Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mary Hynes: Drawing on School Decisions to Help in County's

Democratic county board candidate Mary Hynes interview with Steve Thurston (of the HeraldTrib) and community members (at the HeraldTrib) on Oct. 22, 2007. The interview questions were edited for length and clarity, the responses were edited for length, interruptions or unnecessary asides. All of Ms. Hynes responses are quoted. The community members engaged much more in a discussion rather than a “Question and Answer.” The questions marked “Community Members” below are a summary or amalgam of the discussion. –Steve Thurston

HeraldTrib: Tell us why you’re running.
Mary Hynes: ….There are three things that I think we’re going to have to work on, regardless…The first one is how are we dealing with our aging infrastructure, our sewers, our water, our streets, our sidewalks….The second thing is affordable housing….I do want us to keep having places that work well for the folks that have been living in garden apartments and are of lesser means. But I also see this huge hole in our housing stock of garden apartments that people rent, and then when you want to buy there’s really nothing in that starter category anymore….The third thing that I think we have to keep our eye on is what’s happening in human services.….We partner with a lot of non-profits. Some of those non-profits deliver essential services to folks. Some of them are not as economically healthy as I would like to see; they’re not able to offer their employees benefits sometimes, and yet they’re providing essential services.

Community Member: How do we maintain housing “mixed” by ethnicity and socio-economic class?
MH: …It is the greatest challenge that we have. And the tools that we have, I think, as a county are pretty limited. There’s no way, for instance, when you’re talking with folks to say, as other places do, you know if you redevelop in this way, so that we have a mixture of affordabilities and a mixture of sizes, we can give you a tax break up front. There’s no way for us to do that right now in Virginia, and yet that’s a tool that works in a lot of other places to hold housing in a mixed environment. Some of this we’re going to have to keep working very closely with the legislature and the governor on.

CM: I am a little curious as to where you stood with the Paradigm development. Was it something you’re in favor of, or, perhaps, may have had a different opinion? [The speaker was referring to the redevelopment of Buckingham Villages 1 and 3. –ST.]
MH: I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of that deal at all. I certainly supported holding onto as many affordable units as we could figure out to do, and I do support finding ways to do affordable home ownership. How that’s all going to fit together there, I don’t know as much about it as I, perhaps, ought to….It’s an expensive precedent, we cannot afford, I don’t think, to do that in every place that an owner is willing to not go to the maximum density.

CM: How do you feel about affordable housing as it is spread throughout Arlington right now?
MH: I think we’re going to have to get smarter about spreading it out. Finding the right strategies to do that is going to be the sort of forward thinking that we need to do, whether it is allowing things, commercial areas on these other roads to get a little higher so that we can have some housing. Another idea that I’m interested in…they call them accessory dwelling units, really basement apartments or garages in single family neighborhoods that become a small apartment…. We’re not going to solve it only on the corridors.

CM: With all of this increased density throughout the county, what will the impact on the infrastructure be, and who’s going to monitor that? You’re talking about putting more people into garages and basement apartments, it’s a hidden kind of thing.
MH: …We’re under a court order to upgrade our sewer treatment plant and deal with that…and it’s a capacity issue as well as an upgrading of the technology that manages the sewer. We have major storm water maintenance issues in this community, and the county board has begun to address that, but it’s going to continue to be an issue.…We need to get a really strong matrix in place that says as we do this development, these are the ancillary things that we need to pay attention to.

HT: You live in Lyon Village, and I believe you were on the first group of people to fight against “The View at Clarendon” the mixed-use redevelopment of the First Baptist Church.
MH: I would characterize it slightly differently. The Baptist church was kind of moving along, it was supposed to get to the county board, and the county board decided that they would have the manager convene a working group of neighbors, housing advocates and church people to work through the issue. I was one of the two neighborhood representatives to that round table….We tried to come to a consensus position….Lots of people have different perceptions of what happened. In the end where I came down was that I believe that 10 storeys was too tall for that location. I was very grateful that the manager preserved the three-storey portion of the building that’s the day care center….But the 10 storey portion is across from a number of single-family homes. And the zoning change that was necessary to allow that 10 storey building changed a 30-year agreement…that the neighborhood had come to rely on.…In the end, no compromise was reached, and so the board voted for it, and then the neighbors sued. I have not had a role to play since the roundtable really ended.

