Arlington County Board members are defending their decision to trade additional office-building density for affordable-housing funding, but the decision provoked tension with some delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation.
Meeting with board members on Jan. 2, several federation members asked why the county government had decided to allocate all the $20 million contribution from Amazon to affordable-housing efforts, when other areas – especially schools – also need to be addressed.
Amazon in late 2019 pledged the $20 million as part of a deal to win zoning upgrades for its incoming HQ2 headquarters in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area. The funding will be available to the county government either as a lump sum or over a period of time.
Such horse-trading is not unusual in zoning cases, and County Board members said at the end of the day, the $20 million contribution would be a help to the overall county budget wherever it had been allocated, but would not remove the county government’s responsibility to provide funding for all its priorities.
“There’s only so much money,” County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said of the Amazon contribution, “and you can move it around wherever. But if you move it to ‘here,’ it leaves ‘there.’”
“If there were benefits going to schools . . . whatever is left unfunded – whether it be transportation improvements or open-space improvements or affordable housing – we would have to make that up elsewhere,” the board’s vice chairman, Erik Gutshall, said.
Another board member, Christian Dorsey, noted that the school system’s capital projects have their own funding stream – school bonds – while affordable-housing efforts largely are funded through the county government’s annual budget.
County Board members on Dec. 14 approved Amazon’s plan to transform a 6.2-acre Pentagon City parcel into the first phase of the HQ2. The development will replace a series of old warehouses and surface parking with a 2.1-million-square-foot mixed-use project.
The vote, though unanimous, came after some community criticism. The Arlington Green Party, for one, said the benefits promised by Amazon were less than the worth of the increased density they will be receiving.
The $20 million contribution will either go to the county government’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, or to support specific projects in the vicinity of the Pentagon City parcel.