VRE Crystal City Rail Station Needs More Study

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on 9/19/2017.

The fact that VRE is planning a new rail station for Crystal City points to the success of its rail operations in Northern Virginia. The fact that it has actively solicited input from VRE rail riders demonstrates its commitment to serving them. Unfortunately VRE’s consensus building efforts have excluded residents of Crystal City, who challenge VRE’s claims that construction of Option 2 will have no significant noise or pollution impacts. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Tax Gouging In Clarendon

September 5, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

If elected I hope to stop the exodus from Arlington of small businesses that have been hard hit by a byzantine permitting process on the one hand and draconian tax increases on the other.

In fact, in 2016 ARLNow reported the closure of no less than six Clarendon eating/drinking establishments: including American Tap Room, Boulevard Woodgrill, Brixx Pizza, Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, Hard Times Cafe, and Park Lane Tavern. The Irish Pub closed in 2015 and Sehkraft Brewing followed in 2017.

Increased taxes are undoubtedly factor in these closures. Of the failed businesses ARLNow reported, the Arlington property search database reports tax assessments for six of the properties housing them during the nine years between 2008 and 2017.

During this period, the average annual tax assessment increase for the Clarendon properties was 13 percent. The overall average nine year increase in taxes was 194 percent. It’s likely that the landlords of these properties passed their tax increases onto their commercial tenants in the form of rent increases. Compare these numbers with the Consumer Price Index, which reports an average annual increase of 1.85% and and a nine year increase of 14.5 percent, and a picture emerges of flagrant tax gouging.

Consistent with that view is the fact that no less than three of these businesses, American Tap Room, Hard Times Cafe and Irish Pub, are chains that continue to operate similar establishments outside the county. In other words, these businesses did not fail on their own.

If elected to County Board, I’m going to ask the County Auditor to issue a formal inquiry to the Department of Real Estate Assessments to determine why assessments on restaurant establishments have increased so dramatically in the past ten years. I’m also going to ask the Board to seek testimony from those restaurant owners, so it can hear what they have to say about the reasons they closed or left.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

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 endorsing my candidacy.

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

PRESS RELEASE: Demolitions Ongoing in Westover Village

August 7, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Among the principal issues facing the County is the steady loss of market rate affordable housing. This week one more Westover Village apartment building was demolished to make way for luxury town homes.

Next week the garden apartment next door to it will be leveled. This brings to 9 the number of garden apartments in Westover Village leveled since 2013.

In 2016 the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) purchased eight apartment buildings housing 68 units to stave off more demolitions. But more than half the tenants in those buildings were evicted because they exceeded 60% of area median income of about $46,000 for one person. So according to APAH’s strict income guidelines, they had to go.

In a fact sheet published in 2016 APAH estimated that there were 450 remaining affordable units in Westover. Subtract from that the 68 it salvaged and the 16 units just demolished, and there are maybe 375 units left.

Since APAH has essentially maxed out its debt capacity in Westover, the only way to prevent the demolition of the remaining units is local historic designation, a petition for which was submitted to the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB) over a year ago.

At a public hearing in November, 2016, Westover single family homeowners opposed local historic designation. It didn’t matter that the neighborhood is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor that they can reap federal tax benefits from renovations to their homes as a result of such designation. They were outraged at restrictions it would place on exterior alterations to their homes. Some even argued that the apartments are an eyesore that should be demolished to make way for upscale housing and guarantee more profits for Westover businesses.

AHALRB attempted to appease homeowners by narrowing the boundaries of the proposed local historic district to the apartments, and it tasked County staff to study the matter, but since then the review board has done nothing. No wonder.

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 has the developer made a killing on these properties, but the County has profited in the form of increased real estate tax revenue. In fact a net present value analysis that assumes a current tax rate of $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, an annual effective tax increase of 3 percent, and a current APR of 2 percent, put the tax revenue accruing to the County over fifty years at about $8 million.

If the County realizes the same rate of return on the demolition of the remaining Westover garden apartments, it will reap over $100 million in increased tax revenue over the lifetime of their replacements. So what’s not to like about that?

For one thing, there’s a fairness issue. A lot of longstanding, hardworking, responsible tenants are now facing long commutes as a result of displacement from Arlington County.

For another thing, there’s a public health issue. The most recent demolitions were put on hold when it was determined that both buildings were insulated with asbestos, making demolition hazardous for anyone in the nearby.

And there’s an economic issue. While the speculative prices commanded by the developers of Westover Village might be attractive to high income wage earners, they drive up assessments overall, spelling hardship and possible foreclosure for people on fixed incomes, single heads of households, and those who find themselves out of work.

