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Getting to Work

New Year’s Day meeting lets board outline plans for 2003.

Waking up for a morning meeting isn’t most people’s idea of a New Year’s Day celebration, but for county board members, it’s a welcome tradition.

“It’s hard to get here, but once you’re here it feels really good to be here,” said board member Paul Ferguson. “It’s part of what Arlington is all about.”

In accordance with tradition, the county board got to work on the first day of the new year, holding its organizational meeting Wednesday, Jan. 1. Charles Monroe officially took over as board chair from Chris Zimmerman, and outlined his plans for the upcoming year. In his first address as chair, Monroe focused on economic development, neighborhood preservation, and community participation.

“[Monroe’s plan] strikes a good balance between continuity and new initiative,” said Zimmerman. Economic development will be especially important this year, he said, considering the “fiscal disaster” in the state government.

To ensure that disaster won’t spread to Arlington, Monroe called for investments and improvements throughout the county, not just in certain areas. “Our economic sustainability is the sum total of all of our investments throughout the county,” he said. “Despite the success of our Metro corridors, we know that Arlington’s economy is strong only if all of Arlington is strong.”

DEVELOPMENT ALONG METRO corridors, connecting Ballston to Rosslyn and Crystal City to the Pentagon, has supported much of the local economy, as it produces 46 percent of county tax revenue while occupying just 7 percent of the county’s land area.

But the principles that have guided development in the Metro corridors must be applied to all of Arlington, he said, if the county is to thrive. Columbia Pike is the most obvious target for such development.

The board is expected to approve form-based building codes, developed by the county and citizens, for the Pike in February. The plan would allow developers to bypass some elements of the planning process if they agree to develop their projects under codes. “The developer saves time and money, and the community gets a development that achieves its vision,” said Monroe.

But his colleague Barbara Favola had her own concerns for redevelopment along the Pike. “We must strive to redevelop Columbia Pike in a way that continues to provide housing affordable to all income brackets,” she said. “Many families and young couples settle into starter homes and low-cost apartments along the Pike, and this mix of housing is something of value to the community.”

ARLINGTON MUST CAPITALIZE on the opportunity to increase revenue from business travelers, said Monroe. For the past two years, county staff has worked on tentative plans for a conference center that would help build on the already $2 billion per year tourism industry in the county.

Monroe said he will push staff to develop a formal plan for the convention center before the end of 2003. The center could generate up to $58 million per year in direct spending, and could create almost 1,300 jobs, he said.

The convention center is a distinct possiblilty, said Rich Doud, chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. “There’s been a fair amount of work going on behind the scenes,” he said. The General Assembly approved legislation that will allow the county to raise the local hotel tax, a move that was vital for funding a convention center. The county has also been working with consultants to identify potential sites for construction and to plan for funding.

Fisette applauded Monroe’s initiative but expressed concern about funding such a large-scale project. “I am keenly interested in a conference center, though I recognize several questions loom large, including a financing package,” he said.

With finances already tight, and transit improvements badly needed, finding money for large development projects could prove difficult in the next few years. Some of the funding burden could be eliminated through a public-private partnership, said Monroe.

LOCAL INDEPENDENT BUSINESSES could benefit from Monroe’s tenure as board chair. In his address, Monroe called for the creation of an initiative called “Shop Arlington.”

Planned and put in place by the county’s Economic Development Commission and Small Business Task Force, the “Shop Arlington” initiative will encourage people to patronize small, locally owned businesses.

“Shop Arlington” is important because quality neighborhood stores need help becoming widely known, said Monroe. “These businesses are part of the fabric of Arlington, and may be little known outside of their respective neighborhoods,” he said. It’s a common obstacle facing neighborhood stores, and the Shop Arlington initiative could help the local economy substantially, said Doud.

But when focusing on those particular businesses, it’s important not to lose sight of the development and safety features that benefit all Arlingtonians, said Favola.

“‘Shop Arlington’ is a wonderful way to promote Arlington and support our retail establishment,” she said. “Intrinsic to the ‘Shop Arlington’ initiative, however, must be an emphasis on continuing to make Arlington pedestrian friendly.”