Year in Review (Part II)

Year in Review (Part II)

<sh>County Board Limits Lot Sizes

<bt> To curtail the building of McMansions and protect neighborhoods from undesirable development, the Arlington County Board voted in November to place more restrictive limits on the size of houses.

The new guidelines cap a four-year process that has riled many homeowners in the county and produced little in the way of consensus.

The measure reduces the percentage of residential lots that can be covered by houses, garages and driveways. The regulation applies to new homes as well as renovations, and restricts lot size on a sliding-scale based on zoning districts.

Supporters of the measure believe it will help prevent over-sized renovations and the construction of sprawling McMansions, which dwarf adjacent houses and alter the character of Arlington’s neighborhoods. For years some residents have voiced their displeasure with massive houses that reduce the amount of open space between homes, block out the sun and lead to the loss of trees.

Opponents of the new provision said more stringent lot-coverage requirements are an attack on property rights, will drive down the price of land in the county and obstruct people from expanding their houses as they so choose.

COUNTY OFFICIALS insisted that the measure will have only a marginal, positive effect and will not impede residents from building large additions to their houses.

“This will have a minor impact for most people and only affect the most egregious examples” of over-sized houses, said County Board Vice-Chairman Chris Zimmerman.

Under the current rules single family homes can cover 56 percent of a lot, regardless of land size or zoning district.

The new measure restricts the size of a house to between 16 and 34 percent of a lot, depending on the zoning district.

Some residents have said the board was stretching beyond its authority, and have hinted at the possibility of a legal challenge to the new measure.

<sh> Democrats Sweep to Victory in November

<bt>Though it was expected that Timothy M. Kaine would carry Arlington convincingly in the November gubernatorial election, he exceeded the expectations of his own campaign advisers and bested the previous performances of Gov. Mark R. Warner and presidential candidate John F. Kerry in the county.

Kaine garnered 72.24 percent of the Arlington vote. Republican opponent Jerry W. Kilgore won 23.92 percent and Independent H. Russell Potts Jr. received only 1.74 percent of the county’s votes.

Analysts and politicians in both parties said Kaine’s overwhelming victory was due to his centrist message on bread-and-butter issues that resonated with suburban voters, the popularity of the Warner Administration, the backlash against Kilgore’s negative campaign ads and the Republicans’ troubles on the other side of the Potomac River.

“Our whole campaign message was designed to speak to concerns communities like Arlington are dealing with on a daily basis,” said Pete Brodnitz, a strategist and pollster for Kaine, and Arlington resident. “We made it a major focus of our campaign.”

In other Arlington races, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, Del. Al Eisenberg

(D-47), Del. Bob Brink (D-48) and Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) were all unopposed and coasted to re-election.

David Englin (D) defeated Chris Gregerson (R), 72 to 28 percent, to represent the 45th District in the House of Delegates.

A total of 57,200 Arlington residents participated in the election, a record for a gubernatorial year. Turnout was 50.3 percent of active registered voters casting ballots, up from 49 percent in 2001 and 48.7 percent in 1997.

Kaine’s 74 percent of the vote was an increase over the 67.5 percent of the vote Kerry won last year and Warner received in 2001, and it surpassed his campaign’s stated goals, advisers said.

Democratic-endorsed candidate Edward J. Fendley won a seat on the Arlington School Board after a spirited and genial three-way race.

Fendley captured 54.5 percent of the vote, while Bill Barker, who was endorsed by the Arlington County Republican Committee, finished second with 24.5 percent. Independent Cecelia Espenoza defied the predictions of many experts by running a close third, with 20.55 percent of the votes, and came in second in almost half of Arlington’s 49 precincts.

Fendley will replace Elaine Furlow, who did not stand for re-election after eight years on the board.

<sh>County Swaps Land For North Tract Project

<bt>For years Arlington residents have been asking for more aquatic and athletic facilities, but have had their hopes dashed because of the scarcity of land available for public use.

But in July the county completed a land swap that will help make plans for a new recreation center on the North Tract, the largest capital park undertaking in Arlington’s history, a reality.

Following the exchange with Monument Realty, the county now owns a total of 30 acres of land overlooking the Potomac River, just north of Crystal City. As part of the deal the county received a 7-acre site that was once the Twin Bridges Marriott Hotel, and $25 million to help defray the costs of building the new facilities.

In return, Monument Realty acquired a 5-acre plot of land on the north end of the tract, where several abandoned warehouses now sit.

“Getting access to North Tract and enhancing it is a big issue,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. “We’re very excited about that.”

The project is slated to include an aquatic and fitness center, four synthetic grass athletic fields and a dedicated arts space. There will also be a garden, a children’s area and a network of sidewalks and bike paths.

County officials envision North Track as an attractive gateway to Arlington, with views of Washington’s monuments, and as a gathering place for the community. The county is seeking to form partnerships with private businesses and nonprofit organizations to redevelop adjacent sites.

