July Report: Floods, flexibility, and fun (KGMR bike ride August 10)

Our July meeting was full, but our biggest concern this month has been the terrible flooding after about 5” of rain fell on Arlington in less than an hour. My colleagues and I met with residents from both the Waverly Hills and Westover neighborhoods, which were among the hardest hit. Our first responders reported 38 water rescues, 25 of them in Arlington. It feels to me like a miracle that no one was killed or seriously injured.

We approved the Manager’s declaration of a local emergency, which is the first step to getting access to state or federal emergency aid. Information collected directly from those affected, and by staff and volunteers, will be refined to help us request assistance from the state and federal government.

Such assistance is not certain. What is certain is that we will continue to have severe weather events. Clearly climate change has come to Arlington. We’ve been making improvements to our system, especially since the 2006 severe rain event, and will continue to do so; but there are limits to what any stormwater system can manage and to what we can do. Years ago, builders enclosed streams and built homes over them. We now know that was not wise, but we have many homes built on top of our stormwater infrastructure. There are homes that were built in the bottom of what is, essentially, a natural bowl.

Moving forward, we clearly have to change how we manage storm runoff from both new and old construction. However, improvements, like adding large underground catchment areas to some parks, take time. They require complicated engineering, and we have to do them correctly. Meanwhile, we and homeowners need to look at short-term mitigation.

There is storm-related preparation and recovery information on the County website. I expect that information will be improved and updated as we learn more. Whether or not you have experienced flooding, I urge everyone to sign up for www.arlingtonalert.com to receive updates about emergencies (e.g., weather updates, road closures, evacuations). Weather, like hurricanes, can be dangerous and affect everyone.

During our regular meetings this month, we improved our ability to respond to community needs. We advertised amendments to our zoning code to allow senior housing in certain areas. We also approved use permits for more childcare facilities, and added flexibility to parking requirements for childcare facilities.

Our code changes to allow small cell facilities on County property will help us make sure our residents benefit as we move forward with 5G networks. There are people concerned about the health effects of small cell, but research is very inconclusive on any risks. In addition, we do not have the ability to prevent these facilities, and maintaining some control through this master license agreement seems the best approach. It includes 3rd-party monitoring of emissions, and we will also be verifying their monitoring as well. We will continue to follow research on health effects. Finally, should Federal law change, the master license agreement allows us to renegotiate terms.

At last, we moved forward with construction of the first 4 of 23 long-promised, improved bus stops on Columbia Pike. The cost is still not what I would like, but it is reasonable given that funding will come from a mix of federal, state, and local sources. Also, a large part of that cost is for necessary platform work to make it easier for handicapped access and providing electrical infrastructure. Despite my realization during the meeting that one stop will lack needed side weather protection, I wanted to move forward with these long-promised improvements. I am very hopeful that when construction starts, we will provide side protection at all stops. I will be pressing for that in the coming months.

Finally, the Kennan Garvey Memorial Bike Ride to benefit my favorite local nonprofit, Phoenix Bikes, is coming up on August 10. This is a great family ride along the W&OD trail. It’s easy to just go a mile or two, or you can ride the whole 100-mile course. I’ll be helping with the ride and riding virtually. I hope you will ride, help, or sponsor me or another rider. Please join my family and me in supporting a really wonderful local nonprofit. For us, this is a way to continue the good work Kennan did encouraging biking throughout his life. He would have loved it.

As always, I hope this newsletter is helpful. It will resume in September with our next meeting.I wrote this note in Maine visiting family, where it was warm, but not as hot as in Arlington last weekend. Stay cool and have a good summer.

Jul, 24, 2019