Housing Tops County Board's Top-10 List


(Thursday, December 14, 2006 8:16 AM EST)

Improvements in affordable-housing legislation and creation of more affordable units topped the County Board's “top 10 highlights” of the past year, officials said during the board's year-end press conference on Dec. 12.

2006 “was a very exciting year,” said outgoing County Board Chairman Zimmerman. “We had some challenges - but we had a number of accomplishments, too.”

The top-10 list is a relatively new county innovation, designed to spotlight successes that occurred throughout a particular year.

Affordable housing continued to a hot-button issue during the year, but the county government was able to celebrate legislation passed by the General Assembly that establishes a new framework between developers and Arlington officials.

The legislation, passed earlier in the year and signed by Gov. Kaine in June, came after two years of wrangling between County Board members and the development community. Developers successfully sued the county government in 2004 to overturn existing affordable-housing requirements.

Developers, housing activists and the county government then got together to hammer out a new deal, which was finalized in late 2005 and sent to the General Assembly for ratification.

While the total number of affordable housing units has declined significantly across Arlington over the past decade, a total of 233 more affordable units were added to the county's housing stock this year, bringing the total number of committed affordable units to 6,089.

The second most important highlight of the year was the ongoing revitalization of Columbia Pike, including approval of the mixed-use project at Penrose Square and the potential for a streetcar system that would link the Pike to Pentagon City and west to Fairfax County.

Zimmerman also included the Kettler Capitals Iceplex opening at Ballston as a significant accomplishment.

“This is a unique public-private partnership,” he said. “It's a great opportunity for people looking for evening entertainment, or those who are competing in figure skating or hockey.”

Other highlights on the list were:

* Enhancement of public transportation, included the creation of the Teen Transit Board and improvements to Metro facilities in the county.

* High rankings of Arlington's public schools.

* Improvements for small businesses through workshops and networking.

* Arlington as host for major events such as “Planet Arlington,” the Marine Corps Marathon and the Air Force Memorial dedication.

* The compilation of master plans for a number of key areas, including Four Mile Run, Clarendon and historic parts of the county.

* The creation of a new “vision” for Crystal City, with plans to transform the area in the wake of planned moves as part of the federal BRAC base-closure process.

* The launching of 1700 AM, which provides 24-hour emergency information in English and Spanish.

Board members acknowledged that a big question for 2006 could be a prospective budget crisis, brought on by the flat residential real estate market. In November, County Manager Ron Carlee said the county government faces a $20 million shortfall.

“We'll assume the county manager will be able to fill the gap,” said County Board Vice Chairman Paul Ferguson, who as chairman in 2007 may have to preside over difficult budgetary decisions.

“We'll deal with it once we get the [manager's] budget,” Ferguson said.

Carlee is expected to present his proposed fiscal 2008 budget to the County Board in February.

While the annual press conference - which attracted just two reporters - was a chance to look back, board members will lay out their 2007 priorities at the board's annual organizational meeting, set for Monday, Jan. 1.

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