much of the streetcar’s proposed route on Columbia Pike, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said it wouldn’t allow a dedicated lane for BRT (it wouldn’t have allowed a dedicated streetcar lane either). That makes true BRT impossible, “so what you’re really comparing it to is the most enhanced bus possible,” says Fisette, “with different features of the streetcar like off-board fare collection” or articulated buses with larger capacity. All those options are on the table for county staff to examine, but come with additional complications, Fisette notes.

Bendy buses would be the first in Northern Virginia, so the county would have to find a place to store and maintain them, which adds additional cost. Streetcar advocates have also noted the extra wear and tear on the road of hundreds of bus trips per day, and the costs of having to re-do some of the county’s planning work.

Affordable Housing Plan in Limbo

The streetcar was part of a plan for growing and preserving affordable housing in one of the remaining affordable areas of the increasingly wealthy Arlington.

“They [the county] worried that they were losing affordable housing through attrition,” Schwartz says. “Garden apartments were being upgraded with granite countertops and then rented back out at higher rents, resulting in gradual displacement over time.” To combat this, the county planned to incentivize development along Columbia Pike and offer density bonuses for developers willing to include affordable housing.

This area is now expected to attract two-thirds of the county’s population growth and half of its employment growth over the next 30 years, and some of that — no doubt spurred in part by the streetcar planning process — is already underway. Without the streetcar, that growth will either wither away, or grow as planned, but cause more traffic jams than the county wants.

What’s sad, Schwartz said, is how the debate turned. “This is a county … known for their consultation with the community over many years, and they’d done their homework,” he says. But there was a “concerted campaign” on the anti-streetcar side. “An election is the worst place to debate a complicated land use and transportation problem … so enough doubt was cast and the project went down.”

View the original article on Next City.

Officials to consider road widening, HOT lanes through Arlington portion of I-66

The state’s plans for an environmental assessment come as transportation officials are also moving forward on improvements outside the Beltway — plans that include building new high-occupancy toll roads in place of HOV lanes, creating space for rail and implementing other traffic-calming measures.

Guest Commentary: The Fairfax-Arlington streetcar – What’s next?

Boiled down to its basics, our region and each locality stand between two options –continue auto-dependent growth and try to expand highways and arterial roads to support that growth, or invest to a much greater extent in transit and transit-oriented communities with a focus on redevelopment of commercial corridors

Vihstadt victory could signal sea change in Arlington politics

The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.

“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”

The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.

Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.

It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.

“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”

County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.

“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”

Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.

“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.

“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,’” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”

While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.

“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”

Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.

Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”

“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”

Read the original article here.