Open letter to Matt de Ferranti and your new N. Arl multi-million dollar single family home

Dear Matt, 

Congratulations on buying your first single-family house in North Arlington! I was super thrilled that you chose to buy a single-family house, but whew, $1.75M?! I can’t swing that — but I see that the house next to yours is assessed for only $894k  and the one across the street is assessed at $1.14M – these, I can do.

Now

I’m super excited about the missing middle because it is so expensive to purchase in North Arlington, that I will build an eight Plex on each side of your new home. I do believe that if you change the policy and only make duplexes on both sides of you I still will be able to make the mortgage payment by only having three other people helping to pay it. I figure that I can either rent out the three other units at around $2800 each per month or based on comps, I could sell them for $1.2-1.4 million each. 

I love the fact that I won’t have to take care of a yard because I can actually build quite a bit more aggressively on the lot and there doesn’t seem to be a height limit. What do you think? 

A vision

But I really need you to get the 8 plex in…. It improves my profit margin by 4x. I don’t see any architectural guidelines so I am going to go a bit basic and try to improve that margin to 5x. Like it?! It will be so easy for people to find your house, too! A true landmark in the making. 

Missing Middle Paradise

I also really appreciate that I don’t have to build any additional garage space but I am wondering if you’re gonna let me park in front of your house because we’re gonna have to have somewhere between eight and 32 additional cars right in front of our homes. 

I hear that North Arlington schools are the best and there’s plenty of room in them. That will definitely be appealing to young families who are willing to sacrifice a yard to get their kids in the best schools. 

Hurry up and get this missing middle policy adjusted. I can’t wait to be neighbors.

Missing Middle, is it Conspiracy or Strategy?

Arlington is going hard at the Missing Middle (MM) initiative. It’s not because it will provide affordable housing – that myth was debunked relatively early. It’s not for the environment because there’s no way that with more properties going up that it would be better for the environment. It isn’t about being  more inclusive because there are no programs associated with the MM that would make sure that the impacts were spread throughout Arlington or for most neediest populations. 

It is all about money – some people say it’s because the county is sitting on a shit ton of money from Amazon that they need to spend. Others say it’s because the county wants additional revenue from all of these additional housing stock.  But we already know that the cost of providing services to a household will not be covered by the taxes that they pay. 

And we also know that corporate landlords and REITS can legally avoid paying taxes on properties when they are not being rented. There goes the entire “free market” argument supply/demand ratios drive price. Arlington has a lot of open supply but it is being priced so high that renters can’t afford the situation. Corporations can actually spend less money by taking the tax incentive or tax consolation prize of it not being rented out. 

But there’s a conspiracy starting to float and I find it fascinating – do you remember the critical race theory argument that happened in Loudoun County and literally turned Youngkin‘s assumed gubernatorial loss into a Republican takeover of Virginia? 

Is it possible that the missing middle is Arlington’s version of Loudon’s CRT? 

Let’s play it out 

Arlington county board members Matt de Ferranti (up for election this year and feels pretty confident that he will win), Katie Crystal and Christian Dorsey (all indicators are that they will not be running for reelection next year and have absolutely nothing to lose by having the missing middle pass), Takis K who hates conflict and toes the party line, but is probably known for laying the ground work for the disaster that is Columbia Pike) and Libby Garvey (well, who knows what Libby‘s thinking) appear to all be advocating hard for the MM. So let’s fast forward to July 20th and they green light the MM program, despite community outrage. . 

This means all homeowners in Arlington have the potential of having a 2-, 4-, 6-, or even 8-plex built in the lot adjacent to them, regardless of the sized lot. They say that there won’t be any boundary or setback adjustment – it will be the same as it currently is. However, based on how small lots are in Arlington, we know that we run by exception rather than rule there is no height restriction and there are no parking restrictions. 

