Arlington’s Housing Conservation District: A Cruel Joke

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on March 17,2018.

On December 16, 2017 Arlington County Board adopted a Housing Conservation District (HCD) zoning overlay that effectively declared a moratorium on demolition of garden apartments in Westover and elsewhere in the County until a policy could be worked out providing landlords with incentives to preserve the buildings rather than demolish them.

In February tenants of 5709 and 5715 10th Road North located in the HCD learned from County officials that the moratorium did not spare them from eviction. They all must get out as per notices received from the landlord on January 31, 2018. Continue reading

Pricing Carbon in Virginia?

I am speaking on my own behalf. My remarks have not been authorized by nor do they reflect the position of any organization with which I have ever been associated.

I support adoption of Executive Directive 11 (ED 11), which directs the State Air Pollution Control Board to regulate carbon emissions in Virginia through a cap and trade program. I further support the regulation’s requirement that Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as the most efficient way to price carbon in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Virginia Sierra Club has provided statistics showing both the need for this rule and the economic and health benefits to be derived.

However Sierra Club has omitted a key fact–namely that the General Assembly is owned by Dominion Resources, which will see to it that any carbon emissions regulation contemplated by the Pollution Control Board proves a dead letter. To those who doubt that Dominion has purchased the best legislature that money can buy, a few statistics should suffice.

According to Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), Dominion donated almost $1 million to political causes in Virginia in 2017, including $369,000 to Republicans, $317,000 to Democrats, $175,000 to Senate candidates and caucuses, and $210,000 to HOD candidates and caucuses. Continue reading

Citizen Opposition to High Density Ballston Development Quashed

Remarks at Arlington County Board Meeting on February 24, 2018.

While ignoring citizen concerns about the impacts of high density development is routine in Arlington County, there are two remarkable features about the plan to densify North Ballston:

  1. At its February 12 meeting, 2018, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan even though the developer rejected its modest recommendation to limit the development to six stories and maintain a thirty foot separation between the proposed apartment building and the south wing of the Westview condominium.
  2. County staff contradicted itself in arguing that the quiet enjoyment of Westview Condominium residents would not be disturbed.

Regarding the first point, Commissioner Iacomini opined at the February 12, 2018 Planning Commission meeting that despite her misgivings about the plan, it would be “churlish” not to go along with it.

Commissioner Iacomini did not elucidate why it would be churlish to stand her ground on recommendations that she herself proposed. Evidently the Commissioner was cowed by County Board’s earlier rejection of her recommendations on advice of County staff. What this ethic implies is that whenever a commissioner is overruled, he/she ought to roll over.

Regarding the second point, County staff acknowledged in its report that both sunlight and views will be disturbed by the development.

The building will cast a new shadow to the east onto the 9-story Westview building during the spring, summer, and fall during the afternoon and evening hours. However, the shadowing at this specific site is more related to the heights of buildings, and it is unlikely that adjusting the placement of the subject building by several feet will have an effect on the shadows being cast onto the existing buildings. In addition, the shadow studies show that for much of the year, the existing Westview buildings will cast shadows onto the new building. The placement of the subject building will not result in a detrimental impact to the existing Westview buildings’ access to sunlight. p. 31.

What this means is that because building height is the culprit, building separation doesn’t matter, and because both the new high rise and the existing condominium will produce shadows, there will be no detrimental impact on Westview neighbors.

With rationalizations like these, it is no wonder that staff has also concluded that impacts in the form of increased congestion and student enrollment will also be negligible.

In the larger scheme of things, none of these impacts matter. All that matters is the financial impact of the development, which will enrich both the developer and the County.

School Board Squirreling Away Unspent Funds

Remarks at Arlington County School Board Meeting on January 18, 2018.

Welcome members of the School Board, the Superintendent and APS Staff. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. The Superintendent’s FY17 Closeout Presentation indicates the availability of $18.1 million to spend, consisting of budget savings and increased tax revenue from the County. Of these funds, the Superintendent proposes to allocate the majority–$11.8 million–to reserve accounts, including:

  • $6 million to the Compensation Reserve,
  • $3.8 million to the Capital Reserve, and
  • $2 million to the Debt Service Reserve.

