New manager enjoying Arlington and its people
It has been nearly four months since Michael B. Brown took over as Arlington's county manager. During that time, plans have moved forward to bring change to East Falls Church and Crystal City. But some things have remained the same, including the location of the Columbia Pike Branch Library and the structure of the Arlington County government.
Brown, a 59-year-old husband and father of three, took a moment from a recent workday to answer a few questions from The Washington Post on learning the history, issues and people of Arlington since his move from Savannah, Ga.
What has been your biggest adjustment coming from Savannah to Arlington?
Knowing all sorts of people from around the Savannah community and knowing detailed histories made decision-making intuitive and comfortable. As soon as I got to Arlington, I was rightly asked for my opinion and input, yet I knew very few people and only a portion of the history. So I have strived to learn a lot of the history as quickly as possible, and I have enjoyed getting to know a lot of people and hearing their experiences, especially their funny stories.
What was your reaction to the response Arlingtonians gave when the plan to move the Columbia Pike Branch Library was announced?
Neighborhood residents are, not surprisingly, fond of community facilities such as libraries and recreational centers. Yet these same feelings result in residents opposing any facility relocation, even if such a change may benefit the larger community. In the case of the Columbia Pike Branch Library, we heard the community and responded by withdrawing the proposal. . . .
Our library system must support each neighborhood and the entire community at the same time . . . and continue to evolve with the times. As always in Arlington, lots of participation and learning will be needed. If we take our time to be thorough, hopefully we can reach an amicable consensus with minimal incivility.
As Arlington continues to increase the density around its Metro stations and throughout the county, how do you see it impacting transportation infrastructure?
Increased development with increased transit ridership has actually resulted in decreased traffic counts and congestion on streets adjacent to Metro corridors. This needs to be known and better accepted in the community. Transportation infrastructure will improve to provide more transit services and mobility options. For example, the County Board just approved a bike sharing system for Crystal City.
Where is the county with its affordable housing stock? Do you have any plans to get more aggressive in preserving or creating more in the future?
Retaining and increasing affordable housing units across the community is probably one of the biggest challenges facing Arlington. The county has a goal of adding 400 committed affordable units per year, and this goal is, in general, being met. The county now has more than 6,500 units of committed affordable housing units; the 6,000 committed affordable rental units constitute about 14.5 percent of the total rental housing stock in the county.
The County Board and our Housing Commission want to see progress across the community on each project that is proposed, including individual private development projects. So our job will be to use every tool effectively and to hold ourselves and our partners accountable for outcomes. Also, our housing goals are focused not just on units but also on support services and amenities for individuals and families.
The Columbia Pike street car has been in the planning stages for quite some time. Has the Crystal City street car line moved to the front of the line with funding? What can residents in both corridors expect in the near future?
The county's six-year capital plan fully funds the Columbia Pike Streetcar and the initial phase of the Crystal City Streetcar, using a combination of funding sources.
The Columbia Pike Streetcar project is further along in the planning stages -- Arlington and Fairfax counties have begun the federal environmental process -- so it will move to construction first. Construction will likely begin in the 2013 timeframe and be completed by 2016.
As we wrap up the planning efforts for Crystal City, that streetcar line will move into the environmental phase. Right now, it is anticipated that construction will begin in the next three to four years, and also take about three years to complete. We envision both projects ultimately becoming part of a larger regional streetcar network, providing greater connectivity outside of the Metro corridors.
How is work on the Community Energy and Sustainability Task Force coming along?
The task force provides guidance and direction to help form the Community Energy Plan. The plan will offer recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050 by focusing on energy generation, distribution, storage and use in the greater Arlington community.
This plan will enhance what the county is doing to increase energy efficiency through the Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions) program, which was launched in 2007. For example, at Central Library, electricity consumption has been reduced by 36 percent over nine years, saving the county about $86,000 in electricity costs and preventing more than 500 tons of [carbon dioxide] from being released into the atmosphere. This is the same environmental effect as taking 350 cars off the road or planting 12,500-plus trees.
Many people are involved in this collaboration. . . . The task force will review preliminary recommendations at its Sept. 17 meeting and plans to bring the final Community Energy Plan report to the County Board in April 2011.
Have you found a favorite restaurant in Arlington?
So far, our favorite restaurant is the one that we are walking to on any given evening right here in our neighborhood: Courthouse, Clarendon and Rosslyn. The variety and quality of food and beverages are fabulous, and the prices are good, too. Perhaps we will venture outward soon. Besides, we are now regulars at the Courthouse Farmers market and we enjoy cooking and eating in.