In a brief meeting with Arlington officials last Monday afternoon, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine praised the county for it's transit-oriented development policies and said it could serve as a model for other communities across the commonwealth.
Kaine, along with several members of his cabinet, was in Arlington as part of a daylong tour of Northern Virginia, during which he called on the General Assembly to increase funding for the state's beleaguered transportation network.
The governor also stressed the importance of better linking transportation and land-use planning, and lauded Arlington for being a leader in "smart-growth" initiatives.
"Virginia has not done it well, but Arlington is one that has done it well," Kaine told more than 20 county officials in the Arlington Economic Development office overlooking the towering high-rises of Ballston.
Following visits with elected officials and residents in Sterling, Reston and Herndon, Kaine rode the Orange Line Metro from Vienna to Ballston.
What the governor saw when he emerged from the station is a prime example of how a locality can cluster a mix of residential, retail and commercial buildings around a transportation center, Arlington officials said. Approximately 25,000 people use the Ballston Metro stop every day.
County Board members emphasized that Arlington's economic success is a direct result of the planning foresight of their predecessors in the 1970s, who ensured the Metro line would run under Wilson Boulevard rather than above ground along I-66.
"Clarendon was dying when Metro came in, and now it's a new downtown," County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman told Kaine.
Earlier this year Kaine found himself in the middle of a similar debate: whether Metro's extension to Tysons Corner should be placed in an underground tunnel or on elevated tracks. Though Kaine originally advocated for the stations to be underground, like they are in Arlington, that plan was shelved because the Federal Transit Administration deemed it too expensive.
County Board Vice Chair Paul Ferguson told the governor that smart-growth planning could be accomplished even in areas that possessed only bus service — pointing to the recent spate of development in Shirlington and Columbia Pike — and that other localities could easily duplicate Arlington’s recent success.
"Don't think this only works because there's a Metro in Arlington," Ferguson said. Shirlington and Columbia Pike "show this can work in corridors where there isn't a Metro."
County officials also said to the governor that other localities should follow Arlington's lead and promote the construction of "green" energy efficient buildings. Having a plethora of such buildings helps the environment, saves companies money and burnishes Arlington's reputation in the business community, Zimmerman said.
"Having high standards is part of what makes this place valuable and what makes people want to invest in it," Zimmerman said to Kaine.
IN AN INTERVIEW after the meeting with county officials, Kaine said he is "still considering" reinstating some of the $10.4 million in reimbursements funding for human services programs Arlington is expected to lose this year, but has yet to make a final decision.
Kaine said he "recognized the importance" to the county of preserving the funding, which provides for mental health counselors, prevention services and the county's supportive housing program.
Kaine may include the reimbursement funding — which is money already spent by Arlington on prevention programs for troubled and at-risk youth — in his budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year, which is expected to be released in mid-December.
The county was forced in September to scale back its human services and supportive housing programs due to the loss of $7.5 million in state and federal funding.
An audit earlier this year of foster care programs found that the Commonwealth of Virginia had given localities permission to use federal funds for human services initiatives that went beyond the more rigid federal guidelines. The federal government and Virginia then agreed to suspend reimbursements for preventive mental health programs to Arlington and Fairfax counties.
To make up for the abrupt loss of funding, the county has decided to implement a hiring freeze, temporarily end a new program for adults with mental disabilities at the Walter Reed Community Center and shelve plans to build an assisted living center for low-income seniors.
Arlington board members and the county's General Assembly delegation have launched an aggressive lobbying campaign in hopes of getting back some of the $10.4 million that is owed to them in reimbursements. In addition to meeting with the governor, they have spoken with U.S. Reps. James Moran (D-8) and Tom Davis (R-11) to see what federal assistance may be available.
At minimum, Arlington officials hope to phase in the loss of reimbursement funding over a period of several years, so the county will not bear the brunt of losing so much money at once.
"We are hoping that we may get the state to live up to its obligation, and minimize the cuts and spread it over a period of time," County Board member Barbara Favola said in an interview earlier this fall.