• Next Meeting--Thursday, Nov. 6 7:00 PM at the Community Room of the Ballston Firehouse Station (located at Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive).

October 20, 2014

Arlington school bonds–not ready for approval

Development,schools — @ 5:15 pm

westover library-reed school
(photo of Reed School with Westover Library)

Arlington Greens chairman speech to Arlington Council of PTAs, on Oct. 20, 2014

Good evening members of Arlington PTAs. Let me congratulate you for your volunteer work to improve our community’s public education.

I am John Reeder, an Arlington resident, graduate of Yorktown High School, father of three daughters all graduates of Arlington Public Schools, and chairman of the Arlington Green Party. My wife was a 40-year Fairfax elementary school teacher, and my daughter teaches English in Washington, D.C.

I support spending for public education for all children and excellent salaries for our teachers and school staff. I support capital spending to provide more class rooms, but cannot support throwing money at capital projects without foresight and planning.

I urge you and other Arlington voters to reject the $105.8 million dollar school bond on the November ballot.

Here’s the short answer as to why voters should vote no: the school system is not ready to thoughtfully spend $106 million to add seats to last 30 years.
We voters cannot trust APS to effectively invest these funds without a detailed and a comprehensive plan that parents, educators, and the community all can support. Unfortunately, the APS has failed to accurately project enrollment and capacity over the past two decades.
The board should first prepare a specific plan that supports students and educational programs and adds seats, with engineering and reasonable cost estimates. Then ask voters for an adequate bond for very specific projects, be it for $106 million or $306 million.

Capital funds do not immediately produce new seats. We should not hurry to waste and misapply one hundred million dollars building the wrong or too small schools, and then have to rebuild the same schools in five years. Just 5 years ago, a new, $100 million W-L high school was opened for 1,500 students, but now has 2,046 students.

The school board spends over $500 million annually for operating costs, and now without a detailed, engineering plan, it will get another $106 million to spend somewhere and hope for the best.

There is confusion and missing leadership among school board members and the superintendent. There will be two new school board members this year; parents and PTAs are still divided over where and how new seats should be added. The school board failed to timely adopt a CIP which would have settled the capacity expansion.

There are many unanswered questions:
Will HB Woodlawn move to the Reed School or to a new Wilson site?
Will APS build a new elementary school next to TJ Middle School?
Where should more seats be added and how?
Can we preserve green space around our schools?
Will engineering plans reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings?
Can APS reduce the over $70,000 cost of adding one seat?

Voters: Please reject this bond request.

APS should come back to voters in a year and provide citizens with a well thought out, detailed plan to address the enrollment increase, and then present a detailed bond question to voters so that we in the community can make an informed decision.
Thank you

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October 14, 2014

Adding new schools in Arlington–follow Fairfax’s example and convert an office building

Development,schools — @ 12:06 pm

The Washington Post reported on October 13 about a new elementary school in Baileys Crossroads, Fairfax that is a former office building that can hold 800 students. The cost of the Baileys building including the $9 million cost of buying the empty office building was about $20 million for a student capacity of 795 (they have 700 students today). Baileys Elementary is considered one of the premier elementary schools in Fairfax County, specializing in art and music and drawing students from all over Fairfax as well as the Baileys Crossroads.

baileys elementary new school
(photo of new Baileys Elementary School, courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools)

So an 800-student school cost $20 million; that’s about $25,000 per student. Arlington is building a new elementary at Williamsburg MS for a $73,000 per student cost, nearly 3 times the Fairfax cost, and the land there is free unlike Baileys.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2014/10/08/what-to-do-with-dying-suburban-office-buildings-turn-them-into-schools/

Why can’t Arlington Public Schools buy an empty office building and convert it into a 800-student elementary like Fairfax for $20 million? Drive a hard bargain like FCPS did, and buy a vacant office building. Several months, we wrote an article for Arlington Greens about the over 25 percent office vacancy rate in Crystal City and Rosslyn and the need to recycle these empty office buildings into residential apartments and schools.

