Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, December 14, 2019
The Arlington Connection recently ran a story on upzoning the Arlington way. It went like this. A large lot on North River Street in Chain Bridge Forest was recently sold by the estate of its former owner to a developer. He leveled the home and all 200 trees on it to make way for 4 new McMansions.
At a recent County Board meeting Christian Dorsey informed one of
the impacted neighbors that the County Board couldn’t do anything about it. Appeals
to the County Manager’s office, CPHD and the Zoning Administrator likewise fell
on deaf ears. The reason is by right development according to Libby Garvey, who
commented on “the need to examine regs that can discourage such projects.”
But that’s not likely to happen when the County Board votes to upzone residential neighborhoods. Then the plight of Chain Bridge Forest will play out across the County. Housing advocates like Affordable Housing Solutions are cheering the developers on, because they naïvely believe that upzoning will produce affordable housing. That’s delusional. Upzoning will simply replace each million dollar tear down with 4 equally unaffordable pre-fabs.
A recent Sun Gazette editorial opined that upzoning will pit single family homeowners against recently “woke” voters who own no property and have no interest in preserving single family neighborhoods. Their votes will be bought by outside money from the likes of George Soros, who recently purchased the election of the County’s new Commonwealth Attorney.
“Woke” voters are no doubt
easily led. But their votes won’t be needed once existing owners realize that
they can make a killing by selling to a developer, who will then cannibalize
their property and immiserate their neighbors.
Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting: 11/16/19
I am speaking on my own behalf as a long-time bike commuter, not
on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.
However, I voted with the majority of the commission on October 30, when it recommended that this item be deferred until the developer produces a more realistic parking plan. HT currently proposes 946 parking spaces or 812 more than the current HT parking lot. The Parking Guidelines for Multi-Family Residential Projects requires only 506 spaces for this site. So HT is effectively doubling what the County recommends.
The Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA) produced by Gorove/Slave
discounts the impact of the development at the intersection of Glebe Road and
Randolph Street, trotting out its usual argument that since the intersection is
already operating at an unacceptable level of service (LOS F), the predicted
net increase of about 100 cars during peak hours isn’t going to make things
According to neighbors at nearby Hyde Park Condominium the
intersection at Glebe and Randolph is already dangerous, because due to the
lack of a westbound left turn lane at Glebe and Henderson Road, residents of
Hyde Park must use the Glebe and Randolph intersection to execute westbound
turns into the condominium.
The staff report indicates that the project provides almost 300 bicycle parking spaces, with bike access afforded by bike lanes on adjoining streets. But there are no current or planned bike lanes along Glebe Road. 300 bikes competing with hundreds of cars and thousands of pedestrians to get into and out of 600 Glebe Road every day gives new meaning to the term “traffic hazard”.
To get an idea of just how dangerous the HT location already is,
the other day I road my bike during rush hour on the sidewalk of Glebe Road
from Fairfax Drive to Route 50 and back. En route I jockeyed for space with
numerous pedestrians, other bikers and turning cars on uneven pavement. It was a
hazardous trip that will become exponentially more dangerous with new HT
development. Time to hit the reset button on 600 Glebe Road and come up with a
new safety conscious parking plan.
Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 6/15/19
Last week Arlington County issued a long awaited report on how it approved the demolition of a 75 year old Dawn Redwood to make way for the redevelopment of a property on North Ohio Street located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA) in North Arlington.
The County’s Chesapeake Bay Ordinance expressly prohibits
redevelopments that increase the amount of runoff inducing impervious surface
in RPAs. The report claims that “there was no increase in impervious cover.” So
the redevelopment was “allowable”.
Anyone familiar with the North Ohio Street site knows that the
McMansion built on it dwarfs the original home that was demolished along with
the Dawn Redwood in 2018. How could this oversized structure NOT generate more
Maps contained in the report, show that the developer, Richmond
Homes, subdivided the lot, placing the old property on a parcel inside the RPA
perimeter and the new property on an adjacent parcel just outside the RPA. He
then demolished the old home along with the redwood, eliminating all impervious
surface on that parcel. By this sleight of hand, the new oversized home
actually occupies less of the RPA buffer than the original.
A neat trick, one that not only enriches Richmond Homes, but also
establishes a precedent for demolishing homes and trees on properties
throughout the County that were previously off limits to redevelopment.
If you live adjacent to an RPA and want to make a killing on the
sale of your home, rest assured. The County is open for business. If you are
the neighbor of such a homeowner, you might also want to sell when the
additional runoff impacts your property. As for the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance
itself? Well that’s a dead letter.
Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/18/19
Here is Suzanne Sundburg’s take on detached affordable dwelling units (ADUs).
