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

Do Arlington Board Candidates Only Like Smart Growth in Theory?

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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