Category: Development

Dawn Redwood Report Greenwashes Development in Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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 runoff?

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.

Detached ADUs Will Upzone Arlington Neighborhoods

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.”

Boathouse Facility Will Add More Congestion To Rosslyn

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 location.

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.

Arlington County Pays a Bounty to DEA Landlord

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 cut,  and/or

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

Rosslyn Affordable Apartments To Be Recycled Into Luxury Condos

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.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon in Arlington, Part 4

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.

County Board Ignores Neighborhood in Approving APAH Deal

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.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 3

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…)

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 2

January 20, 2019

Pundits speculate why with bigger concessions offered by other competitors, Amazon chose to put half of HQ2 in Crystal City. Some ascribe the move to the area’s transportation infrastructure and highly educated workforce. Others think it’s the convenience of Crystal City to CEO Jeff Bezos’ new home in Washington, DC.

Still others point to Bezos’ proximity to the Pentagon, where Amazon Web Services is poised to win a $10 billion cloud contract. Roshan Abraham of Our Revolution Arlington (OR-A) declared at the January 8 Civic Federation meeting that it’s the access Amazon will have to federal officials.

Seattle City Council Knows Who’s Boss

Another obvious advantage to Arlington for Amazon is the ability to manipulate local government officials. Consider that in May, 2018, Amazon spearheaded a petition drive to oust the entire Seattle City Council after the Council imposed a head tax on companies grossing over $20 million per year to pay for housing for the homeless.

Within a month all but two Council members had capitulated, and the head tax was repealed. Evidently Bezos didn’t buy Seattle City Council’s argument that there’s a direct relationship between high priced tech jobs and inflated housing prices. What he did buy was Seattle City Council. (more…)

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 1

January 13, 2018

Corporate and civic leaders throughout the Washington metropolitan area are ecstatic about Amazon’s decision to locate one of its two new headquarters to Crystal City. In announcing the deal, outgoing Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol boasted that Amazon’s decision was “a validation of our community’s commitment to sustainability, transit-oriented development, affordable housing and diversity.”

Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, remembers shouting “yahoo!” when he heard the news.

George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller declared: “The benefits are so humongous. This is really big. Nobody has really covered how big this is for a region like the Washington region”.

Fuller now estimates a $26 million annual net tax benefit to the County or half his original published estimate of $52 million, which assumed twice as many jobs created at HQ2. This is substantially less than the County’s unsubstantiated estimate of $32 million.

Yet even Fuller’s reduced amount overestimates the net tax benefit, since his calculations on the Amazon deal underestimate per pupil school costs by $3,000 per year. Table 6 in Fuller’s report on the Amazon deal assumes a per pupil cost of $18,015 per year, whereas numbers published in Exhibit 4 and Table K the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) indicate a per pupil cost of $21,313 per year.

The Amazon deal is also inequitable. For one thing, according to Bernie Sanders, Amazon reaped $5.6 billion in profits, yet paid no federal taxes in 2017.
(more…)