“This is the first step to eliminate single-family zoning. Any
land use attorney worth his/her salt should easily be able to get a judge to determine
that properties with independent/ detached accessory dwellings are 2-family
lots, which does not meet the standard for single-family zoning, as staff
contends. I do believe staff understands this weakness and these changes are
part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate many restrictions in the remaining
low-density areas, which also happen to be where most of our dwindling mature
tree canopy remains.
“This is not about affordable housing; this is about enabling
developers and builders to line their pockets by opening up more buildable lots
that heretofore have been beyond reach. Don’t take my word for it.
“Here’s what the Federal Reserve has to say about upzoning in existing low-density neighborhoods in a 2018 study highlighted in Forbes magazine:
“The Fed report suggests that housing will be much the same:
The implication of this finding is that even if a city were able to ease some supply constraints to achieve a marginal increase in its housing stock, the city will not experience a meaningful reduction in rental burdens.
Add 5% more housing to the most expensive neighborhoods and the rents would drop only by 0.5%.https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2018/08/03/additional-building-wont-make-city-housing-more-affordable-says-fed-study/#16c6e4f1218b
“The inflation of land values is easily predictable, as is the
increase in real estate taxes. Staff and board members will finally be able to
force older, long-time homeowners off of their properties while trying to
shield themselves from blame for their continued economic cleansing of
Arlington. The truly poor (who haven’t be able to wrangle a subsidy) have been
forced out. Now it’s middle-class’s turn.
“This is what you get when you permit developers and real estate
interests to control public policy from the shadows.”
Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/21/2019
I came down with Potomac Fever when I acquired a brand new Folbot folding kayak in 1997, and I’ve been paddling on the Potomac ever since. While there is no cure for Potomac Fever, paddling alleviates the symptoms. So I was enthusiastic about National Park Service (NPS) plans to construct a boathouse in Arlington.
Nevertheless I’m concerned about the health of the Potomac,
specifically the impact of dredging the channel between the proposed dock and
Teddy Roosevelt Island and traffic congestion in the nearby. The Gravelly Point
alternative has neither of these impacts. Yet NPS rejected it because of occasional
strong river currents and lack of access to public transportation at that
An experienced rower recently advised me that the Rosslyn location
is unsuitable for rowing teams, because the channel between the Rosslyn site
and Teddy Roosevelt Island is too narrow to maneuver large boats. Also, while
river currents are a factor for small craft at Gravelly Point, they have little
impact on large sculls. Likewise since high school rowing teams would be
transported to Gravelly Point by bus, the lack of immediate access to transit is
immaterial, and ample parking already exists for anyone who drives.
The Rosslyn alternative will put an ancillary administrative
facility on a wooded area at the intersection of Lee Highway and Lynn Street near
Key Bridge. This facility, the need for which has never been demonstrated, will
exacerbate both congestion and runoff in a resource protection area and turn
Key Bridge into a traffic nightmare during rush hour.
Today’s vote to approve an agreement with NPS to construct the Rosslyn facility is strictly pro forma. The train has left the station, but only because Department of Parks and Recreation never saw a park it didn’t want to pave over, and County Board never saw a boondoggle it didn’t want to buy. Nevertheless I think that those who live and work in Rosslyn should know that there was a reasonable alternative to more traffic congestion at Key Bridge and further degradation of the Potomac River.
Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19.
According to civic activist Suzanne Sundburg:
The underlying question in subsidizing the DEA lease is whether it is equitable to pick winners and losers (i.e., financially benefit some long-standing tenants and/or landlords, but not others). Those tenants and landlords not benefiting from a subsidy may be resentful of having their tax dollars spent to subsidize others’ rent when they cannot obtain the same benefit. Alternatives to targeted incentives include:Suzanne Sundburg
1) low-interest or
no-interest loans to landlords to pay for upgrades that result in retaining
large commercial tenants, or
2) tax cuts financed by ramping
back wasteful spending on “economic development” such that all
tenants and property owners could equally enjoy the fruits of a tax-rate
3) soliciting feedback
from larger tenants in order to redress problems/irritants that are related
to county bureaucracy, etc.
Aside from the inequitable nature of incentive payments is the
question whether subsidizing particular tenants actually benefits the economy.
According to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center:
Moreover, targeted subsidies are most often used to benefit large, highly-visible corporations rather than small local businesses. As a result, struggling local businesses must pay higher taxes to fund public subsidies for politically well-connected larger corporations. —“Amazon HQ2 Is the Only Competition Where the Losers Are Winners: Why Economic Development Subsidies Hurt More than They Help,” 11-13-18.Mercatus Center
Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/23/19.
I’m concerned about the lack of specificity of the proposed Best Western site plan. On the one hand, staff says the developer might replace the rental units in the building to be demolished at 1523 Fairfax Drive with new rental units on site. Or he might provide a cash payment to the County to purchase replacement rental units elsewhere.
