"Libby Garvey has a deep understanding of the critical issues confronting our community and public schools. I have often drawn on her knowledge and experience in addressing the challenges of the federal-state partnership in K-12 Education."
-- US Senator Jim Webb

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Housing, School Expansion and a Dentist Office

September was a long agenda with a number of interesting items.

Affordable Housing

After about 3 years of study and work by citizens and staff, the Board adopted the Affordable Housing Master Plan. We had delayed adoption from our July meeting to give everyone a little more time, and I think it paid off.

The plan sets an overall percentage goal of 17.7% of the housing in Arlington to be affordable for people making 80% of the average median income or less. We included percentage goals for affordable housing by area of the County. We set out a number of issues needing future study, including an analysis of the costs and benefits of the various tools we have to encourage affordable housing, and possible zoning amendments to give people more flexibility in their living arrangements.

Current code limits occupancy to no more than 4 unrelated people in a house in a single family neighborhood which, for example, means the code does not supprt a family of 4 to have an au pair living with them in a single family neighborhood.

This was an important milestone, but overall costs for the effort will be a concern and should get scrutiny every budget cycle.

Abingdon Use Permit

Abingdon Elementary School needs renewal and expansion. Neighbors down the hill from Abingdon have long had problems with water run off and some cracking in their foundations. It turns out much of that area has marine clay under it, which can make homes unstable. The project will make large improvements to the storm water control on the site, and engineers are confident the construction will not affect the integrity of homes nearby.

It was clarified at the Monday meeting that very little of the vegetation that minimizes water runoff will be cleared on the hillside. Arlington Public Schools also agreed to record and monitor the current conditions of the homes so that should anything happen during construction, there will be a clear record for homeowners to seek redress. APS also purchased additional liability insurance for the construction in case there should be any problems.

I felt there was a better understanding of, and support for, these issues by the end of our meeting. Public conversation helps.

The Dentist — a very different issue

There has been a dentist at Courthouse Plaza for about 20 years, although the site plan originally called for retail to be in that space. Repeated attempts by retail stores to locate there had resulted in several store closures, so a waiver was granted to allow a dental office. The waiver was up for renewal.

The dental office has thrived, the dentist does pro bono work for the Free Clinic and takes hotel guests when they need a dentist. A few people insisted that this location was not compliant with the site plan and the dentist had to go. The building owner said he could find no one else to fill that space and asked us to please allow the dentist to stay. Hundreds of patients and supporters signed a petition asking for the dentist to stay. Still…..this was the third time in a year he had to come before the Board pleading for us to allow his successful business to stay.

He can stay, but the vote was far too close: 3-2. I thanked the dentist for all he does for our community. I told him and his many supporters who stayed until 11:55pm I was embarrassed the Board made this so hard for a successful business that serves Arlington well. It really was one of the more bizarre issues I’ve dealt with as a Board member. You can view the meeting here.

I hope this brief report has been of interest to you. As always, feel free to share any thoughts or comments you have. I’m always happy to have feedback.



Save the Date

I hope everyone is doing ok with the winter weather we’ve been having. It will be good to see spring!

budgetTaxes: I hear more every year about how difficult it is for people to afford our ever increasing property taxes. At our meeting last Saturday we advertised the tax rate for next year with an increase of 1.5 cents. By law, we have to advertise the rate now. When it comes time to adopt in April, we cannot adopt a higher rate, but we can adopt a lower rate. Just as a matter of principle, as an elected official, I like to have maximum flexibility for as long as I can. One never knows what might happen. We do know now that the schools want $13.6 M more than could be accommodated in the current rate without some cuts or increases in revenue. That said, I am very hopeful we will find ways to not increase the rate and perhaps to even lower it a little. That is my goal. We now embark on many work sessions on the manager’s proposed budget to get to adoption of our own budget on April 21.

Our public comment for this meeting made it clear to me how much we need a strategic plan and to have the difficult conversations needed to determine what our priorities for spending should be. You can watch my remarks at the 1:17:53 to 1:21:45 time mark.

