Tuesday, January 06, 2009

WWAD?

Happy New Year to the Growler's faithful readers! Here's hoping you all had pleasant and relaxing holidays.

Now back to the fray ...

The new year brings with it much uncertainty, particularly on the economic front. The Growler almost dreads going to the front porch to pick up the Post in the morning.

But one of the most remarkable stories amid all the gloomy headlines was one that appeared on New Year's Day about Arlington County.

While Arlington officials anticipate they will probably have to raise taxes to continue to support a broad range of services, "the county reported this week that residential property values declined just 2 percent and commercial values rose a point, insulating Arlington taxpayers from the devastating shortfalls facing neighbors in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties."

Just two months earlier, Arlington had braced itself for a 5 percent drop in residential home values with the expectation that commercial values would remain flatlined.

Compare that with Alexandria, which started scrambling to make budget cuts last fall when projections indicated existing residential real estate values were expected to drop 5.7 percent in 2009, reflecting a 4.6 percent slide in the combined value of single-family houses in the city and an 8.2 percent drop in the value of condominiums. Meanwhile, the value of commercial real estate here is projected to drop 6.8 percent.

This contrast between jurisidictions is intriguing, and not the first occasion when some have asked why our officials appear to be less successful, nimble, enterpreneurial and visionary than our neighbor to the north.

Arlington has been able to successfully balance neighborhood preservation and protection with strong economic development along established commercial corridors. The county is renowned for its extraordinary long-term planning scope — decades and decades into the future — and made smart decisions as early as the 1970s when its leaders opted to spend the extra money to underground its Metro stations.

Compare that to Alexandria, where planning is a short-term process, an after-thought that is usually undertaken in a scramble when some big landowner is about to move on a project.

Readers may be interested to know that some local activists (including the late Ellen Pickering) suggested in the past that Alexandria officials talk to Arlington planners and economic development specialists to find out more about Arlington's success and whether there are lessons that could be applied here. This suggestion was brusquely rejected.

But is it time once again to start asking "What Would Arlington Do"?