Suppose APS paid $20 million for a similar sized building in Crystal City or Rosslyn, and spent $14,000 per student to remodel it into a school like FCPS, a 800 student school would still cost only $32 million or $40,000 per student.

APS is spending $46 million to build the new elementary for only 630 students at the Williamsburg MS campus in 97,000 square feet of space, slightly smaller than the new Baileys Crossroads School. APS cost does not include any funds to buy an existing office building just construction costs using public land. Also, do they really think that only 690 students will enroll there?

http://www.apsva.us/Page/18930

So the cost per student is $46 million / 630 = $73,000 per student seat at the new Williamsburg ES

Arlington is supposed to add 6,000 more students over the next ten years; at $73k per student seat, the APS will need to spend about $440 million for 6,000 more seats. That would mean issuing $440 million in school bonds.

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August 26, 2014

Smoke and mirrors on Arlington County Board environmental record

Development,environment — @ 8:56 am

Letter to the editor, the Washington Post from AGP chair John Reeder

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette boasts (Aug. 24, “Why Arlington joined the battle against climate change”) about Arlington’s record on climate change.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-arlington-joined-the-battle-against-climate-change/2014/08/22/3bb5a146-2314-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html

But in truth, Arlington’s environmental record is pretty shabby. Board members favor high-intensity, high-rise buildings despite their increased demand for electricity and water, while allowing developers to expand building footprints and increase paved surfaces. Some recently built county buildings are energy hogs, having failed to include state-of-the-art solar and geothermal systems (examples can be found on the Washington-Lee and Yorktown High School campuses). Arlington’s heat sink has increased rapidly as the mature tree canopy and green space have disappeared.

house with solar

LEED certification, for which developers receive “bonus” density, is oftentimes mostly cosmetic and lacking in solid environmental benefits. The Arlington County Board’s “smart growth” policy has triggered overdevelopment and the conversion of Arlington’s lower cost residential areas into neighborhoods only the wealthy can afford. This policy has forced thousands of moderate-income residents to flee to Woodbridge and beyond, exacerbating the very sprawl smart growth was supposed to halt and increasing traffic congestion and greehouse gas emissions.

Democrats like Fisette play environmental politics while excluding independent and third-party voters from meaningful participation that might result in actual improvements to Arlington’s environment. We need leaders in Arlington who support genuine green principals, not ones who just pretend.

John Reeder
Chairman of
the Arlington Green Party

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July 26, 2014

County finances housing scam at William Waters Apartments–

william waters apt rosslyn va (William Waters Apartments from Wesley Housing Development Corporation)

On July 24, the county board approved a nearly $1 million loan to Wesley Housing Development Corporation to renovate 21 already subsidized apartments at the William Waters Apartments located on Adams Street off Lee Highway. These units were substantially renovated about 9 years ago, but Wesley Corporation will spend another $400,000 per unit to upgrade them. It will then raise the rents on the units, and then the county government will have to pay for the higher rent levels because the tenants cannot afford them! The new rents charged will not cheap–$1,130 for a one-bedroom and $1,330 for a two bedroom, but the tenants today cannot afford these new higher rents, so the county has to provide over $100,000 to pay part of the higher rents that go up because of the lavish renovation.

The county board’s decision to finance renovation of the William Waters Apartments, a garden apartment building off Lee Highway with 21 CAF units, and to finance tenant displacement costs is an example of Arlington’s wasteful approach to spend $400,000 per unit to renovate perfectly good apartments at William Waters.

There was no proven need to renovate the building; according to Wesley Housing Corporation’s webpage, these apartments were substantially renovated in 2005 with new kitchens, wall repairs, windows, smoke detection system, roof, rehabilitated electrical system, wall plaster and convectors.

And even if there is a need to renovate, a NEW apartment can be built for about $130,000 in the Washington DC region according RS Means, a construction expert firm. So how can $400,000 be spent in just renovation? Better to tear it down and build new apartments at one-quarter of this renovation cost of 50 year old modest units.

