November’s meetings are separated by 11 days due to the Thanksgiving holiday, so I’ll separate my usual monthly email update as well.
Saturday Public Comment and Amazon: It was no surprise that many people came to comment about Amazon on Saturday morning. Many were disappointed to learn that we only allow one person to comment on any particular issue during our Public Comment period at the start of our Saturday meetings. Chair Katie Cristol did a good job explaining at the beginning that Public Comment is a time for people to surface new issues and to bring them to the Board’s attention. Otherwise, we take comment at the times reserved on our agenda for that particular issue.
Most people were understanding. Public hearings on an issue can easily attract over 70 speakers and take several hours. If we did not limit Public Comment at our Saturday meetings, we’d be unfair to those coming to testify on scheduled issues and be unable to get much of our work done. There are many opportunities and venues for residents to let us know what they think about Amazon before our vote, likely in February (including responding to my e-newsletter, if you would like).
Supporting Holiday Cheer: A small, but satisfying for me, issue was approving the temporary use by the Lions Club of an unused piece of County land at Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run for their annual holiday tree sale. While, in the past, the Board had been reluctant to approve such arrangements because of legal based concerns, the Board felt it was poor public policy not to make use of such parcels to fill the temporary need of a well-loved, local nonprofit to serve our residents. We worked with our counsel to make sure that the approval of the Lions Club planned use would not harm our future flexibility for use of the land.
Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan: Jennie Dean Park and the Four Mile Run Valley area have been promised redevelopment for about 60 years. Finally, after a three-year effort, we accomplished a joint area plan and a park plan for the Four Mile Run Valley. It was a long and difficult public process given the many interests and departments involved. John Vihstadt was the liaison from the Board to the process, and he described it well in a cooking metaphor: The process was many cooks in a large kitchen using many different ingredients and disagreeing at times about the recipe to use, getting both their aprons and the kitchen dirty, but producing a delicious stew in the end. Or, as Caroline Haynes put it: Compromise is difficult, but crucial for the Arlington Way to function.
Many thanks to Charles Montfort, the many volunteers, and our hard-working, yet unfailingly cheerful staff. We will test traffic and parking changes with paint, as temporary measures, before final changes are made. There is still more work to be done on the Arts and Industries District of the area, but our approval of the area plan is a big and long overdue step in the right direction.
Reed School Permit: We approved the necessary permits and easements so the Reed School will once again be a neighborhood elementary school. It will be four stories high, in sections. The school faces design challenges, including an 84-inch sanitary sewer in the middle of the site that cannot be covered or moved, as well as a 34-foot drop in the topography. The construction will mean the loss of green space for about two years and inconvenience, but, in the end, the school will be a real asset for everyone.
It will be solar-ready for when a partner can be found to finance solar panels, and it will have an energy dashboard in the school to support education about energy use for students and the public. Such dashboards are very helpful in increasing public awareness of how to combat climate change. Also, this was the first school approval using our more appropriate and efficient set of conditions for schools, and I am very pleased to see it. In the past schools were treated like developers and included inappropriate issues APS had to address such as retail and public art. This was a costly waste of everyone’s time, and I am happy that we are taking a more pragmatic approach to building schools.
The “Blue Wave” came to Arlington and it is very sad to see my colleague John Vihstadt caught up in it. While we all congratulate and welcome Matt de Ferranti to the Board, it is hard to see someone who is an outstanding public servant like John leave the Board. His departure is a real loss, but John did more for Arlington in his term than many people do in several terms. I am confident he will stay involved and find ways to continue to serve the cause of good government.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I will be driving with my family out to Kentucky for our annual reunion. Thanksgiving is all about family, gratitude, and connections, and it is my favorite holiday.