Tag: Va

Tuesday’s Elections Prove There’s No Such Thing as “Purple Virginia”

Northern Virginia is going a different way from the rest of the state, particularly on density and transportation.

The results of Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, leaving the commonwealth with a term-limited Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature, are surely fodder for hacks who want to pump up the notions of bipartisanship and political enemies working together. Surely, Governor Terry McAuliffe will have to find some way to negotiate his desires for a Medicaid expansion and limits on gun ownership with a General Assembly run by GOP members from the southern and western parts of the state.

“That makes collaboration and good-faith negotiation—oriented toward crafting sound policy, rather than partisan gain—even more vital to lawmakers’ ability to represent Virginians’ interests in the coming legislative session,” reads a morning-after editorial in the Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach.

But stripping away the fact that scuffling with a Republican legislature might distract McAuliffe from his top priority for 2016—delivering Virginia’s electoral votes to his friend Hillary Rodham Clinton—Tuesday’s results were actually pretty good for progressive interests in the DC suburbs. Two retiring members of the Arlington County Board were replaced by Democrats, leaving independent John Vihstadt as the body’s singular minority; Loudoun County voters elected a Democratic county chairwoman and two Democrats to a board that was previously all-Republican; and voters in a suburban state Senate district rejected a candidate who made his campaign about opposing proposed tolls on Interstate 66.

Even if McAuliffe’s hopes for expanding low-income healthcare access and imposing some level of gun control are dashed next year by rural conservatives, Northern Virginia separated itself further from the rest of the commonwealth, particularly with respect to density and transportation.

“I think that indeed you are seeing sustained support for smart growth,” says Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarther Growth, which advocates for greater implementation of transit and dense, urban development.

Arlington’s newest board members, Christian Dorsey and Katie Kristol, both ran on pro-transit platforms, perhaps giving the county a chance to pull away from the brink of becoming a soulless suburb. The Fairfax County Board’s incumbents mostly swept on Tuesday, leaving in power a group that has favored increased infrastructure spending in the county’s commercial corridors, especially on Metro and, most recently, Capital Bikeshare, which is coming to Reston.

Even Alexandria’s mayoral race might not be so bad for pro-growth idealists. Alison Silberberg, who favors “thoughtful, appropriate” projects—a blow to the developers seeking to rebuild the city’s waterfront as well as advocates of multi-modal transport—beat four-term incumbent Bill Euille’s write-in campaign. But Alexandria’s other incumbent council members were re-elected, and Silberberg’s biggest selling point was the rather broad promise of improving the city government’s community engagement. “That appears to be an endorsement in the direction Alexandria was going, balancing growth and historic preservation,” Schwartz says.

But the most encouraging result for the smart-growth set in Fairfax County might be in the state Senate race in which Jeremy McPike beat Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish. The Republican Parrish bombarded airwaves with ads stating his rigid opposition to a McAuliffe proposal to implement tolls I-66 during rush hours to relieve congestion on the typically clogged highway. While McPike also said he opposed the toll plan, Parrish’s message didn’t stick with voters; other local Democratic legislators who were hit with similar anti-toll attacks also won.

“Trying to do complicated transportation policy in an election year isn’t easy,” Schwartz says. “When you look at the options for 66 inside the Beltway, [the Virginia Department of Transportation] has come up with the best option for that corridor. It’s not an option to widen that corridor from Ballston in.”

The VDOT plan currently proposes collecting tolls from vehicles with fewer than three occupants traveling in peak directions during rush hours, with some of the revenue being used to pay for Metro and other alternative modes of transportation. Schwartz says simply widening the highway would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, result in the destruciton of numerous communities bordering the road, and funnel even more traffic onto DC roads that cannot handle the additional volume. While the toll proposal will almost certainly be tweaked many times, Schwartz says implementing it inside the Beltway could set a strong example for the outer suburbs, where officials favor building additional highway lanes, which are expensive and almost always result in more congestion by encouraging more cars to get on the road, a phenomenon transportation planners call “induced demand.”

