Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

As the nation celebrates July 4, Katie Cristol, after seven-plus exhausting years on the county board, will be embarking on vacation. And then a new job.

The news of her departure six months early came May 2 from her new employer, the Tysons Community Alliance, for whom she’d been consulting before being named its first CEO. Contrary to rumor, the business improvement partnership launched last February is not a tool of developers, but a government-funded “independent, non-profit community improvement organization committed to the ongoing transformation of Tysons, Virginia, into a vibrant, inclusive, globally attractive urban center.”

Cristol, 38, is not privy to board colleagues’ deliberations on whom to replace her, though Takis Karantonis took her slot on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

In an interview with this columnist, Cristol — who will still reside in Arlington —  looked back on high- and low-lights and such subjects as the pandemic, political culture and contentious housing issues.

Cristol’s biggest moment, she says, was board approval in March 2019 of zoning changes that boosted access to affordable child care by changing home permits and parking. “The date, March 9, was when my son was born seven weeks early,” she says, “and we took a virtual vote seven days later. When a person comes to the board with a different life experience, they elevate different issues, and being a new parent is incredibly meaningful.”

For her lowest, Cristol cites the early weeks of the Covid vaccine. “The staff administered the vaccine incredibly, but it fell to the local government to decide who gets this life-saving resource,” she says. The crisis meant “a million little implementation decisions and creating a platform to assign times and dates,” with tradeoffs and challenges for seniors and teachers. “Ultimately it provided dividends in high vaccination rates, and we should be proud.” But people were “homebound, terrified and stressed.”

On the tone of Arlington’s political discourse, Cristol notes that while her tenure began a year before the Trump presidency, she perceives a related change in attitudes. “People began assuming ill-intent, corruption and incompetence, rather than recognition that people disagree and that Arlington is a diverse community,” she says. “There’s a multitude of voices that don’t agree. County board members can listen but still reach a different conclusion.” She stressed her efforts to “bring in under-represented voices,” particularly people of color.

The Missing Middle rezoning approved in March “is a relatively conservative, progressive-endorsed way” to encourage homeownership opportunities “with the same size and shape of existing single-family homes,” she says. The debate arrived during a “perfect storm” when the county was confronting “existential problems. If you’re a renter looking for a future, we may be losing your generation,” she says. She rejects the notion that an embarrassed staff tried to “rebrand” Missing Middle—“a helpful slogan for a housing form largely absent in communities across the USA.” But “you couldn’t codify the status of the problem in the zoning ordinance,” hence the change to “expanded housing options.”

Cristol, who accepted no developer donations, acknowledges uncertainty on whether builders now planning countywide will actually create lower-priced units. The policy is based on studies of Arlington and elsewhere, and she has faith in consultant Partners for Economic Solutions’ examination of likely market conditions, which forecast 20 per year.

She disagrees with critics who say Missing Middle was divisive. “It exposed divisions that already existed.”


The historically marked Rosslyn parking garage where Washington Post Watergate reporter Bob Woodward famously received leaks from “Deep Throat” is not long for our streets.

Washington Business Journal May 31 reported that after nearly a decade of deliberation, Monday Properties, owner of the site at 1401 Wilson Blvd., is removing tenants and making ready for demolition and construction of two new high-rises for offices and retail.

 “Deep Throat,” I can now reveal (kidding), who helped bring down President Nixon in 1974, was Mark Felt, then second-in-command at the FBI. The historic marker will stay, allowing Rosslyn to continue on the scandal tours.