These funds will be added to existing reserve accounts, which–as indicated by the sum of reserve items listed in Resolution 4 before you tonight–total $83.7 million. They will thus bring APS reserve accounts to $95.5 million or 15.5 percent of the adopted FY18 budget of $613.6 million. This is excessive.
Continue reading

Stop Paving Over Parkland

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

While I generally support the Framework Plan for Benjamin Banneker Park, I oppose the widening of the multi-use trails from 8 feet to 12 feet with a ten foot minimum.

First, most of the park lies within a resource protection area (RPA) defined by the watershed created by Four Mile Run. Four Mile Run Trail runs close to the stream throughout the park—as close as three feet from the stream bank in some areas. Continue reading

Housing Conservation Districts: the Solution to Ongoing Demolitions

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

I support County staff’s proposal to create a Housing Conservation District (HCD) consisting of the remaining affordable neighborhoods in the County, as well as the incentives provided to preserve the garden apartments therein. Continue reading

Thanks for Your Support

First, I want to thank you for your support for my recent campaign for Arlington County Board. I got 17,415 votes–23.6 percent of the total. This is good, considering that I’m an independent, and the Democrat at the top of the ticket, Ralph Northam, got 80 percent of the Arlington County vote in what turned out to be a lopsided referendum against Donald Trump.

My campaign would have gotten little traction without your support, and I’m glad you provided me with the opportunity to get my message to the public.

While my opponents cast themselves as progressives, they offered few specifics on the campaign trail on how to address the key issues facing this county, among them:

  • An 18 percent office vacancy rate, with government tenants searching for lower rents elsewhere in northern Virginia;
  • Continued gentrification of the county with at least 13,500 affordable units lost since 2000 and most of the remaining soon to be recycled into luxury condos and townhouses;
  • Continued erosion of parkland in the face of massive redevelopment of the Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City corridors.
  • No plan for how to address proposed Trump budget cuts that may cost Northern Virginia 10,000 jobs.

Rest assured that I will continue to raise these issues in public forums, and I will lobby for the solutions I advocated during the campaign.

Thanks again for your support for democratic action, which is the Arlington Way.

PRESS RELEASE: County Won’t Give Back Surplus Generated By Tax Rate Increase

Are you concerned about your steadily rising real estate taxes or rent? If so, you should know why the cost of living in Arlington County is so high.

It begins every year with the County Manager’s allocation of your surplus tax dollars for pet projects.

This year actual revenue received for the fiscal year ending June, 2017 exceeded a third quarter estimate published in April, 2017 by almost $18 million. Of that $5.5 million was due to a 1.5 cent real estate tax rate increase that County Board adopted in April, 2017.

Because the tax rate is set in April, County Board relies on its third quarter estimates in April to gauge how much additional revenue it will need in the next fiscal year. County Board knew in April, 2017 that a 1.5 cent tax rate increase was unnecessary, because its April revenue estimate exceeded the adopted FY17 budget by $7.5 million.

The surplus funds were available then to meet its anticipated FY19 shortfall. With the tax increase and other income and savings, the surplus ballooned to $25 million over the adopted budget by the end of the fourth quarter, June, 2017.

Instead of doing the honest thing and returning some of the surplus to the taxpayers, the County Manager wants to spend it on a list of pet projects that have not been vetted through the normal budget process. The projects earmarked for the surplus include:

  • $2 million for the Detention Center, even though half the money won’t be needed until FY19
  • $1.75 million for retroactive employee compensation, i.e. money that was not approved in the FY17 budget
  • $1.25 million for a County Manager contingent, even though the County maintains reserves in excess of $71 million
  • $.9 million for a study to purchase two properties that have already been studied to death by the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC)
  • An additional $5.2 million for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) on top of its very generous budget of $15 million.

