Arlington County Board candidates touched on a wide range of issues Thursday night during a Patch-Arlington Independent Media live forum — touching on the proposed Columbia Pike trolley, affordable housing, the cost of doing business in Arlington and the future of the Artisphere.
Democratic incumbent Libby Garvey faced Republican Matt Wavro and Green Party candidate Audrey Clement at Arlington Independent Media's studio in Clarendon. Arlington Patch Editor Jason Spencer moderated.
Patch and Arlington Independent Media will feature the video online in upcoming days. Meanwhile, some highlights:
If the vote was today, would you support the Columbia Pike trolley?
“I would not,” Garvey said, taking a firm stand on the controversial proprosal.
The transit system would connect the Bailey's Crossroads area of Fairfax County with Pentagon City, where it may eventually connect with a proposed Route 1 streetcar.
In July, Garvey abstained from a vote to move forward on the $249 million system, saying she needed more time to study the matter, a position which she maintained as early as this week.
“Just this week, a cost-benefit analysis confirms everything I thought," Garvey said. "I think we need to do a bus rapid-transit system, not only because of the expense but because of the connectivity that a BRT can provide.”
All of the jurisdictions are considering bus rapid-transit, so it makes sense that Arlington's system aligns with Fairfax County's, for instance, or Alexandria.
Her stance was met with some surprise by her opponents.
“I’m glad that after seven months of consideration Ms. Garvey has come to a conclusion. Seven months is a lot of time and consideration,” said Wavro, who opposes the trolley.
Clement said that while she’s happy to hear Garvey take a formal position on the subject, she wasn’t sure whether the bus rapid-transit system was the solution.
“I don’t necessarily support it or oppose it,” Clement said. “It sounds much more promising them spending $250 million on money we don’t have.”
Clement supports double-decker buses along the Pike.
The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods plan approved this summer makes a point to preserve a number of affordable housing units along the Pike. However, over the next 30 years, the overall percentage of affordable units will decrease. Is that acceptable? Why or why not?
The candidates all agreed that affordable housing was needed in Arlington, but differed — in some cases, only slightly — on how to approach the issue.
“What we should do is provide market-rate affordable housing for individuals so that they don’t have to go through a government program to find housing,” Wavro said. “The affordable housing challenges we face are significant and that is a product of a great people wanting to live here.”
Clement expressed her oppositions to the neighborhood plan approved over the summer.
“I think it will contribute to the gentrification of the county,” Clement said, adding that the county needs to create housing authority facilitate affordable housing.
Garvey called the neighborhood plan “excellent,” and emphasized the number of affordable units that will be preserved.
“If we do nothing we will surely lose all affordable housing,” Garvey said.
The National Science Foundation in Ballston will see its lease expire next year. Local, state and federal officials are trying to keep it in Ballston or, at least, in Arlington. But part of the problem is the enormous cost of office space here — Ballston and Rosslyn in particular have some of the highest costs per square foot in all of Northern Virginia. What can be done about this?
Candidates spoke about how Arlington needed to keep and support businesses, with Clement and Wavro putting an emphasis on reducing taxes for commercial ventures.
“I would consider eliminating the commercial real estate surcharge tax passed four years ago,” Clement said. “The county board needs to stop spending so much money on capital projects.” She added that she opposes a planned $65 million aquatic facility at Long Bridge Park.
Wavro agreed with eliminating the commercial real estate tax.
“What we need to do is make sure that the county board doesn’t continue to extract more and more resources,” Wavro said. “If we continue to raise the property tax rate, we are going to make it more expensive to do business here.”
Garvey talked about the need to cultivate and keep the knowledge-based economy that is developing in Arlington, particularly in Ballston.
“We need to do everything we can to keep them,” Garvey said.
The Artisphere recently celebrated its second anniversary. At what point do you determine 'Yes, this is a success' or 'No, this is a failure' in terms of county support?
Rosslyn’s Artisphere, a 220-seat dome theater for concerts and art exhibits, has been met with some financial troubles that resulted in a revision to its business plan within the first year of its opening.
The center receives taxpayer subsidies from the county.
“I would give it another year and no more,” Clement said.
Wavro advocated eliminating county funding for the center in favor of having it turned into a non-profit organization.
“The county subsidy is too much of a subsidy for not a benefit of the county,” Wavro said.
Garvey agreed that the Artisphere hadn't turned out the way supporters had hoped, and indicated the county made progress by moving the entity out from under the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department and placing it under the auspices of of Arlington Economic Development.
"The economic development department is working on a cost benefit analysis… And it’s something I will be looking at," Garvey said.
The candidates also talked about the Arlington Way, the county budget, and whether Arlington has kept up with having a more walkable and bikeable community during the one-hour forum.
The event will be rebroadcast on Comcast channel 69 and Verizon channel 38 in Arlington in the upcoming days:Wednesday, Oct. 17 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
To read up more on the issues, view our previous elections coverage: