The Arlington County Board elected Vice Chairman Jay Fisette yesterday as its chairman for this year during its traditional New Year's Day kickoff meeting.
Fisette (D) said his top priorities would be a renewed commitment to affordable housing, redevelopment of parts of Roslyn and the Courthouse neighborhoods and an anticipated deal to build a conference center in Pentagon City. He also hopes to establish a performance review board that could audit county programs to cut wasteful spending.
Managing the county's transition from a suburban to urban community is the "most strategic issue facing us," Fisette, 49, said in his remarks.
Fisette became the first gay official elected in Virginia when he won his seat on the board in 1997, and he since has championed human-rights and environmental causes. He previously served as chairman in 2001, when he spearheaded an effort to expand the county's Web services.
Board member Chris Zimmerman (D) will become the board's vice chairman.
Fisette becomes chairman at a time when the county is reeling from a major blow than an Arlington Circuit Court judge dealt to its affordable housing program -- long one of the board's top concerns.
Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper ruled last month, in a lawsuit brought by a local developer, that the county exceeded its legal authority under state law when it instituted guidelines asking developers of residential buildings to set aside 10 percent of floor space for affordable housing.
Fisette said after the meeting that the county was "still exploring options" and considering whether to appeal the ruling.
"Obviously it was a disappointment," Fisette said. "Affordable housing is one of the most significant challenges facing us."
The county lost 47 percent of its affordable rental units between 2000 and last year. Most were razed or turned into condominium developments.
In recent weeks, the county board has faced unusually sharp criticism from various civic groups.
Residents in Cherrydale are so upset about the board's decision to put the new fire station near a busy intersection -- essentially going against the recommendation of its own task force -- that some have been loudly calling for a overhaul of the county board system, saying that board members be elected from neighborhood districts and not at-large.
Outgoing Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) -- who walked out of a contentious meeting with Cherrydale residents last month -- said yesterday that she would focus her efforts this year on such priorities as expanding early childhood education programs.
In addition, members of the Arlington County Civic Federation expressed disappointment that the board approved a new meeting schedule that they felt had not been properly vetted by the community. The schedule decreases the number of Saturday board meetings from 15 to 11, which reduces the chances the public has to speak on board issues, civic federation members said.