HT: So you weren’t part of the suit?
MH: No. No.

HT: My big question with affordable housing, with density is that nobody wants encroachment in their neighborhoods, but don’t we all have to suck it up a little?
MH: In any community process, Steve, I think that’s true, you cannot satisfy everybody….One of the ways that I’d like to see us proceed moving forward is to help neighborhoods envision what might come….In the system we have now, you might hear about [developers’ ideas] long after the developers have gone to talk to the county, and there might be one or two things on the table. What I think would be much more useful is a process that’s kind of like what they did on Columbia Pike, where the neighbors sat down and said, “Gosh, if this is going to redevelop, and if it revitalizes, we might get some more services, and we might get some housing, or some business incubators,”….So let us think about what the economics would be of encouraging a developer to build the kind of thing we’d like, and then what more are we willing to give to help afford those things that we might like. And do it long before the developer comes in so that the community is kind of coalesced around the notion of these shapes and these kinds of services would be important to us.

HT: What sort of pressure would you put on communities to say, “You’ve got to do your part too?”
MH: I think that it does have to be said. And I think we also have to listen carefully to what neighbors say. You know, change is hard, and people say “no” in the beginning….But somebody else owns this [property] and we can’t say “no.”….The more information I gave people [at school board functions] and the more they had the opportunity to understand sort of the landscape, the more willing they were to participate. It’s when they feel like you’re holding information back or the deal’s already done that you get the cynicism, people really dig their heels in.

CM: A mini-golf course has been proposed for the space at the corner of N. Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street. This is a time when county staff has come to the community and said “A mini-golf course is what is needed.” The county board often just rubber stamps what is given to them from staff. Could you comment on that?
MH: I think what I was known for, Bernie, on the school side was asking a lot of questions. And saying to the staff “How did you reach this conclusion?” “What goals are you trying to accomplish?” “How does this fit into what else is going on?” And I plan to do that if I’m elected to the county board.

CM: The county staff is suggesting a General Land Use Plan change for the Bob Peck site to allow a taller building and more density. The staff has been pushing this all along. Once you start changing the GLUP, it opens the door to too much revision.
MH: One of the things that I’ve learned, Bernie, living where I’ve lived for so long is that the real history is in the neighborhood people….The county will say, “We’re going to do this,” when in fact there’s a lawsuit that says “No, you really can’t do that.” I’ve learned to ask the people in the neighborhood…

The battles that we’ll have to face in the future is that some change is going to have to come….Bob Peck is a great example….There’s a death [in the Peck family] and all of a sudden people are saying, “Well how does this now fit in the fabric that’s built up around it?”…I am not of the mind that things have to be as high as we possibly can think about it, nor as dense as we possibly can. I want to make sure that we’re thoughtful and careful about where our transitions are. I think what we’re seeing now is a willingness by many on the county board to undue those arrangements for a variety of reasons, some of which I don’t understand….I think that site [the Bob Peck site at the corner of N. Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard] is going to be a huge challenge….

I think affordable housing makes it harder to have a rational conversation because it brings a whole set of people in who, they really don’t care what happens, if in fact we get some more affordable housing because they feel it is such an important crisis, and we should be willing to do just about anything to solve it….I can promise you that I will ask the question everytime: “Who’s at the table? Is everybody who ought to be there involved and participating? Are we sending the notices even if people aren’t showing up?” I learned that on the school side.

CM: If the Glebe Market goes away in a year or so, and day laborers congregate there, where are they going to go? (If the space currently planned for the mini-golf course becomes a park only with trees and benches, how do we stop people from going there?) There’s a need to look at what’s going on with that piece of property now within close proximity to the actions a few block away. Where are you on day laborer sites?
MH: I was really supportive of the opening of SEEC [the day laborer site in South Arlington]….I thought it met a whole lot of needs, and it dealt with what was getting to be a pretty unruly situation….I guess I didn’t know that people were gathering up here….Well maybe we do need to look for another location….

There is [a domino effect]. The people who live in the neighborhoods are often more aware of these kinds of issues that anyone of us can be on the county board.

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