But the outer suburbs might be taking steps that would surprise inner-Beltway eggheads. Two of the Democrats elected last night in Loudoun County are black, including County Chairwoman-elect Phyllis Randall; previously, the county’s current leadership is made up entirely of white Republicans. In Sterling, Koran Saines, a human-resources manager with Aramark, knocked off long-time incumbent Eugene Delgaudio, who is known best for his often toxic right-wing agitprop. Saines ran on expanding public transportation and building more transit-oriented real-estate developments; Delgaudio once called the Silver Line “a crazy circumstance in which the general public is going to get raped or not get raped.”

“I think what you have here is as much a reflection of changing demographics as anything else,” Schwartz says. “It reflects the diversity that is Loudoun today.”

To be sure, Democratic wins in Northern Virginia do not guarantee tolls on I-66, a wholesale expansion of express bus lines and Capital Bikeshare stations, or a solid timeline for Metro’s extenstion to Dulles. Many facets of those issues will continue to be negotiated in Richmond, which remains under the control of exurban and rural delegates far from Washington and who openly loathe McAuliffe and Clinton. But the results suggest that Northern Virginia continues to tilt toward greater adoption of alternative modes of transportation like rail and cycling, denser commercial and residential development particularly near transit hubs, and the will to pay for it.

Fairfax board to vote on Seven Corners plan that has sparked heated debate

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to move forward with an ambitious redevelopment plan for the traffic-choked Seven Corners area.

The plan to create three villages in the area would add several thousand new homes to the neighborhood, along with restaurants and shops and a new grid of streets that could draw local traffic away from the confusing Seven Corners intersection that is often backed up with cars and trucks.

Tuesday’s vote would addresses changes to county planning guidelines for Seven Corners that would allow the redevelopment to happen.

Residents from the neighborhoods of single-family homes that surround Seven Corners have opposed some aspects of the plan, arguing that it would bring in too much density and worsen traffic in the area, which is home to the Seven Corners Shopping Center.

Earlier this month, the county planning commission passed an amended version of the original plan that attempted to address community concerns. Though the plan’s new version reduced by several hundred units the overall number of new homes and apartments to be created – bringing the total closer to 5,000 — it still faces some opposition.

“It’s trending in the right direction, but if you talk to people and say it’s 5,000 units . . . in the Seven Corners area, they go: Whoa,” said Marty Machowsky, a local homeowner who who plans to testify during a public hearing scheduled Tuesday before the vote.

“How many total people does that mean and how many more cars will that generate?” Machowsky said. “We can hardly get through the Seven Corners area on a Saturday now.”

County officials say the plan’s latest version makes several compromises in response to community concerns. Among them are worries about school overcrowding that would result from adding more residents.

County executive Edward L. Long and Fairfax schools superintendent Karen Garza have agreed to work toward building a new school on the site of a former elementary school in the area that is now home to a multicultural center serving low-income immigrants who live nearby, officials said.

The site of the former Willston Elementary School would also feature a second building that would house a day care, social services for school families and the multicultural center, said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason,) who represents the area.

“That is going to be many years in the future because there is no money right now,” Gross said, about the idea of a new “urban-style school” inside a high-rise building. “But we are committed.”

Gross said the overall redevelopment plan is an attempt to bring new life to an area of Fairfax County that has been worn down since the Seven Corners mall was a regional draw for shoppers during the 1950s and ‘60s. She called it a road map for what Fairfax County will look like in the next 50 years.

“We need to make that whole area is ready for all the newcomers who are going to be coming here,” Gross said. “We need to make sure that the community that is being developed is what they would like to live in.”

Urban planning groups say the kind of walkable, transit-friendly communities envisioned for Seven Corners are needed in aging suburbs that have become homes to mostly vacant office buildings and discount stores with little commercial traffic.

“The future of Fairfax lies in these aging commercial corridors,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smart Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”

Michelle Krocker, who heads the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said there aren’t enough guarantees in the plan to keep lower-income families from being pushed out, which could have long-term repercussions for the Washington region.

“If there’s no place for them to live affordably, we potentially lose them as employees in the area or they move far out into the hinterlands,” Krocker said. “And, then they’d have to commute in, and that’s problematic for everybody.”

Read original article here.