Today 9 years after the 2005 renovation, Wesley proposes to spend $8.2 million to again renovate 21 apartments at a unit cost of about $400,000 per unit. The hard construction cost is $100,000 per unit—about what a totally new unit would cost; the remaining $300,000 are soft costs, the developer’s fee, and repayment of past loans and financial costs. Spending $400,000 per unit to renovate apartments that are otherwise okay is wasteful.

Crony capitalism is the game being played with Arlington County housing program dollars. Tenants are made worse off and scarce taxpayer dollars given to insiders and their corporate friends.

There was $151,000 given to Wesley for a tenants assistance fund that would pay for their moving expenses and to pay the higher rents after they move back into the renovated units. Wesley bears responsibility for assisting and relocating their tenants, and not the county. Wesley in 1990 entered a contract with the county to supply 21 CAF apartments for 30 years, and has a contractual obligation to these tenants as well. Moreover, why does Wesley have to charge higher rents that its current tenants cannot afford to pay? This is not affordable housing but UNAFFORDABLE housing!

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Million dollar subsidized apartments in Arlington, and crony capitalism and a gross waste of money

pierce queen apts (Photo from Wesely Housing Development Corporation)

The Arlington County Board on July 23, 2014 approved a nearly $7 million loan from the county’s affordable housing investment fund to Wesley Housing Corporation and its corporate partner Bozzuto to build a new apartment building with mostly luxury rental units at Pierce Queen Apartments in Rosslyn. The project is really not about affordable housing at all, but about a developer Bozzuto building a 12 story new commercial apartment building in Rosslyn with the county government and federal government financing it. It is really an stark example of the county’s failed housing program and another example of the county’s unaffordable housing program.

In brief, the project will cost about $36 million and will net the county government about 26 more subsidized units which is about $1.3 million per new unit! The county’s $7 million loan to the developer works out to about $250,000 per CAF unit. The kicker is that all the tenants living in the 78 subsidized units will then have to pay higher rent–and the county will have to pay part of the higher rents because the tenants do not earn enough money! So the county actually made things WORSE for tenants by allowing unneeded renovation.

The current Pierce Queen Apartments have 50 subsidized apartments, and 28 additional units (CAFs) will be added. Unfortunately the cost per new unit added is extraordinary high, and in addition rents will be raised in order to pay for these expensive new units.

The proposed project will have 78 CAFs, an addition of 28 CAFs. The total cost of the project is $35.6 million so the marginal cost of adding 28 new CAFs is $1,271,000 each. The unit cost for all 78 CAFs is $456,000. Either way, it is ridiculous to be paying either sum for a modest apartment.

In terms of the use of the county’s AHIF, the cost per new CAF is $250,000; the cost for the new CAFs and the current CAFs is lower $89,000 per unit. However, the 50 CAFs already at the complex were paid for years ago with federal and county financing and should not be counted.
The county government’s housing target is to add 400 new CAFs per year; last year the county added 55.

The 78 CAFs at Pierce Queen will be rented to higher income persons: 40 units to renters earning up to 50% AMI and 38 units for renters earning 60% AMI. This project will not meet the county’s housing target that at least 25% of new CAFs be affordable to people earning 40% AMI.

Is this the best deal the county government can get to add new CAFs in Arlington, and is this the best use of the limited AHIF funds? The county housing target is to add 400 new CAFs a year, and it cannot done at at a cost of a million bucks per unit nor even at $250,000 of AHIF funds per new unit. Four hundreds new CAF units at this rate would cost $100 million dollars in capital spending annually.

Wesley already received substantial county and federal funds to purchase and renovate Pierce Queen, and is contractually required to keep these 50 apartments for many years more. Why did the county government let Wesley out of its contractual agreement to provide 50 low cost CAFs?

The county Board needs to ask hard questions of your housing staff as to why these un-affordable housing projects are so expensive, and how it can find developers who can truly build affordable low cost apartments.

