PRESS RELEASE: Candidate Responses to Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future Questionnaire

ASF QUESTIONS FOR ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD NOVEMBER 3 ELECTION CANDIDATES, August 31, 2020.

Below are County Board Candidate Audrey Clement’s responses to an Arlingtonians For Our Sustainable Future (ASF) candidate questionnaire. These responses are also available on the ASF website.

Question 1 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: DEVELOPMENT
Cost-Benefit Analysis for New Development – Reflecting a key recommendation of the 2015 Community Facilities Study, our County Board in 2017 directed the Manager to study options for county performance of cost-benefit analyses for new site plan projects. Such analyses, done by many jurisdictions, quantify likely tax and revenue income generation per site plan, as well as potential incremental costs on nearby schools, parks, water/sewer and other community infrastructure. So far, the Arlington County Board appears to have done little or nothing to implement this recommendation. What would you do, if anything, to move forward on this directive?

Population Density – Our county board currently supports very high growth/density rates. (Estimated U.S. census growth from April 2010 to July 2019 was 14.0%. U.S. census density in 2010 was 8,309 people per square mile, the highest of any county in Virginia.) If you are elected, would you support growth/densification at the same, a greater, or lesser pace and why?

Answer(s) for Question #1: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Population Density

Cost-benefit analyses for new projects are routine for most local governments. Arlington County is an exception. Its site-plan impact analysis is perfunctory, at best. Two recent examples come to mind—both reviewed by Arlington’s Transportation Commission, of which I am a member: 1) the Key Bridge Marriott redevelopment site in Rosslyn and 2) and the plan to redevelop Shirlington Village.

Though I spoke in favor of the Marriott design on March 5, I objected that the traffic impacts of three other nearby redevelopment projects were excluded from the Marriott’s traffic impact analysis (TIA): Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

These three developments could easily double the traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is already congested. A traffic impact analysis that excludes the cumulative impact of all new sources of traffic isn’t real planning.

On July 2, I challenged staff’s claim that Shirlington Village could accommodate even more traffic than generated by its recommended redevelopment proposal — without bothering to prepare a TIA. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs and that a TIA would be produced during the site plan review process. This is why we see no discussion whatsoever of redevelopment impacts on schools, green space, historic structures or public safety in the 200-page Shirlington Village GLUP study. If the County routinely disregards or avoids performing impact and cost-benefit analyses during the initial GLUP planning process, then the cumulative impact of these projects is never quantified or addressed.

If elected, I will insist on impact and cost-benefit analyses for every major site-plan project as well as a study outlining the economic benefits of the 40% population increase that staff intends to effect over the next 25 years.

Question 2 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DEVELOPMENT

Answers for Question #2: Covid-19 and Missing Middle Housing

Impact of Covid-19 on Missing Middle Policy – With Covid-19 showing few signs of significant decline either nationally or in many states, both anecdotal evidence and recent statistics reveal that people may once again be moving out of central cities and first-tier suburbs to outer suburbs and even rural areas—looking for more room for living and more accessible and abundant green space. At the same time, many employers with an Arlington or Metro area presence are reconsidering the need to have workers concentrated onsite in dense employment centers, facilitating even greater telework and materially reducing the need for home-to-office commuting. Many experts believe that these changes will endure well after the pandemic subsides.

Should the County plan to measure and factor in these apparent trends for Arlington as it pursues greater densification of housing at a time this concept may be losing favor locally and regionally? If not, why not?

Whereas many U.S. economic sectors have contracted since the national pandemic emergency was declared in mid-March, the housing market has rebounded, with previously owned home sales increasing by almost 25% in July. Telework is the new normal for many American workers, who are seeking more space at home instead of easier commutes to the office. Rather than moving into city centers, people are seeking safe havens outside major urban corridors where land and housing costs tend to be lower. Telework will almost certainly continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Most Metrorail lines are still operating well below capacity — even during rush hour. It’s doubtful that Metro itself can sustain current operations after congressional subsidies run out. Having relied on transit-oriented development to attract new residents, Arlington real estate developers and county government must adapt.

Under these conditions, more intense infill development fueled by the so-called Missing Middle upzoning proposal seems risky. Arlington County should acknowledge the speculative nature of the Missing Middle initiative, its inflationary impact on land values and assessments, its questionable benefits for the middle class, and the danger of displacing existing lower and fixed-income households — especially the nearly 17% of homeowners who spend less than $1,000 per month for housing.

Instead, Arlington should incentivize preservation of its existing low-density residential neighborhoods and older (a/k/a more affordable) homes as a hedge against an exodus to the far suburbs by middle-income families seeking better value for their hard-earned dollars and a place to work more safely from home.

