Friday, March 28, 2014

Arlington County's Residential Real Estate Assessment System - Class Action Lawsuit Waiting to Happen?


We head several complaints from Fairlington residents about the 2014 real estate assessments for their condominiums. Fairlington's condo units have more than 15 different floor plans, with various amounts of interior space. In general, assessment increases for 2014 were inversely proportional to the size of a Fairlington condo unit. Moreover, it appears that all condo units having the same size and floor plan have been assessed identically, not only this year, but for at least the past 11 years. So, no matter how much, or how little, money you put into a condo unit since 2003 the only thing that matters to Arlington's Assessment Staff is the sales price of condo units of the same size and floor plan. No sales, no assessment increase. Appears there is a huge amount of building permit data for residential housing across Arlington but these data are never used to estimate the value of improvements. Is this assessment system fair? Some Fairlington residents don't think so. And they're checking out their legal options.

You can see what condo units in your neighborhood with the same floor plan and interior space are assessed for by going to the County's Web page,, and clicking on Real Estate Assessments and then Look Up Property Now and enter a street name,  leaving the number field blank. Then go up or down the screen clicking on each Parcel ID.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

County Board to Build Huge 'Legacy' County Office Building in Courthouse

Hey Yupette,

Another classic Arlington County Design Charette (pronounced 'Charade') last night, this one held at Key School to solicit ideas from citizens about the redevelopment of Courthouse Square, especially the County-owned parking lot just north of Courthouse Plaza.

Didn't take long for County Board Member Walter Tejada to divulge the news that the County Board wants a huge new legacy County Office Building to replace the Vornado-owned office building County Government currently occupies at 2100 Clerendon Boulevard, which is 30 years old and received a makeover ten years ago. Lease on 2100 Clarendon Blvd. expires in 2018 and, according to County Staff, the County Board wants to move out.

Impetus for a new legacy County Office Building came from (who else) Chris Zimmerman. Chairman Fisette came on board when he was promised a new live theater would be part of the project. J. Walter (Nada) Tejada is the County Board member responsible for holding the community to the parameters of decisions made among County Board Members, developers, and real estate trusts (e.g., JBG and Vornado).

So what are the parameters of those decisions? There will be a huge new County Office Building, a live theater, lots of parking underground, and open space on some of what's now the parking lot, and a number of 'redevelopment opportunities' for the REITs that are on the County Board's 'approved list'.

The usual gang of Zimmercrats were on-hand, along with the police, to ensure the planning charade proceeded smoothly and no affordable housing activists interfered with the Smart Growth, New Urbanist, Urban Hipster agenda.

See you at the County Board's Public Tax Rate Meeting tonight.


County's Streetcar Consultants 'Cherrypicked' Transit Systems to Boost Pike Streetcar.


Yesterday the County Manager and her PR Staff convened a press conference at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard so they could present the report of a consulting firm the County hired - HR and A Advisors, Incorporated. As you may remember, HR and A Advisors also helped Jay Fissete's Community Energy Task Force produce a Dominion-Washington Gas friendly community energy plan based on fossil fuel to generate electricity and heat.

According to handouts produced at the press conference, HR and A Associates concluded that a "Columbia Pike Streetcar Will Generate $3.2 - 4.4 Billion Over 30 Years". And, "Streetcar benefits include more jobs, more tax revenue than enhanced bus service".

So what is "enhanced bus service"? Enhanced bus service, as defined by HR and A, is NOT Bus Rapid Transit, like the Las Vegas BRT vehicle pictured above. Enhanced bus service consists of older articulated buses on typical city / suburban routes. Like WMATA's analysis of alternative Pike transit systems and Arlington's submission to the Federal Transit Administration for Small Starts funding, H R and A's analysis was careful not to include transit systems with successful state-of-the-art bus rapid transit vehicles.

So what else is new? When have we EVER seen anything at all about the successful Las Vegas BRT system from pro-streetcar Arlington Government, pro-streetcar WMATA, and the pro-streetcar local media?

H R and A's analysis completely ignores what will actually occur on the Pike - thousands of low-income residents living in affordable housing and thousands more vehicles generating who-knows-how-much-more traffic. But don't be concerned about that, let's look at what's going on in Portland. That's what happens when you hire Smart Growth boosters as consultants.

But, wait, it gets worse.County Government is so gone on streetcars that it's pushing for Streetcars Now, meaning right now, in Crystal City, funded together with all the other infrastructure for Crystal City via TIF financing - that is, out of general revenue. How many hundreds of millions will that cost?

County's Public Tax Rate Hearing is tonight, in the event anyone wants to complain.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

'Stovepipes' Abound Among Arlington's Social Services Providers

Hey Yupette,

Yesterday was Budget Public Hearing Night at the County Board. The only surprise was there weren't any surprises, same old non-profits competing with each other to provide services Federal, State of Virginia, and Arlington County government agencies already provide. Sheesh, you would think that Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act didn't exist, you would think the Arlington Agency on Aging didn't exist, you would think the Arlington Department of Human Services (FY 2015 budget - $124.8 million)didn't exist, you would think the Arlington Community Services Board didn't exist, and so on down the list of government social services agencies. That doesn't count the services school age children receive through the school system and services that everyone receives from the non-government healthcare system. Talk about 'stovepipes' we have dozens among the various social services providers. How much of what they do has a significant effect on the people they say they serve? Just wondering.

Ruth, 22207

Monday, March 24, 2014

DES FY 2015 Budget - Needs Again Deferred to Fund Wants

Hello, Yupette,

County Board met with the County Manager and the Department of Environmental Services (DES) on March 20th to discuss DES's FY 15 budget. Was street paving a primary item on the agenda? Was water main replacement a primary item on the agenda? Was replacing Arlington's old and inefficient street lights (mostly owned by Dominion) a primary item on the agenda? No. ART bus route expansion was on the agenda - paid for by fare increases. (Where is the money from the real estate tax surtax going?) However, County Board Chair Jay Fisette argued for making ART and many other services self-supporting, an idea opposed by the rest of the County Board and County Manager.

No argument about Chairman Fisette's pet programs, however. Solid waste fee will be increased to cover both yard waste and kitchen waste disposal. Homeowners will have 3 bins for waste. Chairman Fisette's Dominion-friendly community energy program (no renewable energy allowed) is getting underway. Ballston Parking Garage will consume $7 million in FY 15 - I thought the County was on a car free diet. Biggest increase in the DES budget is an increase of $8.6 million and 11 full time employees to begin implementing Virginia's Stormwater Management Program, an unfunded mandate that will become increasingly expensive.

The proposed Pike streetcar system wasn't mentioned, most likely because any discussion would have provoked a sharp rebuke to the rest of the County Board and County Staff by Libby Garvey.

See you at the FY 15 Budget public hearing tomorrow night.