CIP and Residents in Arlington

Public engagement opens up for Capital Improvement Plan.

Arlington County Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is moving into its approval process, with discussions swirling about how the county addresses its myriad needs. But there’s one voice the county is still waiting to hear from before the CIP goes to its final approval: Residents.

Before the CIP is approved on July 10, the Arlington County Board is looking for public input on the county’s long-term future. It’s no secret the county is in financial straits, with the proposed CIP putting on hold or cancelling many public projects to fulfill the increased Metro demands. At a town hall on May 31, County Manager Mark Schwartz and heads of various county agencies talked with members of the public about what the financial challenges mean for various county divisions.

“Legislation alone will cost us $120 million directly in NVTA regional and local funding,” said Dennis Leach, director of transportation. “The local funding was particularly important … it was the source for paying of a lot of structures. We’ve had to prioritize. Our priorities are if we had existing grants, let’s complete them. That’s long standing commitments for the Columbia Pike Corridor and places like Rosslyn, which produce a lot of commercial revenue.”

But Leach said other programs, like Complete Streets and Bike Arlington/Walk Arlington, have been trimmed back or put on hold.

Like transportation, Parks Planning Division Chief Lisa Grandle said the county’s parks department has had to focus on fulfilling its highest priorities and putting everything else on hold.

“The squeeze for us is land acquisition,” said Grandle. “The plan of attack is to use existing balances. We typically have $3 million per bond, but in this CIP there’s no new land acquisition dollars. We’re fortunate to have some things as high priorities because we just completed plans, like the Jennie Dean project. We’ll be bringing the Master Plan Final Design guidelines forward in September.”

Schwartz also said the schools will inevitably feel the crunch of the tightening belt.

“It’s going to require choices,” said Schwartz. “I’m not downplaying the significance, but each year in the proposed CIP there is a seat deficit at the elementary, middle, and for most years at a high school level. Relocatables are part of the strategy. The aspirations for the school to meet seating capacity is built on the assumption that there will be no relocatables, but relocatables will be part of our landscape for the next 10 years. Everyone will get an education … but it may not be in a new brick and mortar structure, it may be in relocatables.”

The public hearing on the CIP will be held on June 27 at the County Board offices. County Board Chair Katie Cristol has also announced that over the next month, the county will be hosting Big Idea Roundtables, forums meant to facilitate discussions between Arlingtonians about how the county should grow.

“We’ve had so many opportunities to weigh in on specific policies, but underlying those are often tensions on big questions about how Arlington is growing,” said Cristol. “This is an opportunity to share what’s always on our minds.”

Cristol said these kinds of tensions often come out in land use discussions, like the location of elementary schools and the development of new public facilities. But these conversations are often dominated by one interest group fighting against another, like the parks community in opposition to a school plan. By hosting a roundtable discussion not centered around a specific policy proposal, Cristol said she hopes the county can help those groups have less confrontational discussions about the broader questions of Arlington’s needs and priorities.

“People spend a lot of time on one side of the fence on an issue or the other,” said Cristol. “I hope people have an opportunity to share with others how they see things and what our challenges are.”

While Cristol said the focus of the roundtables is facilitating discussions between neighbors, Cristol also said the County Board will be listening in to better assess what the “pain points” are for the county. Cristol said these might be issues where the county is out of touch with what the public really needs. One example Cristol pointed to was Arlington’s immigrant and lower income populations.

“We don’t often see lower income voices,” said Cristol,” [at these roundtables] we want to see them speak for themselves, like the Buckingham Neighborhood. We’re asking questions like ‘What would it take for you to stay?’ because we make a lot of assumptions about what equality means in Arlington.”

The next Big Idea Roundtable will take place on Saturday, June 9 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Arlington Mill Community Center. The next roundtables will be at the Ellen Bozman Government Center on June 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and at the Lubber Run Community Center on June 20 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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