Home Transportation Do Arlington Board Candidates Only Like Smart Growth in Theory?

Do Arlington Board Candidates Only Like Smart Growth in Theory?


UPDATE 1/10: Read more on the positions of Melissa Bondi, Libby Garvey & Kim Klingler on these issues in their Greater Greater Washington questionnaire responses (Peter Fallon & Terron Sims did not respond).

Every Democratic candidate running for Arlington County Board claims to support smart growth. But when smart growth runs up against single-family homeowners’ interests, are they willing to make tough choices? At a recent forum, statements from most candidates weren’t promising.

The board has an open seat since Barbara Favola was elected to the state senate in November. Arlington Democrats will select a party nominee (who’s almost certain to then win the official special election) at 2 caucuses on Thursday, January 19th and Saturday, January 21.

Wednesday night, the Arlington County Democratic Committee hosted a forum with the candidates. The forum spotlighted the paradoxical views of Arlington Democratic voters: They want candidates to express concern about things like smart growth, affordable housing, and transportation, but may be reluctant to support the density increases, transit projects or higher taxes to pay for affordable housing programs that may actually deliver it.

In opening and closing statements, transportation was either not mentioned at all or waved at in passing. Potential expansions of I-66 or I-395 and Arlington’s efforts to fight them weren’t mentioned at all. Candidates didn’t talk about Metro funding, overcrowding, or congestion.

A question about the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar revealed only one full-fledged supporter in Melissa Bondi, while Peter Fallon, Libby Garvey, Kim Klingler, Terron Simsseemed to know much about the streetcar’s price but little about its value.

None of the four spoke of the value of investing in the Pike, cost savings to residents in a car-free diet, high demand for housing on rail, air quality benefits, or the potential for new tax revenue from development encouraged by a streetcar.

But no issue brings out a refusal to make tough choices quite like affordable housing, and it’s certainly not limited to this crop of County Board candidates. Arlington single-family homeowners say they’re concerned about a lack of affordable housing, but they also would like to see the value of their own home inflate indefinitely. Some are also so concerned about keeping their neighborhood the same that even strip malls get the historic preservation treatment.

Every candidate at the forum professed support for affordable housing, yet every candidate also expressed at least some skepticism about increasing existing density or adding new density in historically low-density areas. (Update 1/10: Read more about the candidates’ affordable housing positions on the Alliance for Housing Solutions questionnaire.)

Given that these candidates face an electorate that skews older and single-family homeowner in a low turnout January caucus and March 27 special election, candidates may be downplaying their commitment to smart growth policies now as a matter of politics. But as dense, transit-oriented development moves into new neighborhoods, from the Pike to East Falls Church to Lee Highway, it’s disappointing so many County Board candidates appear to be taking the low road.

Cross-posted from Greater Greater Washington

  • independent in arlington

    …with increasing density in current single family neighborhoods is that there is a perception (which may very well be true) that such increases damage the value of the remaining houses.  Many pooh-pooh a homeowners’ concerns about drops in property values (see, for example, the bitter discussions about the effects on neighboring buildings that the soon-to-be-built year-round homeless shelter will have), but for many people their home is a the most significant thing they own, which they either (a) paid an enormous amount of money for, (b) went deeply into debt to acquire, or (c) spent years paying for the costs of acquisition and upkeep while its value increased (or perhaps has decreased).  When someone threatens to take action which could slice thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars of value from such an investment, homeowners are justifiably irate and seek to protect their interests.

    The streetcar poses a very difficult question, in my opinion, in that it is admittedly very expensive to build and likely very expensive to operate.  I think it is reasonable to question whether the those costs are justified by the potential benefits.  My sense is that they are, but that is based, somewhat, on a leap of faith and an extrapolation of what occurred in Arlington along the Orange Line.  Ironically, one of the ways to justify the costs are the increased property taxes which can be collected from property owners near the streetcar as the values of those properties increase (hopefully) as a result of the streetcar.  However, those increased values are going to increase the costs of housing in those neighborhoods, making them less affordable, and damaging the stock of “affordable” housing in Arlington.

    How do you think we can avoid this problem?

  • amber waves

    Audrey Clements, the Green Party candidate has come out  against smart growth and high density development. Environmentalists universally encourage density in urban communities rather than pushing growth into farms/forests outside of metro areas.  I hope the Dem candidates will support smart growth and density development.

  • JimWebster

    I had a very similar reaction after hearing the candidates at the ACDC meeting last week. Miles expresses it so much better.

  • dominic

    That the candidates haven’t come to BlueVirginia to defend themselves or their positions yet…what are they hiding from?

  • Paba

    I hope more of you are doing that sort of thing.

    There doesn’t seem to be much mention of those of us renting existing apartments and what effect the streetcar will have on us. As someone who care barely afford to live here on my salary at this time, and who doesn’t qualify for housing assistance, I think that I’m not alone among young professionals who may find the race to the street car and the property cost/rent hikes that should accompany it to be a factor that might drive us out of Arlington.

  • listlady

    but cautious, preferring incremental progress to sudden leaps. Big projects such as the streetcar move forward, if at all, on the groundwork of years of community meetings, studies and debates. Changing any policy affecting established neighborhoods calls for an especially sensitive blend of vision and TLC, especially when many perennial voters seem more interested in “smart” than in “growth”.

    And yes, Arlington’s off-year and local-issues electorate is dominated by older, more established residents in detached homes and condos. The under-35s who flock in the Metro corridors tend to move more often, vote mostly in federal elections, and have less interest in slow-cooking community policy work. So the candidates’ generalities may well mean that they know their likely audience.

    Granted (so to speak), the “Arlington Way” can be frustrating for activists. The flip side is that the county does tend to advance, eventually, commendably progressive policies, without the convulsive political and policy reverses seen in Loudoun County and elsewhere.

    PS) Not to nitpick, but — Miles, don’t you vote blue in Falls Church?