Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Seven years after Arlington garnered sour, nationwide publicity over its million-dollar bus stop (only a prototype!), work began last month on more-modestly priced glass kiosks that will shelter riders and demystify bus schedules on ever-trafficky Columbia Pike.

The contract for four initial stops of a planned 23, for $500,000 apiece at Buchanan and Oakland Sts., Four Mile Run and Glebe Rd., went to the lowest bidder. That’s what I’m told by community activist Kim Klingler, now in her 10th month as executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

The nonprofit coalition partnered with the county in publicizing the coming new stops, she said in her storefront office across from Arlington Village. “Arlington’s Oldest and Newest Main Street,” read its posters surrounding bulletin boards packed with neighborhood event notices for the annual Blues Festival, Hispanic Heritage Month and park cleanup.

Columbia presents an opportunity for development and an enhanced county tax base that is simultaneously economically vulnerable. Its four-and-a-half-mile stretch hosts 32,000 households and 1.5 million square feet of commercial floor area — yet the potential of its by-right property is only at 37 percent, says the nonprofit’s strategic plan. Current construction has blocked car lanes in the pike’s west end, costing businesses in Columbia Pike Plaza a 30-50 percent decline in customers. So Klingler’s team organized a Martin Luther King Day push to “hop on a bus, bike or scooter” to grab lunch or dinner to support these businesses.

“Retail on the pike is a-changin’,” Klingler says.

An October commercial market study performed with Arlington Economic Development found a consensus among businesses on a need to update a 2003 edition of the form-based zoning code. They would move away from auto-dependency to a more urban, mixed-use plan stressing ground-floor retail below apartments or condos up to seven stories, she noted.
The nonprofit is partnering with business groups to explore “what kind of retail will create foot traffic.”

There remains a desire to preserve the pike’s lack of snobby pretention. “It’s amazing the number of people whose first place in Arlington was on the pike — Dorchester or Barcroft Apartments,” said Klingler, who moved several years ago from North Arlington to nearby Walter Reed Dr. “There’s not a lot of bells and whistles, but that does keep it affordable.”

The partially county-funded CPRO’s new quarterly report showed dues-paying membership growth up 86 percent over last year; 17 percent are businesses, 83 percent residents.

With a full-time staff of three and one part-timer, CPRO is redesigning its website (adding more history) and negotiating affordable new digs. “We would like it to be more central,” nearer the pike’s middle at Glebe and George Mason Dr. to better “showcase the future.” She likes the storefront arrangement. “At first I didn’t think we’d get walk-ins, but one day we got 10.”

A multi-pursuit activist and health care consultant who ran for county board, Klingler met with her five predecessors after taking the job she loves. “Who else has the opportunity” she asks, “to take passion and volunteer work and make it salaried, and use professional skills?”

Gazing over the horizon, Klingler noted the December WMATA forecast that in a decade or two the pike may gain a new Metro Silver line.

Given her energy and youth, Klingler may be around to boost it.

The miracle of caller ID allows our household to ignore cold sales calls that jangle our phones all the live-long day.

But I can’t help noticing the preponderance of caller numbers originating in Farmville, Big Stone Gap, Abingdon, Mechanicsville, Port Royal — fine Virginia locales I’ve visited but where we know literally no one.

I checked the unemployment rates in the relevant counties, all nearly double that of fortunate Arlington’s 1.7 percent. Wise County, home to Big Stone Gap, has the highest at 4.9 percent.

I sympathize with my fellow Virginians’ need to earn a living. But here’s hoping they can land something more pleasant (for all) than telemarketing.