Affordable Housing: On Tuesday we approved an affordable housing project on Frederick Street behind the Carlyle condominiums on Columbia Pike. This was a very difficult vote for me because the new building will provide 254 much needed affordable units, but it will also be very close to the Carlyle and block much of their view and sunlight. The developer, APAH, made a number of modifications that mitigated the harm to the Carlyle. The project passed on a 5-0 vote, but I think residents of the Pike who contacted us made clear that the west end of Columbia Pike needs attention and that the Form Based Code we adopted in ’12 may need some revision to make sure it does not have some unintended negative consequences for the Pike.

Save the Date: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” I turn 64 on April 25th and this Beatles tune has been playing in my head for some time. When I first heard it years ago, I never thought I’d actually be 64 some day. I’ve decided to celebrate with a Beatles themed party at Dan and Jane Dixon’s home in Lyon Village. It will have a political purpose as well: I hope to raise some money for my reelection next year, and we’ll hold a straw poll for both the County and School Board races this year. I hope you can help me celebrate. I’ve been getting by with a little (and a lot of) help from my friends for years. It should be fun. And it should definitely be spring by then.

As always, I am happy to hear any thoughts or concerns you have on County matters.

We Need a School, But We Got a Parking Lot

Our January organizational meeting had the usual speeches and the announcement of the Facilities Working Group that will take a long overdue holistic look at what property and facilities are owned by the County and what needs we will have over the next 20 years. I am hopeful this will help set the stage for a much needed County strategic planning process next year. You can  watch all the speeches and the meeting (my remarks are short and are at the 54 min and 35 second mark.)

Thomas Jefferson vote and school crowding: Our Regular January meeting was a huge disappointment to me.  We essentially told the School Board that the beautiful building they had designed that would have added 725 much needed elementary school seats, 1.6 acres of playing fields and improved traffic circulation to the Thomas Jefferson (TJ) Middle School site could not be built.  We thereby managed to save a large ugly parking lot and condemn South Arlington to acres of trailers at all their schools for years.

The school was to be completed in 2018. The extra students that will now not be in a school will require 45 trailers to house them. Currently, South Arlington has 37 trailers at our schools.  The Arlington Public School staff did a spectacular presentation and thoroughly answered every reasonable question and concern. You can watch the presentation and discussion. It is long, but well worth the time if you want to understand the issue and, I believe, how misguided the Board’s vote was. Here you see a picture of the parking lot we “saved” and the new playing field that we could have had over structured parking with the new school in the background. Schools have other less desirable, more expensive options that they now must look at.  Once they report on those, I suspect it will be clear to all that the school at TJ was by far the best solution and we have wasted precious time and money.

Pike Transit: In March we will get a report from the Manager about moving forward on improved transit on Columbia Pike now that we are not doing the streetcar.  I am very anxious that we move forward quickly to decide on and implement those transit improvements.  Street improvements like undergrounding of utilities and new transit stops will continue without the streetcar.  You can watch the manager’s report, which starts at about 1 hour and 43 minutes.

Libby’s New Year’s 2015 Remarks

Watch Libby’s remarks to the Arlington County Board during their 2015 Organizational Meeting on January 1st.

Libby’s New Years 2014 Remarks

Below is the full text of Libby’s remarks to the Arlington County Board on priorities and outlook for 2014. Also available on the Arlington County website.

Watch Libby’s remarks by clicking her and skipping to 1:06.

Happy New Year to everyone!

I would like to add my congratulations to Mr. Fisette and Mrs. Hynes for their new positions as our leadership team. They both bring many years of experience to guide us through 2014. Jay, I look forward to supporting your work meeting Arlington’s challenge this year.

My thanks to Mr. Tejada for being our Chair last year. Being Chair is not easy and 2013 was not all that easy a year. Mr. Tejada guided us well. Thank you, Walter.

And my congratulations and good wishes to Mr. Zimmerman on the next phase of his career. Chris, you have done much for Arlington. In your new position I know you will keep working to improve the urban experience for even more people. I wish you all the best.
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