So which is it? How can County Board make an informed decision
about the project without knowing exactly what is going to replace the Ellis
Arms Apartments—one of the few remaining market rate affordable apartment
buildings in the County?
Also the staff report itself is unclear on the legality of
replacing rental units with condo units under the County’s Special Affordable
Housing Protection District (SAHPD) policy, which governs this property.
According to the report:
. . . the SAHPD designation is intended to replace the existing affordability levels of the property being demolished. The inclusion of up to 80% AMI condominiums would not replace the up to 60% AMI existing affordable rental units at the Ellis Arms (p. 21).Staff Report, Item 41, 4/23/19
An agent for the developer stated upfront at the April 4
Transportation Commission hearing on this matter that Ellis Arms is going to be
replaced with condos not rental units.
The developer himself has no illusions. He thinks he’s fulfilled
his end of the bargain by making a generous affordable housing contribution.
It’s not his problem if the stock of affordable housing in the County is further
reduced in the process.
The fact that staff continue to equivocate about the disposition of Ellis Arms suggests to me that the County is acting duplicitously to cover its own tracks. It doesn’t want to let on that this project violates both the spirit of the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and the intent of the SAHPD. So it’s fostering an illusion that affordable housing might be saved.
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently urged its members to support the deal that will install Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City in return for $750 million in state cash incentives–plus many other freebies from the state and county.
Also “expressing full support for a County agreement with Amazon” was the Crystal City Crystal City Citizen Review Council (CCCRC) which ruled that concerns about the impacts of HQ2 on housing and schools must be subordinated to reducing the office vacancy rate.
According to the Sun Gazette, opposition to the deal has been limited to a “largely left-wing contingent” that has nevertheless given the Chamber of Commerce a lot of heartburn.
Will someone please tell the Chamber of Commerce not to worry? Amazon HQ2 is a done deal. County Board has openly admitted that it had no input on the Governor’s secret negotiations with Amazon last year. And–unlike self respecting New York state elected officials who resented being side lined by their governor in negotiations with Amazon—County Board is serving as a rubber stamp for HQ2 right now.
Also you don’t have to be a leftist not to like the deal. All you have to do is earn less than $150,000 per year—the average wage of an Amazon hire at HQ2. To see the inflationary impact of HQ2 hires on housing prices, go to the federal government’s benchmark housing price (HP) index.
The HP index shows that over the past five years, when Amazon completed its conquest of the e-commerce market, King County, Washington (Amazon’s current location) registered three times the housing price inflation as Arlington.
What that means is that once Amazon comes to town, a lot of tenants are going to be looking for cheaper digs, and a lot of fixed income single family homeowners will have no option but to sell or face foreclosure.
Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/23/19
I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission, which heard this item on February 7.
I support affordable housing in general and Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)’s mission to provide it in particular. However at over $400,000 per unit, which is the price of a luxury condo, I do not believe that APAH actually provides affordable housing.
Regarding the American legion site, I am concerned that issues
raised by the neighborhood have been ignored. The Ballston-Virginia Square
Civic Association submitted a letter dated 2/7/19 to both the Planning and
Transportation Commissions detailing its concerns. It concluded:
In conversations with several planning commissioners, it has been made clear that Arlington County’s need and desire for affordable housing means this project is moving forward regardless of its deleterious impacts to nearby residents. It is feared that neighborhood concerns are not being fully considered and given the weight they duly deserve. In this way, citizens have participated throughout the process, but their voice has been lost.
I concur with this assessment. In particular I’m concerned about the decision to remove the fence separating this development from the 12th Road residential neighborhood in order to provide egress to emergency vehicles.
In another letter a resident of that block pointed out that 12th
Road is a narrow, one way street with no sidewalks or adequate lighting. If
indeed emergency access is needed to 12th Road, then the County
should treat this situation like it does any other easement.
The County should require compensation from the developer to pay for needed street improvements. To me upgrading 12th Road is both a matter of public safety and simple equity. The fact that APAH would find millions to spend on the American Legion site–over $38 million–while beggaring the neighborhood is amazing.
February 6, 2019
Virginia is roiling over a photo posted in a 1984 yearbook allegedly depicting Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface. No matter that the news was surfaced by opposition research or that the current sitting U.S. President was himself sued as a young man by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against Blacks. State and national Democratic leaders have fallen all over themselves demanding Northam’s resignation.
A Bribe Is a Bribe
I too question Governor Northam’s leadership, but not because of his youthful indiscretions. I’m concerned about the deal he negotiated with Amazon to site one of its new headquarters in Crystal City. Specifically I don’t like the extortionate $550-$750 million “incentive payment” Amazon extracted from the state to move here. (more…)