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The Right Note: Verify Then Trust

By ARLnow.com

Thursday - 1/31/2013, 3:00pm  ET

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyCounty Board members went out of their way last week to say “the fix” was not in on the PenPlace development near Pentagon City in South Arlington. PenPlace has raised serious concerns from local residents who are not thrilled with the type and amount of non-residential development proposed there.

As part of the deal, Vornado is reportedly offering land for the Columbia Pike trolley maintenance facility as well as $20 million to help offset the costs of the new aquatics center. The Board desperately needs the space for the trolley facility, and the money for the pool is good PR for an expensive facility that had its share of detractors. With these sweeteners on the table, future public discussions seem likely to only be a formality.

Residents in the South Arlington neighborhoods who are concerned about PenPlace need only look back a couple years to the Crystal City redevelopment plan. They raised a number of issues on the plan with the County Board and staff throughout the process. At the end of the day, virtually none of the issues were addressed by the Board. Instead, the Board created an ongoing neighborhood advisory group, presumably to keep talking about changes the Board has no intention of making.

They can also look back at the widespread neighborhood opposition to the proposed purchase of 2020 14th Street North to house a new homeless shelter. The new building and renovations could cost the county nearly 20 times what it would have cost to retrofit the current facility. The County Board hearing room was packed by opponents of the plan, but their concerns simply fell on deaf ears. The decision had already been made.

Chairman Tejada just announced that there will be a public forum on the future of the massive Columbia Pike trolley project on March 27th. But, the promise of a forum seems somewhat hollow after the January 1st meeting where Chris Zimmerman pronounced the trolley issue had already been decided.

The Board certainly has a history of encouraging community dialogue and input. What seems to be a recent trend is that the Arlington Way stops when the Board realizes the community will not come around to their way of thinking. This is probably why a friend quipped to me last year after then-Chairman Hynes announced her PLACE initiative — it really stands for “Pretending Like Arlington County Ever-listens.”

When negotiating with the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy was “trust but verify.” Based on our Board’s recent track record of paying lip service to concerns raised by Arlingtonians, South Arlington residents concerned about PenPlace should consider taking the posture of “verify then trust.”

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.