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July 21, 2014

Affordable housing: county wastes dollars and accomplishes little

Arlington Green John Reeder spoke at the Arlington County Board meeting on July 19 about affordable housing.

Good morning members of the Board.

I am here today to discuss affordable housing and why giving away free public land to high cost government contractors is a bad idea, and failing to address high cost housing is a mistake.

In 2013, the county added only 55 CAFs or 14% of the 400 goal to the current 6,500 CAFs. The CAFs added were very expensive per unit, and land costs were often small or irrelevant to the high costs.

Look at two recent projects: The Carlyn Springs Apartments and the Arlington Mills Apartments.

In January 2014, you (the county board) gave an $8 million loan to APAH to build 71 new CAF apartments at the current Carlyn Springs Apts complex which APAH already owns. The average cost of the 71 CAFs was $538,000 each. APAH already owned the land so the cost of this land was free.

Then about 4 years ago, you gave APAH free public land at Arlington Mills site and loans to build 122 CAF apartments. The cost was $250,000 per unit. Most renters accepted earned over 60% of area median income ($67,000).

Nearly all of the for-profit and non-profit developers of CAFs in Arlington are very high cost and highly inefficient.

Free land does not mean low cost apartments.

The CAFs are so expensive that only higher income people can afford to rent, and, of course, then the county can only add 50 CAFs a year too few to meet our need.

The county board government needs to hire low cost builders; the Fairfax Housing Authority builds its CAFs in Fairfax County for $100,000 each which it then rents mainly to families earning under $40,000 a year.

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June 10, 2014

Arlington parents and residents oppose building a new large sized middle school in Rosslyn at Wilson School site

Development,schools — @ 10:13 am

A group of parents and residents are circulating a petition to the APS board against a mega school proposed to cover most of the Wilson School site. Mark Antell, a Green members, heartily supports their perspective and recommend that civic minded citizens sign the petition.

The Arlington Green Party has NOT taken a position on this petition, but several Green members endorse this petition and oppose building a mega school at the Wilson School site. Community activists have mentioned other locations for a needed middle school in the county–for example, two closed schools–the Fairlington Community Center in south Arlington, and the Madison Recreation Center near Chain Bridge in north Arlington, as well as existing empty commercial office buildings in Crystal City, Rosslyn, and other locations.

wilson school photo2

Here’s the petition site

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/vote-no-to-1300-seat?source=s.icn.em.cp&r_by=10703771

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May 6, 2014

Arlington Preservation meeting–May 13 Panel: State of Preservation in Arlington

Development,environment — @ 3:22 pm

environmental earth with hands

May 13 Panel: State of Preservation in Arlington

When

Tue, May 13, 7pm – 9pm GMT-04:00

Where

The Fillmore Room, Boulevard Woodgrill, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

For more information, go to Preservation Arlington, Inc. that is sponsoring this panel discussion
www.preservationarlington.org
environmental earth with hands

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April 28, 2014

Early thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School in Rosslyn

Early Thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School from Mark Antell, longtime Rosslyn civic activist
wilson school photo2
Some History
In the 1980s through the mid 1990s, the Wilson School building did not host a school. But the playfield was maintained, and it was heavily used evenings and weekends by the community. By 1997, the school building was back in use, as a ‘swing space’ for elementary schools undergoing renovation. The playfield however, was rendered unusable by trailers.
Over the last decade, Arlington Public Schools (APS) and Arlington County Government have proposed several initiatives to densely develop the Wilson School property. North Rosslyn Civic Association has opposed such proposals with a consistent message that the Wilson Site should be used for education and community service. We’ve been fortunate to receive strong support for that position from RAFOM (the Civic Association south of Wilson Blvd.), and from a number of civic-minded individuals and organizations throughout Arlington.

Now
Today, the school is underutilized. It hosts only two programs, the delightful Mongolian School* program on Saturdays, and a once a year ‘holiday fiesta’ for our low-income families. Otherwise the Wilson School is unavailable for adult education or other community use. Also, the playfield is largely unusable.