The first phase of construction is estimated to cost $50 million, and will include an aquatic complex, with four separate pools, two lighted fields, central public space and trails.

The county board adopted the North Tract Master Plan in February 2004, and in November of that year Arlington voters approved a $50 million bond for the project.

<sh>Washington-Lee Construction Costs Escalate

<bt>In June the Arlington School Board approved a final design for the Washington-Lee High School building, with a price tag of $95 million. This was $12.4 million more than anticipated when voters approved a bond referendum in November 2004, and nearly double some preliminary estimates.

“If you were the governing body of a private corporation, by undertaking this project, you would be risking your own jobs,” Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, told the board during a June meeting. “However, all you are doing is putting Arlington’s taxpayers at risk.”

The increased price tag for the project is because of rapidly escalating construction costs, school officials said. Steel and other materials are becoming much more expensive, in part because of a massive increase in demand by the Chinese, which is causing many construction projects to come in over budget.

The school board is scheduled to award a contract for construction in January, and the project will get under way soon after.

The new complex will be built on the site of the current school, which no longer possesses adequate facilities for the student population. During the first phase of construction, a four-story academic classroom building will be built on Stafford Street, in the northwest corner of the site where parking lots now exist.

After its completion, students will occupy the classrooms and the rest of the current building will be demolished. Then common spaces such as the auditorium, gym and swimming pool will be built.

The project is set to be completed in 2009.

-Additional reporting by Stefan Cornibert

<sh>Arlington Responds to Katrina

<bt>In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, both Arlington officials and residents responded quickly to help the population of the Gulf Coast and evacuees who came to the area.

A team of six emergency managers deployed to New Orleans less than two weeks after the storm struck, to support the city's police department. Additional teams went to New Orleans throughout September and a regional group of fire fighters provided emergency services in Hancock County, Miss.

The lessons learned in New Orleans will be vital to strengthening the efficiency of Arlington’s disaster response capabilities, officials said.

“We're getting to exercise what we have learned in a new area and this will make us better prepared if an event happens here,” said Carl Lindgren, who was part of the team that went down to New Orleans.

Arlington’s Department of Human Services assisted more than 150 families who were displaced by the hurricane with counseling, job placement and help in locating temporary housing.

Across the county, residents, businesses and organizations donated large sums of money for hurricane victims and found creative ways to help aid the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region. By the middle of September, the Arlington branch of the Red Cross had deployed more than 60 people to the affected areas for three-week assignments. It trained another 286 county residents in disaster response techniques who were ready to be dispatched.

IN DECEMBER the county announced it is forming a partnership with Biloxi, Miss., to help that community rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The county board envisions forming an in-depth partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Biloxi, and hopes the collaboration will influence civic groups, houses of worship and businesses in both localities to work together in aiding in the city as it rebounds from the wrath of Katrina.

The county seeks to create a framework for a community-wide response, enabling the government, citizens, nonprofit organizations and Arlington businesses to marshal their resources and provide more effective relief aid and services, officials said.

“In Biloxi they are still in the emergency stage,” said Ellen Bozman, co-chair of a county Katrina task force and a former county board member. “People still do not have houses and health facilities. Everyone is [striving] to meet their immediate needs.”

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<cl>Robin Lovitt, 41, shown here with two of his nieces.

<sh> Arlington Residents Fuel Death Penalty Debate

<bt>In the fall of 2005 two Arlington residents took center stage in the battle over the death penalty, making national headlines and stoking the debate over executions in Virginia.

In an ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, Arlingtonian Stanley Rosenbluth accused Democrat Timothy Kaine of representing the man who murdered his son and opposing executions even for those who commit the most heinous crimes, including Hitler.

Kaine’s law firm was appointed by the courts to serve as defense in the 1997 appeal of Mark Sheppard, who fatally shot Rosenbluth’s son and daughter-in-law over unpaid drug debts. The firm spent a total of 1,000 hours on the case, but Kaine offered advice to his partner for a total of 48 minutes, billings records revealed.

“That ad might have worked well in the south of the state, but in Northern Virginia people were angered by it,” said Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary. “I know Republicans who have never voted for Democrats before but voted for Kaine” because of the Hitler ad.

In November, Gov. Mark R. Warner granted clemency to Arlington resident Robin Lovitt the day before he was scheduled to be executed, citing the destruction of DNA evidence in the case by a court clerk.

If executed, Lovitt, 42, would have been the 1,000th person put to death in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977, following a 10-year moratorium.

Lovitt was convicted of the 1998 fatal stabbing of Clayton Dicks during a robbery of Champion Billiards, a pool hall in Shirlington. Dicks, a nighttime manager, was stabbed six times with a pair of scissors.

During the appeals process, an Arlington County court clerk discarded the suspected murder weapon and Lovitt’s blood-stained jacket, along with other evidence. Warner said in a statement that this violation of state law was sufficient reason to commute Lovitt’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.