Arlington County Board members on June 16 came under withering fire from leaders and residents of the Green Valley community, who accused county leaders – not for the first time – of disrespecting the neighborhood and not listening to its people.
“We deserve much better,” said Robin Stombler, community-affairs chair of the Green Valley Civic Association and one of a number of residents who blasted board members and staff during a public hearing.
The trigger for the incoming flak was a proposed agreement between the county government and Shirlington-based WETA, relocating a temporary parking lot for employees of the public broadcaster during construction of an expansion of its headquarters.
Green Valley leaders said they had not been fully consulted on the proposal, which involves a parcel slated to be incorporated into the expanded Jennie Dean Park.
But that merely was the fuse that set off a broader conflagration.
“This is not the only example of the county government ignoring, disrespecting and misrepresenting Green Valley – there are dozens more we can point to,” said Portia Clark, who heads the civic association.
Clark said her criticism wasn’t related to the expansion of WETA – the civic association supports that – but about a lack of communication between county leaders and her community, which for a century was a rare enclave where African-Americans could live in what was then a segregated Arlington.
“Other civic associations are encouraged to weigh in on Green Valley affairs, but somehow our invitations to participate in other groups get sidetracked,” she said. “Our questions are tossed aside rudely, or we get asked to participate at the last minute.”
The criticism piled on as more speakers added their voices:
• “The community has not been taken seriously,” said Green Valley resident Nick Doyle. “We are constantly battling things that are being proposed that we don’t want. We’re second-class citizens.”
• It’s very disturbing, frustrating and angering,” added Green Valley resident Shevali Bathani, moved to make her first foray into a local-government issue by her concerns that promises made by the county government to Green Valley are not being kept.
“A parking space is being prioritized over park space,” Bathani said.
County officials, who by this point are probably wishing they had engaged the community more fully on the subject, said the perception that WETA was being given precedence over development of Jennie Dean Park wasn’t correct.
The space to be used for parking, located at 3514 South Four Mile Run Drive, currently is occupied by a dilapidated building that is being torn down. The parcel eventually will be incorporated into the expanded park, but the space is temporarily needed so existing parking for WETA employees can be vacated and incorporated into an earlier stage of the park’s development plan.
“It’s not like we’re putting parking on a park,” County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said. “It is temporary.”
“We want to move forward with the park,” Garvey promised. “If we want to move forward with the park, we probably need to move the parking.”
(County Board members then voted 4-0 to do just that.)
Several speakers also criticized the county government for using the Washington Times newspaper as its venue for publishing legal advertising.
“The county attempted to hide [the parking matter] in a newspaper few in our community subscribe to – this is not community engagement,” Clark said.
“This is a little shifty,” Doyle added.
The county government tends to use the Washington Times for all its required legal advertising, in part because of low cost. Others of a more conspiratorial bent, however, see using the conservative-leaning newspaper, which has a low penetration rate in Arlington, as a way to ensure few people actually come across notices of zoning changes and other government activity.
(The county government does occasionally publish legal advertising elsewhere, including the Sun Gazette, and does post legal advertising on its own Website.)
WETA was founded more than 60 years ago by Arlington’s Elizabeth Campbell, and for most of its history has called the community home. But the broadcaster on several occasions has threatened to move out and relocate to a community that offers incentives for it to make a move.
The contretemps over parking and communication came as the county government and WETA continue to work on a plan that would see Arlington acquire an aging WETA building along Four Mile Run Drive for the park, then lease it back to the broadcaster for a few years while WETA’s headquarters building is expanded. That proposal is slated to be voted on by County Board members in July.