Arlington County Board members said they would re-evaluate the cost of permits for block parties, after admitting they should not have approved a three-fold increase over last year’s rate.
The reversal of policy followed a public comment by Eugene Iwanciw, who saw the fee for his neighborhood’s block party jump from $15 last year to $68.
“It seems to be an outrageous increase,” said board member Walter Tejada. “Do we really need to be charging the neighborhoods this much?”
The measure “sneaked through” in a group of new requirements last year, Tejada said, and he asked County Manager Ron Carlee to look into revising the permit to a level commensurate with previous years.
Every fall Iwanciw and his neighbors on 12th Street, in the Madison Manor civic association, cordon off their street so families can barbecue, play sports and get to know each other better. In past years the county charged $15 for the permit and cones to close the street, but this year the neighborhood was outraged to hear the county demanded $68 for the right to hold a gathering on their street.
“Everywhere you turn the county is trying to wrangle more money from you,” Iwanciw said. “All we need is their permission. They shouldn’t try to grab $68 from us.
The extra $5 each family had to fork over was not the issue, Iwanciw said. Iwanciw said his block collectively paid nearly $10,000 more in county taxes than the previous year, and is tired of paying so much more without seeing a sufficent return for their money.
County Board Chairman Jay Fisette expressed concern that the new permit fee would discourage neighborhoods from holding events. The county wants to encourage block parties because they improve community engagement and neighborhood relations, he added.
“This came as quite a surprise to the board,” said Barbara Favola, who a few minutes later admitted that she had heard from other Arlington residents who were vexed by the permit increase.
The board should re-examine other permit fees to ensure there were no exorbitant increases from previous years, Favola added.
Though Iwanciw said he was pleased the board would reconsider the permit fees, he was dismayed that the board members only acted because he spoke at its monthly meeting.
“Why do I have to come here before they do anything, when they admitted they had heard complaints,” Iwanciw, said.