Dissatisfaction with the Arlington Ashlawn Elementary School expansion project resulted from approval of the Manchester Street entrance, which will pave over a bucolic hill in a sensitive watershed area to put in a parking lot and drop-off loop. This decision was inconsistent with Ashlawn parents’ desire to: 1) preserve green space; 2) minimize disparity between old and new building conditions.
To satisfy their concerns, I advised County Board at a March 15 Board meeting to tell Arlington Public Schools (APS) to:
1) restore the Manchester hill and replace the mature trees that were removed from it when the road carved into the hill is no longer needed for construction;
2) implement a more environmentally friendly Montague Street entrance with a nature friendly boardwalk rather than an impermeable concrete ramp;
3) scrap the parking loop and utilize the savings to renovate the existing school building.
Instead County Board was stampeded into approving a permit to destroy twice as many trees as the original permit even though it was abundantly clear that APS had forced its will upon the community by:
1) delaying the E2C2, Planning Commission (PC), and Transportation Commission (TC) reviews till the last minute;
2) compelling the PC to meet before the TC findings were available;
3) insisting on May 18, 2013 that a one month delay to consider alternatives to the loop was not feasible even though construction did not begin till five months later;
4) filing an amended use permit without seeking prior input from the community, PFRC and E2C2.
Although APS has acknowledged some lessons learned, larger process issues should be the subject of county review. The current process is not designed to solicit meaningful public input but to placate resistance. It does not evaluate options but allows APS and County staff to run roughshod over other stakeholders. Outcomes are determined prior to the necessary approvals. Certainly enforcement of the use permit amendment process is a dead letter as far as APS is concerned. This is unacceptable. Even more unacceptable is the fact that the County will not hold APS to the same rules as everyone else seeking permits to build in Arlington County.