The Current Proposal
APS proposes to build a new school on the property and to provide a functional playing field. Detail is lacking, but below I provide my early take on what we, the nearby residents, should regard as positive about this proposal; what we should regard as objectionable; and what we need answers about.

Pluses
The most positive feature of the new APS proposal is that it uses the Wilson site appropriately, for education. Parents of students will form a powerful lobby to assure that developed and recreation space are optimized. The community would gain meeting space, adult education space, and both outdoor and indoor recreation space. For way way too long we’ve not had a playfield in our community. Here’s a chance to get one.

Minuses
The Wilson School is an historic building. A new building will likely possess little of the charm, and little if any of the history.
The proposed new middle school would be many times the size and height of the current Wilson School. It would add substantial density affecting traffic, parking, views, etc. This would be the first ‘urban school’ in Arlington, and in my experience, APS staff does a horrible job the first time they tackle anything. We will do ourselves and incoming students a great service if we sharply question this project before it is ‘set in concrete.’

Unknowns / Questions we should raise early on, before they become issues
What happens to our pedestrian path, sitting area, small playground, and basketball court? It’s not clear. I understand that the future of these existing green/recreation areas will be discussed in a separate process, the West Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS). It might be a good idea to ask that study to examine whether the Wilson Firestation should be replaced at its current location, or whether it might be better to use that land for additional playspace for the very large school planned next door.
The new school will, inevitably, schedule some activities outside normal school hours. Which school resources (gym, meeting space, educational space, playfield) will be available for community use, and when will they be available?
It would also be a good idea to decide if we, the nearby residents, want the playfield to be available for use after dark.

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April 16, 2014

Overblown and overstated new subsidized apts on the Pike–too few and too expensive

Open Letter to the editor of the Washington Post April 15, 2014
from AGP chairman John Reeder

It is commendable that the City of Alexandria and Arlington County are attempting to preserve existing affordable rental housing in Arlington, but the article overstated the number of truly affordable units created in two apartment complexes recently, and overlooked how inadequate are the housing programs in these two jurisdictions (Patricia Sullivan, “For thousands looking for affordable rentals about 200 more in Northern Virginia,” April 12). The Serrano Apartments in Arlington and the Hunting Terrace Apartments in Alexandria, the Post indicated, together will add “more than 200 units,” but the actual affordable units added are closer to 60.

solar panels commercial

In exchange for $16.5 million in Arlington local funds (and probably tens of millions of more dollars in Federal tax credits), the developer of the Serrano is providing only a net new 64 apartments that meet the “affordable” definition under HUD regulations out of the 280 apartments in the building, i.e. affordable to households making 60 percent or less of the area median income.

The Alexandria project is much worse: only 24 affordable apartments out of 443 new units. Since 115 units of the now existing Hunting Terrace Garden Apartments will be demolished, and probably 20 percent or so rented for affordable levels (a one-bedroom rate of $1,200 a month), the Alexandria project will add a net zero affordable apartments. Bottom line for the two projects: about 64 new affordable units in Arlington and none in Alexandria.

The cost to Arlington County and local taxpayers to add 64 net affordable apartments will be $250,000 per apartment. These apartments are so expensive that only persons making generally above 60-percent of the area median income or $64,000 for a family of four qualify. Tenants making $30,000, 40,000 or even $50,000 a year cannot rent these new units.

According to data of the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research, the City of Alexandria has the least affordable rent apartments in the State of Virginia and the entire Metro D.C. region. Arlington is the second least affordable place. This is no accident, but a deliberate policy in both areas.

Both jurisdictions over the past two decades have embraced development policies designed to displace residents and tenants making under $60,000 a year. Both operate expensive and largely ineffectual housing programs and refuse to adopt new housing approaches that could cost effectively keep or add affordable units for lower income and working people already living there.

Note.–this is personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily repreent the views of the Arlington Green Party.

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