In addition to a spectacular Labor Day trip to Colorado to spend time with son Jack, another September highlight was speaking at George Mason University’s Schar School of Government and Policy about local governance to a delegation of over 20 Vietnamese officials from the Ministry of Planning and Investment in Hanoi. An added bonus was hearing from local author Kim O’Connell, herself of Vietnamese origin, about her fascinating historical booklet, Echoes of Little Saigon: Immigration and the Changing Face of Arlington. Remember when Queen Bee and Café Dalat were just a few blocks east of GMU’s Arlington campus in Clarendon?

In other news of note:

The new “Housing Arlington” Initiative: How much density is our destiny? If this question piques your interest, come to what is sure to be a provocative discussion by three experts at the next Arlington County Civic Federation meeting on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, at Virginia Hospital Center’s Hazel Auditorium, 7 p.m. Through this initiative and related plans, Arlington is examining ways to accommodate Arlington’s continued growth and enhance the County’s affordability in ways that don’t necessarily involve taxpayer funds. Elements include:

  • institutional partnerships (with the faith community, higher education, non-profits and business),
  • financial tools (e.g., tax incentives, low interest loans, reduced fees),
    a condominium initiative for aging projects needing technical assistance,
    the possibility of County employee housing (especially for first responders and teachers), and—what may be most controversial –
  • eliminating bonus density maximums and bonus height limits in return for more generous developer commitments to affordable housing, as well as potentially allowing up to four-family units to be built in single family neighborhoods by right.I’m excited to moderate this panel, which includes:
  • Richard Tucker, Housing Arlington coordinator, who will summarize the above elements, the decision-making process and more,
  • ArlNow columnist Peter Rousselot, for his take on the fiscal, environmental and infrastructure impacts (including on public facilities and schools) of accelerated development, and
  • Terry Clower, Director, Center for Regional Analysis at GMU-Arlington, for an academic perspective and some pros and cons. Q&A will follow, and I hope to see you there! In the meantime, read more here about the details.

I believe that stormwater challenges and basic infrastructure maintenance deserve a higher County priority. With construction cranes piercing the skyline and bungalows yielding to six bedroom homes, I share the apprehension of many citizens that our leaders need to ratchet up their attention to stormwater issues and basic infrastructure upkeep in the wake of climate change and the County’s own development actions. The County is planning two October “Flood Resilient Arlington” workshops focusing on resilience and adaptation, and is developing a risk assessment tool to identify and address high propensity flood areas over our 26 square miles. In my view, the next biennial Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will need an expanded focus in this direction.

Thanks for reading. What local issues are on your mind this fall?

John Vihstadt

P.S. To work, transact business, live or build something in Arlington these days, there’s a permit or license needed for just about everything, with major categories including commercial and residential building permits (33 categories), land use and management (19), business (14), food and events (12), right-of-way (8), and land disturbance and stormwater management (5). It’s welcome to see Arlington catch up with many other jurisdictions by launching the first phase of its new online system, Permit Arlington, on September 9, which allows submission of many applications, supporting documents and payments via computer or mobile device. Yet, just when you are thinking this will surely save you major time and money, you’ll see that the County has doubled its “Automation Enhancement Surcharge” from 5% to 10%, and, as ArlNow columnist Mark Kelly noted in a recent column, allotted processing times are not budging! Really?