So starting on July 21, the rest of Virginia has watched Arlington Democrats allow the government to impact their quality of life. All of these Arlington homeowners who now have a small house being redeveloped adjacent to them into a 2-, 4-, 6-, or even 8-plex – 8’ feet from the side of their house with little governance around style, space, accountability. 

The Republicans take this messaging and run with it (think of it as the “save the steal” or CRT in K12) and propagate the message that this is what the Democrats do. The Democrats use this broad brush messaging that makes people feel guilty for their preference for a single family home, feel like they’re racist if they don’t support the MM argument. That the Democrats use lies like saying we need more MM housing when 70% of Arlington‘s stock is multi-family housing.

So the Republicans take this message out to the rest of Virginia and they say “don’t be like Arlington –  don’t let the government put a high-rise right next to you and people freak out they get scared and the state turns red and in that vein goes all the progress that we’ve made on education, on guns, and abortion. 

This might be a conspiracy but it’s something to think about because our electorate doesn’t make the time to understand local issues, to dig in, and ask important questions. Voters are decision makers by headline and unless it’s happening to them and they’re watching it happen right next-door to them, they just don’t pay attention. 

So stop right now and think about the long-term ramifications of Arlington passing the missing middle program, the talk track that gives the Republican party and the power resulting in Virginia regressing 25 to 50 years of progressive issues.

A sad drive along S. George Mason Dr

If you take a drive along S. George Mason Dr. it will make you really sad. 

Alcova Heights park is in the process of demolition. The county has decided that it needed to remove over 60 healthy trees and already the shade and coolness that attracted so many to our park will find that the tree canopy has been annihilated along with the natural feel of the property just to do some things as simple as update the bathroom and add a couple of picnic shelters. This isn’t scheduled to be done until Fall 2023, so don’t worry, it will get uglier. 

As you drive further down you’ll notice they took an open green space that was between the 7-Eleven and Doctors Run Park and they’ve covered it in rock as a staging area. They have used this as a staging area many times, but this time they decided to make it really ugly. In a time where modular building and scaling to make the projects go faster and have less negative impact, Arlington doubles down on 1950s building practices. 

Continue driving past Doctors Run Park and you’ll notice that they planted a whole bunch of “street” trees in June. Everyone knows you don’t plant in the summer — it’s just too hot. So Arlington plants at the beginning of the hottest part of the summer without water, squeezed them  into spaces where the bases won’t have enough room to expand where their canopy won’t be able to grow because the trees adjacent to them are too close and growing and they are already suffering. 

Then you’ll pop out on Four Mile Run Drive where it’s open and ugly and there’s a dearth of shade to protect all the walkers and bicyclers and little kids learning to walk and scoot.  And this is Arlington County government’s modus operandi. Shoddy work, that takes too long time, with a complete lack of thoughtfulness around spaces go together or how people would use them go about working and playing. 

It’s a really a sad state of affairs.

“Arlington County management is worse than in developing countries”

Earlier this year, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz made a public apology for a major road disruption on Columbia Pike, affecting businesses and angering residents, who were never told of the work. Only after a public uproar and media reports, did he make an apology

It’s dumbfounding that notifying the public about disruptions to infrastructure impacting businesses and residents would be a difficult task. But it seems that is case for Mark Schwartz.

A Columbia Heights post on Nextdoor is another example of his mismanagement.

Schwartz isn’t making apologies just for his errors in alerting public about disruptions to infrastructure, he has made many other public apologies over policies including another one this year when Arlington staff was ordered to remove BLM chalk on Juneteenth. 

Given the frequency of apologies and that he only doles them out when the media reports on them, it’s clear that he doesn’t learn his lesson and that these apologies are insincere. 

Short Term Thinking Schwartz Short Changes Arlington Again

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz rarely misses an opportunity to place his personal short-term agenda ahead of Arlington’s long-term strategic interests. But a November 12 memorandum that Schwartz sent to the County Board reaches a new low even for small-minded Schwartz.