Question 3 (one part):
ASF KEY ISSUE: ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

Trees – Residential and commercial development are putting major stress on Arlington’s tree canopy, now hovering near 40%. What specific steps would you take to stabilize and expand Arlington’s tree canopy

Answers for Question #3: Tree Canopy

First, based on expert advice, I would be skeptical of claims that Arlington’s mature tree canopy is increasing. County Board members and staff argue just the opposite. Yet the County’s own numbers indicate that the amount of impervious surface has increased from 40% to 45% since 2001. The additional hardscape came from somewhere, and it’s likely from clearcutting and excavating residential lots. It is also estimated that the County itself permitted the removal of at least 1,000 trees in conjunction with construction on a handful of public sites between 2014 and 2020.

Next, I would acknowledge that the loss of tree canopy and related pervious green space amounts to a crisis, because the county is suffering increasingly frequent and severe floods. And its mature tree canopy is the first line of defense against flooding. The County’s latest 10-year CIP allocates $200 million for storm water mitigation (p.11), of which I estimate that $26 million is needed to mitigate runoff due to tree removal from public property. It is estimated that every 1% increase in impervious surfaces accounts for a 3.3% increase in annual flood magnitude.

To discourage the loss of mature trees on public and private land, I would advocate for stronger stormwater management regulations, as permitted by the State Water Control Board; close loopholes in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act that permit the removal of large numbers of trees in riparian areas; and work to adopt stricter zoning and other regulations to reduce the growth of impervious surfaces.

Question 4 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: INFRASTRUCTURE

Stormwater Management – Severe flooding of July 2018 and July 2019 caused massive property and environmental damage; climate change will trigger more such events. What should we be doing to factor in the adverse consequences of climate change in Arlington’s stormwater management policies and capital projects, as well in private sector developments?

Schools and Transportation Needs – Planning and growth must also account for infrastructure needs of growing populations, whether schools, water, wastewater, fire/police systems, or transportation systems. Pre-Covid-19, schools and traffic had become major stressors for residents, yet the county takes ad hoc approaches, with school reshufflings and traffic jams increasing without meaningful steps to increase public transport use. Do you believe these are problems and what changes would you endorse?

Answers for Key Issue #4: Stormwater, Schools, Transportation Needs

It’s imperative that public officials acknowledge the connection between mature tree removal and flooding. Arlington Public Schools demolished a grove of mature trees near the new Reed school addition, a few feet from the epicenter of 2019 100-year flood — despite wide publicity. Because of school officials’ ignorance of basic hydrology and the willful ignorance of other officials, Arlington taxpayers will be paying $200 million over the next 10 years for stormwater mitigation. That high cost wasn’t inevitable.

Nor was permitting the demolition of a 100-foot state champion Dawn Redwood in North Arlington in 2018 located in a resource protection area defined by Little Pimmit Run. The County’s approval of the related subdivision not only violated the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA), it also compromised stormwater management for the entire neighborhood. If elected, I plan to enforce CBPA, not look for loopholes to circumvent it.

On transportation needs, educating public officials is also central. County officials argue that traffic congestion isn’t an issue because VDOT traffic data indicate that annual average daily traffic (AADT) has decreased on Arlington’s arterials. This may be true, but VDOT traffic counts don’t measure congestion on neighborhood streets. And levels of service at key intersections has worsened.

As a Transportation Commission member, I can attest to the fact that staff routinely present Transportation Impact Analyses (TIAs) that deny or discount impacts from major developments — even to the point of justifying more traffic, because existing congestion is already so bad more traffic won’t hurt. The County also refuses to factor in the traffic impacts of projects in the development pipeline that have not yet been approved.

Arlington County did well to reduce the minimum parking requirements for developments along the R-B corridor. It must also produce TIAs that factor in the likely traffic impacts of pipeline developments.

Question 5 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DIVERSITY

Housing Affordability – The county is losing demographic and economic diversity as a consequence of economic and development trends of the past two decades. ASF believes that key zoning decisions of past boards, and plans for denser zoning known as Missing Middle Housing, will only exacerbate these trends. How would you propose to address this challenge during your term in office?

Answers for Question #4: Housing Affordability and Diversity

The County acknowledges that its housing policy has gentrified low-income people out of the County. Yet they disclaim responsibility for the elimination of two thirds of the County’s market-rate affordable rental units over the past 20 years, since it was done by right. Yet on April 30, 2020, the County Board adopted a budget that includes elimination of a tax incentive for landlords who renovate their properties. Instead, Arlington County under the rubric of “Missing Middle” is promoting the myth that densifying Arlington’s residential neighborhoods through upzoning will provide more affordable housing.

The Myth of Missing Middle was challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on single-family home sites by Wharton professor Jon Huntley, who demonstrated that Arlington property values are already so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the reach of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in most neighborhoods. This is because new duplexes, which are central to Missing Middle, will compete on price with new single-family homes, which typically start at $1 million and above. Thus, they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing.

Instead of Missing Middle densification, I propose to restore and promote the tax incentive for the renovation of privately owned apartment buildings. Not only will this bring a lot of dilapidated buildings up to code, it will do so at a price that is affordable to both landlords and moderate-income tenants.

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