Just as important, several members said, is that the governments act with “urgency.”
Amazon, which after a national competition awarded its second headquarters to the Crystal City-Pentagon City area of Arlington last November, has started hiring for the 25,000 jobs it expects to fill in the next 10 years. The salaries from those jobs will average $150,000, according to an agreement with the state and county, and low- and moderate-income people who live in the area fear they will be priced out of their homes. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Nearby, Virginia Tech is building a graduate school campus in the Potomac Yard area of Alexandria. Economic development officials expect it and the Amazon headquarters will attract other firms to the region. Hence, the local elected officials hope to get ahead of the flood of growth they are sure is coming — and they want to act with ungovernmentlike speed.
“We don’t want to this [process] to go on forever,” said Alexandria council member Amy Jackson. “We do want to be a magnet. We don’t want to be stagnant in our planning.”
A few seats down, Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol agreed.
“What keeps me up at night is what happens in the next 18 months,” she said. While Cristol said she had confidence in the county’s ability to address housing, transportation and other problems over the next 10 years, “telling people we have a long-term plan is not going to do it. What are the temporary measures we can provide?”
That question was left unanswered as the all-Democratic boards, under the guidance of a consultant, discussed the policy areas they wanted to manage together. The participants graded themselves “pleased” and “excited.”
Or as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson (D) said, “There’s an intention and willingness to tackle new ways of doing things. . . . Whether we like it or not, we’ve made ourselves a laboratory here.”
About 100 people attended the joint meeting at the Gunston Community Center, just north of the Arlington-Alexandria border.
“I’d have been very disappointed if housing affordability was not the top priority,” said Nancy Veldhuis of Alexandria, one of several members of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement who attended the event. “There was all this talk about urgency but as they got toward the end, they said the two Marks would draw up a paper.”
The “two Marks” are Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks and Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, who agreed to set up a city-county panel to draft the next steps.
“It sounds very exciting. We have to see what develops,” added Carol Brooke of Arlington, the chair of the local League of Women Voters’ affordable housing committee.
Watching from the back of the room was Paul C. Smedberg, chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board and a former Alexandria council member.
What would really make a difference, he said, was if the two communities could build bus-only lanes, improve the street management and add bike lanes. They’ve done it before, by cooperating to create a bus-only corridor in the Crystal City to Potomac Yard neighborhood called Metroway. Smedberg called it “a perfect example” of what could be accomplished together.
Chuck Bean, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, was pleased about the meeting, calling it “collaboration in action.”
“It’s great what Alexandria and Arlington are doing together,” Bean said. “Other jurisdictions could learn a lot from this approach. It’s pointing in the right direction for the whole metro area.”