S3-A Zoning Districts: An example of County Board Overreach

Comments at December 10, 2016 Arlington County Board Meeting on lifting restrictions on S-3A zoning districts, which County Board voted unanimously to adopt.

I want to associate myself with a recommendation sent to County Board on November 1 by longtime CivFed leader Suzanne Sundburg. In asking County Board to defer action on County staff’s request to rezone S-3A zoning districts, i.e. schools and parks, Sundburg said: Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Vote Clement to Cure Election Stress Disorder

Millions of people are turned off by this year’s presidential election. In fact so unhappy is the public with the major party presidential candidates that psychologists have come up with a new diagnosis–Election Stress Disorder (ESD)–characterized by anxiety over the prospect of electing either one of them!

If you’re an Arlington resident suffering from ESD, a cure is in sight. No. I’m not running for President. But as an Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, I offer local voters a change from business as usual to real reform. Never have Arlington residents been more in need of this remedy.

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Cost of Temporary Fire Station at Wilson School Unknown

While I am relieved that County Staff has not recommended Rhodeside Green Park as the site of a temporary fire station, I’m concerned about the process by which Wilson School was selected.

First, it is evident that while the County Manager’s office solicited input, its response to community in the published temporary fire station FAQ indicates that most of the objections to the Wilson School site were dismissed.

Second, while an alternatives analysis was done, the results of that analysis, published as Attachment 3 to the staff report, show that no serious cost benefit analysis was undertaken.

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School Board’s Career Center Classroom Capacity Numbers Don’t Add Up

In recent commentary I claimed that the School Board had erased a projected 4,600 seat classroom deficit by double counting recently added capacity in its May 24, 2016 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) presentation.

Michael Beer, Co-Chair of the CivFed Schools Committee acknowledged that some numbers on page 19 of the document are misleading, but said the real problem is a chart on page 8 showing that the School Board “found” 800 additional Career Center seats by going from a 5/7 to a 6/7 model, which means occupying 6 out of every 7 classrooms throughout the school day instead of 5 out of 7. The question is whether that is actually feasible. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Enrollment Crisis for Arlington Public Schools

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, and I’m running to reform County government.

My opponent Libby Garvey touts her qualifications as a twenty year incumbent, having served on the Arlington School Board or County Board since 1996.

The Arlington Public Schools (APS) website shows that student enrollment increased over the last ten years by over 6,800 students. During that time APS constructed one new elementary school, provided additions to several others and is planning to build more schools. But the need for more classroom space has not been met, as 3,000 students are housed in trailers, euphemistically referred to as “relocatables.” Continue reading

Rosslyn Residents Get a New WRAP

In justifying its decision to put a temporary fire station on the Wilson School playing field, the County claims that the plan for the WRAPS site was “developed through an extensive community planning process with broad participation from County commissions, civic associations and other stakeholders. . .”

Yet it is now known that the deal to redevelop the WRAPS site was cut with Penzance in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which was withheld from the community until almost a year later.

Characterizing the WRAPS planning process as transparent is a cruel joke to Rosslyn civic leaders, who were already upset when they penned the following in a letter to County Board on June 16, 2015:

“Furthermore, the [WRAPS] proposal fails to meet long acknowledged open space needs of the Rosslyn neighborhood, which lacks sufficient parkland for its substantial and growing population. In fact, the plan actually decreases rather than increases parkland. The population at the WRAPS site will increased by a projected 80 percent . . .; yet the community is losing at least 30 percent of the existing open space. In addition, access to the Wilson School field which has a common use area for many years, will now necessarily be limited during school hours, further reducing open space available to the community.”

Were it not for the vocal opposition of the same civic leaders who showed up at the July 16, County Board meeting, the County might have approved a deal that would have deprived Rosslyn residents of much of its remaining green space for another five years.

As a result of their opposition, County Board has delayed a decision on where to locate the temporary fire station till September. In the meantime, County Board promises to involve the community in exploring two other sites–Rhodeside Green Park, and a lot near Rosslyn Holiday Inn.

