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Arlington County Board Candidate Tony Weaver Proposes Innovative Solutions to Combat Arlington County’s Record-High Office Vacancy Rate

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From Tony Weaver, a candidate for the Arlington County Board Democratic nomination.

Arlington County, VA – Tony Weaver, a Democratic candidate for the Arlington County Board, says that one of his most urgent priorities is addressing the County’s record high office vacancy rate. Weaver, a commissioner on the County’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, is proposing to solve the problem with an innovative, multipronged approach.

The first step, says Weaver, is to appreciate the gravity of the situation. About 22% of Arlington’s commercial office space is now vacant. The resulting reduction in county tax revenue has directly impacted the county’s 2023 budget – which is no longer keeping pace with rising costs.

“The County has already been forced to eliminate open positions in government,” says Weaver. “Unless we come up with creative, effective solutions soon, there is a real risk the County will need to start cutting back on vital services.”

To reverse the trend, Weaver argues that it’s key to recognize the dynamics that have created the high office vacancy rate. The pandemic ushered in telework arrangements that many workers have preferred to continue. Many county employers have adjusted their business models accordingly and have now recognized that they simply do not need as much floor space.

“Workers are not interested in returning to long commutes when they can work from home,” says Weaver. “We are never going back to the pre-pandemic workplace environment, and it is essential for Arlington County to adapt to that.”

In the short run, says Weaver, this means coming up with measures that can provide immediate relief while the County Board develops more comprehensive, longer-term solutions. One option that Weaver proposes exploring would be for the Board to amend the County’s zoning ordinance to make it possible for small- and medium-sized businesses to lease office space for a wider range of reasonable business activities.

“We need to get creative,” says Weaver. “Why can’t we use office space for activities like light manufacturing, 3D printing, or hyper-local fulfillment services?”

Ultimately, the zoning ordinance may need a ground-up overhaul to shift it from its current, highly prescriptive approach, adds Weaver. But for now, rapidly expanding the listed permissible uses for office space could go a long way to stemming the brewing vacancy crisis.

Over the medium term, Weaver proposes working to reduce the regulatory costs of improving older office buildings in order to make them more desirable for tenants. The current regulatory process associated with changing the exterior aesthetic or interior use of a commercial building is time-consuming and expensive. If the County Board were to introduce expedited approval for smaller projects such as exterior renovations and relatively minor structural changes, building owners would be incentivized to make the buildings substantially more rentable – with the added benefit of increasing the rentability of adjacent buildings.

Weaver also recommends that the County Board encourage the Washington region’s many universities to redevelop existing office buildings for educational and housing use, by providing special incentives such as bonus height and density exceptions to institutions wishing to expand into urban locations.

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen many universities build satellite facilities in Arlington,” says Weaver. “In the next 10 years I anticipate this trend will continue – so we should put policies in place to facilitate the process.”

Lastly, says Weaver, Arlington County government can take decisive action to reduce the office vacancy rate by utilizing a number of levers that are directly under its control. For instance, instead of building new facilities, the County should first consider leasing existing office space to accommodate any increases in its administrative space needs.

“It makes little sense to build new facilities when there are entire buildings sitting vacant,” says Weaver.

Similarly, adds Weaver, the County Board should encourage nonprofit housing developers to convert existing office space into residential affordable housing where possible.

Taken together, Weaver’s proposals would safeguard a major source of County revenue while attracting small- and medium-sized businesses and universities to the county. But most importantly, says Weaver, these policies would ensure that Arlington can preserve the qualities that make the county so special.

“Arlington has been such a prosperous and wonderful place to live,” says Weaver. “I’m committed to ensuring that we continue to thrive in the years to come.”

For more information about Tony Weaver’s campaign for Arlington County Board, please visit www.Tony4Arlington.com

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