Arlington County to Let Sidewalk Physical Distancing Ordinance Lapse

Published on September 16, 2020

The Arlington County Board has voted to allow the Emergency Sidewalk Distancing Ordinance it adopted on July 31 to lapse on September 29. The ordinance requires pedestrians on posted sidewalks and streets to maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others and prohibits groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions. A majority of the Board said the ordinance has proved ineffective.

"Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night," Board Member Christian Dorsey said at the Board's September 15 Recessed Meeting. "They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don't see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn't work."

The Board voted 4 to 1 to not make the Emergency Ordinance Permanent, with Board Members Katie Cristol, Matt de Ferranti, and Takis Karantonis joining Dorsey in voting against making the Emergency Ordinance permanent, and Board Chair Libby Garvey voting in favor.

"The Board passed the Emergency Ordinance because we felt we needed more ways to encourage people to practice safe distancing and to protect public safety," Garvey said.  "I  believe the ordinance had an effect and has encouraged compliance in areas of the County where crowds gather in and around bars and restaurants. I hope what compliance it brought continues even after the ordinance lapses."

The Board enacted the Emergency Ordinance to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Arlington by keeping large groups of people from gathering, without appropriate distancing, on public sidewalks and streets. Violators could face a fine of up to $100. The Manager emphasized that the County has been focusing on education, working both with patrons and restaurant staff to encourage compliance. Despite posted warnings and education efforts, however,  compliance has remained spotty at best, and enforcement proved challenging. The County will continue to explore other measures to help combat the spread of the virus.

To read the staff report, scroll to Item No. 48 on the agenda for the September Recessed Meeting.

Board Approves Bond Sale, Refinancing

The Board also voted at the Recessed Meeting to authorize the sale of up to $172.32 million in General Obligation Public Improvement Bonds for new projects and the refunding of existing bonds to lower interest rates and save taxpayer money. In a related action, the Board authorized the sale of up to $31 million in Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Revenue Bonds for new projects and the refunding of existing IDA bonds to achieve lower interest rates.

The General Obligation Bonds are for new County and Schools capital projects previously approved by voters in referenda. The IDA funding is for Fiscal Year 2021 County and Schools projects originally planned to be financed under the County's line of credit, as well as refinancing of existing bonds.

Usually, Arlington puts bond measures before voters biennially, in November of even-numbered years. The County issues the voter-authorized bonds as needed, usually each spring or summer. This year's sale was delayed from Spring 2020 due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the County's finances. Bond rates have significantly declined since then.

Since 2009, the County has refinanced more than $590 million in high-interest County, Schools, and Utility bonds, saving more than $36 million by achieving lower interest rates. The Board voted unanimously to authorize the bond sale and refinancing. To read the staff report and view the staff presentation, scroll to Item No. 26 on the agenda for the September Recessed Meeting.

Board Approves Contract for New ART Facility

The Board also voted unanimously to approve a $3.9 million contract with Stantec Architecture, Inc., for planning, design, and construction administration services for a new Arlington Rapid Transit (ART) Operations and Maintenance Facility at 2631 and 2635 Shirlington Road. The project, meant to meet ART's current and future needs, will be built under a Construction Manager at Risk process to control costs.

ART, the County's local bus service, currently operates out of four facilities. The new facility will improve transit efficiency and reduce operating costs by centralizing ART's operational and administrative tasks and making it easier to perform preventative maintenance and unscheduled repairs. The facility will include permanent operations, administration, parking, and maintenance facilities to support ART's growing fleet now and in the future.

The project will achieve at least Silver LEED Building Design + Construct Certification and will include sustainable materials and systems.  Community feedback will be sought this fall and winter during the concept design and advanced design phases. The project will also be reviewed by the County's Public  Facilities Review Committee. Staff plans a socially distant walking tour, online open house materials, and an online feedback form to help gather feedback. The facility is expected to be completed in 2023.

The total project budget is $81.2 million, which includes the 2018 land purchase, construction, equipment, and soft costs. Funding is mainly from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), with a combination of funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT)  and local sources. The project was originally approved in the Fiscal Year 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan. To read the staff report and view the staff presentation, scroll to Item No. 28 on the agenda for the  September Recessed Meeting.