This should be cause for concern to most government workers, given the imminent downsizing of the County’s biggest employer, the federal government, should Trump’s proposed budget cuts be enacted.

Finally the ongoing evictions in Westover undermine the Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP), the primary purpose of which is to preserve the County’s affordable housing.

If elected, I am going to call upon AHALRB to expedite consideration of petitions for local historic designation to preserve Arlington’s remaining affordable housing and stabilize Arlington’s housing market.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

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 endorsing my candidacy.

Reconsider Approval of Design for Lubber Run Community Center

These remarks, delivered at July 18 Arlington County Board Meeting, are excerpted from a message sent to County officials on July 17 by long-time civic leader and environmentalist Suzanne Sundburg.

I request that you defer taking action on item 52 (Lubber Run Community Center – Endorsement of the Conceptual Design) for the following reasons: 1) flawed process, 2) environmental impact and 3) cost.
Continue reading

Approval of Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Map Premature

Remarks given on behalf of long-time civic leader and environmentalist Suzanne Sundburg at Arlington County Board Meeting on July 15, 2017.

Please defer a vote on this agenda Item 50 (Updated Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Map). A vote today is premature because agenda Item 52 (endorsement of the design and contract award for Lubber Run Community Center) — which will not be heard until the Board’s July 18 recess meeting – includes a geotechnical engineering report indicating the presence of a significant amount of water on the LRCC site. Continue reading

NVTA TransAction Meeting: A Pro Forma Exercise

Comments at Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Meeting on July 13, 2017.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has issued a call for public comment on TransAction, a draft list of transportation projects to be funded in Northern Virginia for the next six years.

With both population and employment in Northern Virginia expected to increase dramatically between now and 2040, NVTA has certainly made the case for substantial increases in the region’s investment in transportation infrastructure. I am nevertheless concerned about NVTA’s lack of transparency. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Just Say No To Business As Usual On Arlington County Board

July 8, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Although my Democratic opponent Erik Gutshall claims to be a progressive, he was nominated in a “firehouse” caucus, imposed by party insiders that required all voters to sign a pledge that they

“do not intend to support, endorse or assist any candidate who is opposed to a Democratic nominee in the ensuing election.”

It’s bad enough that the “Caucus” was meant to stack the deck in favor of Gutshall, the insiders’ favorite. What’s even worse is that the pledge itself infringes on your right to vote your conscience when you go to the polls in November. How arrogant! Any candidate who benefits from this undemocratic process is progressive in name only.

Politics aside, Arlington County is facing major challenges, including:

  • a 20 percent office vacancy rate;
  • an estimated 3,000 students in trailers;
  • major future Metro shortfalls; and
  • the likely disproportionate impact on Arlington businesses and residents of anticipated federal budget cuts this fall.

Meanwhile Erik’s record as a longstanding member of the Planning Commission and its current Chair, indicates that he is content with business as usual.

In fact a survey of recent Planning Commission decisions shows Gutshall endorsed every site plan development project submitted since the beginning of 2016–expressing little concern about the impacts on transportation, schools, parks and other public services.

If you are complacent about the future of Arlington County and content with someone who goes along to get along, then Gutshall is your man. If you feel as I do, that Arlington’s uncertain economic environment requires a more proactive form of leadership–INDEPENDENT LEADERSHIP–then I am your candidate.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

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 endorsing my candidacy.

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

County Board Awards Bloomberg a Benefits Package

Comments at County Board Meeting on June 20, 2017.

I am concerned about the deal to award Bloomberg BNA $2.8 million to maintain its headquarters in Crystal City. The staff report indicates that $500 thousand from a Commonwealth Opportunity Fund (COF) grant will be deposited with the Arlington Economic Development Authority (EDA), which will then dole it out to BNA. The County will chip in $800 thousand in grant money plus $2 million in tax relief over five years.

The County Manager thinks this deal is worthwhile, because the County will get $23 million in tax benefits from BNA over the next ten years. In exchange BNA pledges to hire 250 additional staff and rent 78,000 additional square feet in the County. Continue reading

Arlington Planning Commission Rubber Stamps Upzoning of North Ballston

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on June 17, 2017

First I want to congratulate the Ballston Towne and Victoria at Ballston Homeowners Associations for their excellent assessments of the Planning Commission’s recommendation to advertise a GLUP amendment that will double the density of an already congested Ballston neighborhood beyond that which is currently allowed. This is precisely what is lacking from the Planning Commission itself under the leadership of my Democratic opponent—Mr. Erik Gutshall.

I also want to thank Dana Gerk for launching an online petition to stop the upzoning dead in its tracks. The commentary offered by dozens of petition signers clearly shows that Ballston residents reject staff’s program to densify this County under the rubric of “Smart Growth”. Continue reading