In addition the County Manager proposes to give $4.5 million of "new" money to the schools. According to Mark Kelly commenting in ARLnow, this is particularly troublesome:

And it’s not just the County budget that has a slush fund. The schools did not spend $13.6 million of their budget either, but they are still being given $4.5 million of the surplus revenue as well as an additional $6 million appropriations. Added together, school officials have $24.2 million more to spend outside of their annual budget process. No funding gap here either.

If you’re sick and tired of the County’s irresponsible spending, then elect another Independent to the Board. As a fiscal hawk, you can be sure that I will join John Vihstadt in urging the County to revamp the way it allocates surplus funds. I will also lobby for no more tax rate increases.

As an Independent candidate and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in Political Science and service as a Congressional Fellow, I am qualified to fill that role.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by donating to my campaign, or volunteering to help me on Election Day.

Together we can make the "Arlington Way" more than an empty phrase.

ADUs Better than Long Commutes for Recycled Tenants

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on October 21, 2017.

I generally support the loosening of regulations on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to compensate for the dwindling supply of market rate affordable housing throughout the County.

As a tenant in one of the few remaining affordable garden apartments in Westover Village, I welcome the prospect of moving to an ADU as opposed to a flat in an outlying suburb once my building is demolished. I suspect that a lot of homeowners with limited income or uncertain employment would also welcome the prospect of a tenant on the premises to help with the mortgage.

Nevertheless I share the concerns of Suzanne Sundburg, who is critical of allowing ADUs to be constructed within 1 foot of an interior lot line. Said Suzanne in a recent email blast:

“These units can be used for short-term rental (aka Airbnb) as well as long-term rental. Exterior ADUs can be constructed within 1 foot of a shared property line — potentially closer to a neighbor’s dwelling than to the owner’s main dwelling. The result is an enhanced economic incentive to increase impervious surfaces accompanied by the loss of both green space and mature tree canopy (the remains of which is largely concentrated on single-family lots).”

The prospect of loss of privacy and increased runoff due to reduction of setbacks is likely to engender opposition to the loosened ADU regulations among single family homeowners. Add to that the fact that no impact analysis of loosened ADU regulations is publicly available.

Without a more restrictive interior lot setback requirement and an honest assessment of the impacts on streets, parking, green space and school enrollment. I don’t think the regulation is ready for prime time. I hope staff presents an impact analysis at the public hearing scheduled for this item and is prepared to negotiate it with homeowners.

Landlords Demolish Affordable Housing Faster Than County Can Paper It Over

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on October 21, 2017.

A report submitted by County staff to the Housing Commission proposes to amend the General Land Use Plan (GLUP), the Zoning Ordinance and the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) to create Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs) that provide incentives to landlords to preserve the market rate affordable housing within those districts.

Among the incentives are:

  1. awarding bonus density for additions, infill, partial redevelopment, and redevelopment of properties with affordable units;
  2. awarding a partial property rehabilitation tax exemption on the value of improvements to rehabbed properties for up to ten years; and
  3. changing the zoning ordinance to require special exception use permits to construct townhouse developments within HCDs.

The presentation indicates an aggressive implementation schedule with final Board approval in July, 2018.

This plan looks great on paper. The problem is it’s just that—it papers over the elimination of the remaining market rate affordable housing in the County. As fast as staff moves to salvage affordable units, landlords move faster to tear them down.

Just last week I learned that four more Westover properties are slated for demolition and redevelopment. Meanwhile a petition to preserve the historic Westover Village community from further demolitions has languished for almost a year with the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).

This is no accident. County records indicate that the sale price of the three Westover garden apartments demolished in 2013 was $4 million. The total sale price of the 20 luxury town homes that replaced them was $16.8 million dollars or more than 4 times the value of the original properties.

Not only did the developer made a killing on flipping these properties, but the County has profited handsomely in the form of increased real estate tax revenue.

With tax windfalls like this to be garnered from gentrification, the County itself has no real incentive to stop it. Representing otherwise is misleading to those who will be forced out of their homes in the next round of evictions.