Arlington’s Big Idea Roundtable
Throughout the month of June, Arlington residents had the opportunity to sit down with County Board members, commissioners, and neighbors to discuss the future of Arlington through the Big Idea Roundtables. Five events were scheduled and held at different times and locations to accommodate various resident schedules. There was high interest in the meetings, generating waiting lists quickly for most sessions. To accommodate non-English speakers, one of the meetings offered Spanish language interpretation. Representatives from local advocacy groups BUGATA and VOICE attended the meetings to ensure that they were representative of the broader Arlington community. Notes collected throughout all the sessions will be used to conduct a thematic qualitative analysis and then presented to the Board and Commission.
At the meeting we attended, participants were split into two groups, and everyone was encouraged to respond to each of the facilitated questions. The first question, “What makes Arlington, Arlington?” revealed a lot. Responses showed that participants in one of the groups valued the racial and economic diversity of the Arlington community and felt it was a quality that sets Arlington apart from surrounding jurisdictions. However, participants also pointed out how many of the neighborhoods and schools are still segregated. This was further highlighted when it was noted that the percentage of students in the free and-reduced-lunch program varies greatly from school to school within the county. Participants also cited public transportation as an asset to the Arlington community.
The next question, “In your opinion, what does growth mean for Arlington?” elicited concerns of rising housing costs and traffic congestion, particularly related to the possibility of an Amazon HQ2. Although many of the session participants were single-family homeowners, they still voiced their concerns about inaccessible housing costs, both for-sale and for-rent, for future residents. Two African American women mentioned how they themselves would not have been able to afford to live in Arlington had generations before them not purchased their home. They also mentioned how their children could not afford to live in Arlington.
There was much discussion regarding the possibility of other types of housing, such as Accessory Dwelling Units, and more diversity of building types (even within the same building) to accommodate growth and alleviate some of the associated costs. This led to the question, but where will these buildings be concentrated? One participant mentioned that since much of the lower-income housing had been placed in her neighborhood, there was no more room for development. Ensuring that these new housing types are located throughout the county, and not concentrated in one neighborhood seemed to be a desired goal of the group.
The conversation on housing led to a question on the role of government and taxes and the Dillon Rule. One constituent wondered if it would be possible to tax developers more, but it was explained that Virginia law prohibits the government from taxing commercial properties differently from residential.
The last question, “What opportunities do we have as neighbors, residents, businesses, and stakeholders to shape our future?” had a few participants mention the current roundtable as a great opportunity for ensuring community input. One participant thought the current group might not be entirely representative of the community and thought a system similar to the jury selection process would be helpful. All in all, attendees at the meeting were engaged and seemed genuinely invested in their community and its future.
Molly Jacobson is NVAHA’s Communications and Policy Associate