Background

Over 1,825 days ago, the Community Facilities Study Group recommended that Arlington adopt a long-term public facilities plan locating new school seats and other new public facilities like parks, fire stations, and stormwater infrastructure, at specific sites. After prolonged delays, a new commission—the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC)—was created to help develop such a plan. Schwartz quickly intervened, successfully pleading with the County Board for JFAC to be given a series of short-term planning assignments on items like the Buck and Virginia Hospital Center properties, thereby diverting JFAC from its primary mission: long-term, county-wide public facilities planning.

In recent months, JFAC finally began to show signs that it might be on a path to creating the critically important, but MIA, long-term public facilities plan. Re-enter Schwartz to try once again to side-track this vitally needed plan.

Schwartz strikes again

At a time when COVID-19 makes long-term planning for Arlington’s future even more important than it was before, short-term-thinking Schwartz’s latest petulant memorandum to the County Board again tries to deflect us from the strategic thinking Arlington desperately needs. We just can’t afford to do it, according to Schwartz, because:

“The work in [JFAC’s] outline, to be done well, and to be accurate and thorough, requires staff from virtually every department to be involved, including department heads.

“Such a plan requires subject matter expert advice, along with citizen input beyond the JFAC members. In addition, the outline focuses on areas that I see as squarely within my purview as Manager.”

No shit, Sherlock! If you had been doing your job right, instead of spending years preventing JFAC from doing its job, Arlington would now have the long-term public facilities master plan it desperately needs.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that the public has not been consulted about any of the policy suggestions floated by Schwartz, including any radical long-term permanent shift to virtual classrooms. Whether APS or parents will accept that result is not even considered in the memo. But make no bones about it, yet another  “pause” to locate school locations, and JFAC’s  diversion to review virtual classrooms will cover up Schwartz’s own failure to plan for brick and mortar schools up until now, and will result in no other option but virtual learning.

Similarly Schwartz’s suggestion that level of service reviews for facilities, including those for infrastructure and parks, are exclusively under his purview is designed to shield Schwartz from any independent critical thinking for how facilities can be used more efficiently or removed from Arlington’s exclusive management through things like partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions. 

Mark Schwartz does not have the strategic vision required of the Chief Executive Officer of a $1.5 billion enterprise.  The County Board should replace him with someone who does.

Dorsey Drama Continues

On September 16, Arlnow had a comment by a frequent contributor:

$4 Million to Heirs Annually • 7 hours ago The Bankruptcy Trustee has a filed a motion to dismiss Dorsey’s bankruptcy case for his failure to file a modified proposed plan. A previous Court order required Dorsey to file a modified proposed plan that would include $5,893 owed to his mortgage company for failure to pay his May and June 2020 mortgage payments. A hearing is scheduled for October 8th.

Background: Dorsey refinanced his mortgage after filing for bankruptcy but then failed to make at least four payments (Feb., March, May, and June 2020) although the bankruptcy repayment plan that Dorsey submitted to the Court stated that Dorsey would pay his monthly mortgage payments. His mortgage holder filed a motion to start foreclosure. To avoid foreclosure proceedings, Dorsey and the mortgage company filed a consent order (approved by the Court) stating that Dorsey would filed a new proposed plan that would include $5,893 that Dorsey had failed to pay for his mortgage. Dorsey never filed the new proposed plan required in the Court’s order. On February 25, 2020, Dorsey loaned his campaign $4,300.

How does this happen? Christian Dorsey voted just last night in the recessed County Board Meeting for a $3.5M design of an ART bus barn, authorized the sale of $172.32  General Obligation Public Improvement Bonds and $31 million of Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Revenue Bonds. This was just one night. Even when community members provided plenty of feedback on why not to move forward with all three of these decisions, Dorsey joined the unanimous votes.

As a reminder, Dorsey did vote himself a pay raise this year of $89,851 for his part time government job. It just feels weird to have someone who can’t pay their bills, spending tax payer money with such flagrant abandon.

Unfortunately, until he is up for reelection, it seems like Dorsey is safely ensconced in Arlington power.

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