In March, 2015 Rosslyn neighbors rallied to save Rosslyn Highlands. At the time, other than the aforementioned civic leaders, few expressed concern about the planned demolition of historic Wilson School next door as part of the WRAPs project. The sentiment was that if sacrificing the school would save the park then that was okay.

Now we see that the decision to demolish the school has only whetted the County’s appetite to inflict more unwanted outcomes on Rosslyn neighbors. What’s worse, the controversy spawned over relocating the fire station highlights the unworkability of a plan that shoehorns residential and mixed use development, a major secondary school, a fire station and a public park all within about six acres.

Wilson School to be Bulldozed to Make Way for Development

On April 18 Arlington County Board voted overwhelming to demolish historic Wilson School to make way for development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn over the objections of the Rosslyn civic leaders and the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).

Advocates of restoring the historic Wilson School were told that preservation must make way for other more important uses, among them an office building, a mega school, a fire station and a park.

According to preservationists restoring Wilson School would actually expand green space by eliminating the superstructure built around the original building, reducing its footprint by two thirds.

Citing Barrett Branch Library in Old Town Alexandria where an historic 1937 building was expanded with a new addition in 1995, preservationists indicated that a new high school and the Wilson School on the WRAPS site are not mutually exclusive.

Since a fire station and the Wilson School currently co-exist on the site, there is no reason why a rebuilt fire station could not co-exist with a restored school.

The only use that cannot accommodate the school is the high rise mixed use complex to be constructed by Penzance. County Board acceded to the deal in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till now.

Not only was this deal undertaken in a non-transparent manner, it is also imprudent. Consider that at 23 percent Arlington’s office vacancy rate is at an all time high. The Washington Business Journal reports a Rosslyn vacancy rate of 30.8 percent, with more than 2.7 million square feet of empty office space including a 35-story trophy office building at 1812 Moore Street that remains vacant a year and a half after construction.

Across the street from 1812 Moore two new office towers are going up that will glut Rosslyn with empty office space for years to come. No developer in his right mind would contemplate let alone construct office space in Rosslyn at the present time.

County Board can’t tell developers what to do. But it could exercise its power of site plan review to deny a permit that will trade irreplaceable county parkland for a high rise development of questionable value to taxpayers both residential and commercial. County Board would have done Penzance a favor by refusing to sell it the county owned land it needs to further this speculative, imprudent and unwise business venture.

The decision to scrap Wilson School sealed the Penzance deal since preservation of the school interfered with Penzance’s plans for the site. There is poetic justice here because the state of the office market in Rosslyn right now is so dire that any new office building will be hard to rent, and that might prove to be an albatross around the developer’s neck.

WRAPS Process Is Short Sighted

County Board member John Vihstadt questioned the priorities of the WRAPS planning process for west Rosslyn at the February 21 County Board meeting. He said:

“The [WRAPS] charge also very clearly specified that the desire is to accommodate: a new school, new affordable housing, a new fire station, private redevelopment and green space . . . and we may be faced with the issue ‘something’s got to give’.”
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Wilson School Designated an Historic Site

As an advocate of preserving Wilson School, I am delighted with the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board’s (AHALRB) recent decision to designate the site of the Wilson School as a local historic district. Yet I agree with Rosslyn community leader Stan Karson, that the battle to preserve the school is uphill. That’s because both County Board and the School Board want to demolish the historic structure to make way for a megaschool.
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Planning Process for School on TJ Park Not Transparent

I commend the TJ Working Group (TJWG) for its excellent report detailing the options and the risks associated with constructing a 725 seat elementary school adjacent to TJ Middle School and park. The group asked two questions: whether APS could build a school there and whether ACB should approve the plan.

Of the four designs presented, the group recommended Scheme 2, placing the school at the northwest corner of the site as having the least detrimental impact. I agree with this assessment of the options presented. However, I’m concerned about the options that aren’t on the table, such as reserving the site for needed middle school expansion in the form of an addition to the existing structure. Continue reading