Arlington County, the prosperous, transit-sensitive and development-skeptical community of 210,000 just south of the Potomac and politically left of the rest of Virginia, finds itself at a crossroads.
How can the county government balance growth with its stated ideals of a sustainable, environmentally friendly jurisdiction where low- and moderate-income residents can find an affordable place to live, where employers can thrive without commercial development overrunning residential neighborhoods, and where traffic doesn’t grind to a stop on a regular basis? Those are the questions voters are asking as they prepare to make a choice Tuesday among three candidates for two of Arlington’s five County Board seats.
The incumbents, Democrats Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, believe that the answer is to double down on the strategy set out in years past: consultation, citizen participation and close attention to governance, including implementing plans to focus growth on already heavily traveled corridors. Green Party candidate Audrey Clement thinks there’s a better path than where “the Arlington Way” has led.
The election is coming after a controversial decision to allow Boeing to build a regional headquarters on land between the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport and several major roads, and as residents are scrutinizing Columbia Pike redevelopment, complete with expensive streetcars and a housing study.
“The infrastructure is not keeping pace with the rate of development,” said Clement, 62, a seven-year resident of the county who bikes to her job as a programmer with federal information technology contractor CLMS in downtown Washington. “What the board perceives as a public good, density, itself is the problem. . . . Because the current board is so wedded to developers, some countervailing balance is needed.”
Hynes, 56, agrees that infrastructure needs attention. A County Board member since 2007, a 30-year resident of the county and a former School Board member, Hynes began serving as the county’s representative on the Metro board in January.
“We’re becoming a victim of our own transit success,” she said, emphasizing her focus on planning and stewardship. “You have to keep a steady stream of maintenance tied to what you own and what you’re responsible for. . . . Once you make those incremental decisions to not fund maintenance, finding the way to come back is hard. It happened in the schools, and . . . it’s not unlike what we’re facing at Metro.”
The Boeing decision came down to a matter of employment and revenue, she said: The county is losing thousands of jobs because of the Defense Department’s base realignment and closure decisions, and the ability to save 500 jobs and keep a “good corporate citizen” on a tax-producing site was too much to pass up, she said.
Tejada, 54, a board member since 2003, notes that he has probably cast more “no” votes on the often-unanimous board than any other member. The Boeing decision, he said, “was particularly difficult. I don’t like a big corporation bullying me around. . . . But at the end, I felt at least they gave in to some important concessions,” such as improving construction to meet LEED Gold environmental standards and moving a Capital Bikeshare station so some workers can stop driving. “In the end, while I had a heavy heart [over his ‘yes’ vote], I think the synergy of a company like Boeing can help entice other tenants . . . so we can slowly replace thousands of jobs that are going other places.”
Columbia Pike, home to many of the 15 percent of county residents who are of Hispanic origin, is the latest area to get major street improvements that advocates hope will turn it into the kind of destination Clarendon has become, but with streetcars.
“This went through a very long, long community process, probably a record-setting number of meetings,” Tejada said. “For me, I’m interested in people of low income particularly being able to move around, and a streetcar will carry a lot more people than the bus and will run the same place as buses. Really, we’re developing the next wave of public transit in our region.”
Hynes agrees and focuses on the housing end of the project.
“The key is preserving market rate through tax incentives or rehabilitation loans,” she said. “There’s no new money for a housing authority from the federal government or state,” an idea that Clement has raised.
Clement said the streetcar plan is too expensive and will do nothing that better bus service could not.
Whether Clement’s campaign has made a dent is unknown. She has raised $7,800, most of it from well-known board gadfly and former congressional candidate James Hurysz and her own pocket. Hynes has raised more than $48,000 in campaign contributions; Tejada is close behind with slightly more than $45,000.