Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette on Wednesday pledged to focus on rapid school enrollment, housing affordability and laying the groundwork for Arlington to become a hub of the innovation economy — "the 21st century economy of flexible, creative enterprises and high-tech services" — in 2014.
Fisette, laying out a broad and ambitious agenda for the year, also said he would lead efforts to advance the planned streetcar systems in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike, as well as push the county to adopt a "zero waste" strategy, one that diverts 90 percent of all waste from landfills or incineration.
"It won’t surprise you that my focus this year will be on sustainability — the ability to prosper through change," he said in an expansive speech. "Everything we do should be judged by how it advances our goal of building a community that will sustain Arlingtonians for generations to come."
The remarks came at the board's traditional New Year's Day meeting, where local elected officials lay out their visions for the year and formally elect new leadership. Fisette won a fifth term on the Arlington County Board in November, and last month former chairman Walter Tejada announced that Fisette would assume the leadership role on Jan. 1 — a position he also held in 2001, 2005 and 2010.
He touched on a number of areas, including:
Rapidly increasing public school enrollment — Arlington Public Schools projects an 18 percent increase in students in the next five years, and the school system estimates it will need to build as many as eight new facilities in the next decade in addition to projects already underway.
County and schools staff will begin meeting monthly to foster better communication and collaboration, Fisette said. The board has directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to work with the school system to assess all public properties for their potential use for affordable housing, schools, open space or other public facilities, he said.
"Every square foot of public land is precious and must be wisely used," he said. "Everything we build should be carefully planned and creatively designed to meet as many community needs as possible."
Housing affordability — Along those lines, the county wants to identify three to five sites that can be used for affordable housing, Fisette said.
He cited the $220 million in local and federal funds the county board has put toward affordable housing, which he said has created 6,600 units — about 15 percent of the county's multi-family rental stock — that are contractually obligated to remain affordable to low- and moderate-income families for decades.
Economic competitiveness — The county will work to accelerate the growth of the startup ecosystem through a new public-private partnership that will be funded by $700,000 in state and county funds, Fisette said.
County leaders, too, plan to strengthen partnerships with businesses and entrepreneurs, market the county nationally and internationally and work with Ballson Common Mall and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City on upcoming renovations.
The county needs to "refresh" its Retail Action Plan, Fisette said, which has encouraged the use of ground-floor retail space in larger developments.
Transit and Transportation — In addition to dispelling what he deemed "misconceptions" offered by opponents to the Columbia Pike streetcar system, Fisette said the county will add 500 bicycle directional signs along Arlington's trail network.
"I am confident that just as we have remade ourselves during the past decades, Arlington will remake itself again to embrace the challenges of the innovation economy," Fisette said in his speech. "We have the brains, the heart and the drive to do it. Our community is strong, diverse, caring and incredibly civic-minded. Together, we will build a promising future for the generations of Arlingtonians who will follow us, and we will remain the place that other communities look to for inspiration."