• Dee Witehead

Services will be held this Saturday, May 14, at the Arlington County Courthouse, beginning at 9:00 a.m., when the County Board holds funeral services for the Arlington Way. The final nail will be pounded into the coffin of the Arlington Way, adorned in its faded colors of public engagement. We mourn the loss of a central underpinning that served this county well for many decades, noteworthy for close cooperation between the Arlington community and its local government in planning and implementing a high quality of life for all. With the passing of the Arlington Way, public engagement in Arlington is the stuff of history. Hyperbole? OK, but no exaggeration. This issue before the board this Saturday is the vague and innocuous agenda item benignly posted as “28. 1425 N. Quincy St., License Agreement for Arlington Public Schools’ White Fleet & Use Permit.” What lies beneath this heading is not an issue of parking APS vehicles in what is commonly referred to as “Buckville,” the tract of land the county purchased in the 1400 block of North Quincy Street for $30 million in 2015, a deal conducted in secret, now decreased in valuation by $5 million thanks to the county’s stewardship. The Ballston-VA Square Civic Association and adjacent neighborhood worked with Arlington Public Schools about two years ago to amenably reach accommodations agreeable to all, accomplished without the meddling of the county government and its Department of Environmental Services (DES). Everything was fine, until the Arlington Way began showing signs of ill-health. The neighborhood has cried for the county to develop an actual plan for Buckville from the first day we heard of the purchase. Asking, we were specifically denied a seat at the JFAC table. Oh well, all for naught as the Arlington government now regards JFAC as passé and no longer applicable. Thanks for your service, JFAC members, we’ll do just as we wish. Since then, we’ve endured tractor-trailers idling overnight beneath residential windows, something DES said they were powerless to prevent; dozens of dumpsters teeming with trash dumped all over the property, to which DES chief Greg Emanuel expressed his shock, shock that there was garbage in Buckville, all the while he was fully aware; renovation of 1425 N. Quincy where construction was performed without a dumpster, so trash was thrown all over the property, much of it boards with nails sticking up; police holding training exercises in the back lot with weapons drawn as they advanced toward Hayes Park, filled with children on a spring afternoon, to which ACPD responded, “they weren’t loaded;” taking a trash can out to the curb around midnight to see a man in unmarked camos walking down our block with a sidearm, talking on a phone (on the heels of a mass shooting) – turned out they were using our streets and, apparently, yards, for a training exercise with Falls Church; and more. Simply put, Arlington County is a BAD neighbor! When Covid struck, it was the neighborhood that suggested to the county that the center building be used for overflow triage from the hospital, if needed, and we were fully supportive of its use as a testing site. The neighborhood has encouraged the county to develop a plan for the tract beneficial to all Arlington, i.e. schools or affordable housing. Thank you, we have been told, we have other ideas. Don’t know exactly what they are but we’ll let you know once we know. Our neighborhood is our home and our homes are not investment properties, they are where we raise our kids and relax on the deck on warm spring evenings. Arlington has been our home for 39 years and we have been deeply saddened to see the disappearance of good governance in recent years. We have been active volunteers in Arlington throughout, now finding our good work ignored or simply discarded. What sits inside Saturday’s Trojan Horse is a key phrase, “permit for commercial parking.” Of course, this validates Buckville as a truck stop, but what the phrase cloaks is the squeezing of 29 ART buses around 1400 N. Quincy, operating from 3:00 a.m. to midnight, six days a week (they say), year-round. Idling engines, beeping back-ups, the roar and vibrations as they set into motion, all directly abutting a residential neighborhood – and I do mean “butting” as their exhaust pipes will be pointed directly at nearby homes. Beyond the pure nuisance, the county and DES have not addressed the critical issues of such random placement – air and water pollution, noise pollution, and the real danger of placing 29 20-ton vehicles rumbling and vibrating atop a wholly unsuitable surface honeycombed with water and sewer lines. Concrete will crack, leaks will occur, with the real possibility of the ground simply giving way beneath the weight and vibrations. NIMBY? Well, you have to think how you would feel and react if your neighbor wanted to operate a bus company next to your house? How about converting a single-family home into, say, a gas station? No, the county would not allow either, but if it’s the county doing the deed, their wishes are your orders. No one is happy with the coming prospect, something DES tried to spring on us in March with just one neighborhood meeting where DES “told” residents what they were going to do. Questions were dismissed as soon as they were asked. The community was able to hold them off for the time, not through any consideration by DES or Arlington politicians, rather an attorney drafted a response pointing to the county’s violations of their own procedures. Thus, Saturday’s hearing is, essentially, procedural to dust off the troublesome neighborhood and their questions. Our neighborhood is not alone suffering under the yoke of the new Arlington way. How many neighborhoods and whole communities have you read about where the county has completely by-passed citizens to proceed as they wish. Some neighborhoods have fortunately succeeded in raising attention to the county’s actions and backed them off, and that is our only hope here as the board, no doubt, will unanimously pass this disaster. We stand against a formidable DES propaganda machine, filled with heaping helpings of misstatements and mischaracterizations, facilitated by the county’s one-way communications. This stands as a clear warning to all Arlington communities and neighborhoods that you could be next. We now have a local government no longer planning and coordinating with citizens, rather operating by fiat with the pet causes of county staff, politicians and their donors. Citizens? We're nothing but trouble. Heck, they appear to be so afraid of citizen input that they made a last-minute change moving this agenda item to Saturday from its originally scheduled hearing next Tuesday. Arlingtonians should stand up to demand a real voice in our local governance – without regard to political party membership (Independent), not simply relegated to a two-minute spiel going in one ear of each board member and out the other, followed by a rubber-stamp unanimous vote. We mourn the passing of the Arlington Way.

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