Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Libby Garvey, a county board member of 11 years, batted one for two in the June 20 Democratic primary that elevated two likely newcomers to the board come January.

She had endorsed Susan Cunningham and Natalie Roy—both critics of the Missing Middle housing rezoning that Garvey voted for—but only Cunningham was declared a winner in the state’s first-time use of ranked choice voting. That means the winning pro-Missing Middle candidate Maureen Coffey will also be on the November ballot for Arlington’s predominantly Democratic electorate, facing independent Audrey Clement and Republican rookie Juan Carlos Fierro.

Garvey said she admired the maturity and “life experience” of Cunningham and Roy, “whose hearts are in the right place,” but is “comfortable” with the 28-year-old Coffey’s “different perspective” and sees the results as “reflecting the county.” Yet Garvey plans to do further analysis of how the ranked choice voting formula worked with two open seats calculated together compared to how it might work if calculated as two separate seats. (Roy herself told her disappointed supporters that she has heard skepticism toward the multi-round method of tabulation.)

Though many voters backing Garvey’s endorsees were angry and wanted Missing Middle canceled, she told me she didn’t believe either Roy or Cunningham would try to undo it, nor would her current board colleagues. But she’s comfortable that the newly allowed multi-family units “will have to fit the same footprint” as single-family homes. And she views the current policy with its annual permit cap of 58 disbursed around the county as a pilot to be monitored closely.

Garvey predicts that builders, with whom she has spoken, will produce “some duplexes and triplexes,” and that, with interest rates currently high, demand for smaller units will make them easier to sell than McMansions.

But the board will now watch results for a few years. “Nobody really knows—not the staff, not the YIMBYs nor the Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future—until we try it.”

“Expanded Housing Options” as the rezoning is called in the ordinance, is “a tool” aimed at “an end,” Garvey said. But it was enacted without a clear vision of what Arlington should look like in, say, 2050. Garvey for years has been encouraging the county to create “an overall vision and strategic plan” to supplement the departmental plans that have long existed with multiple goals. But she wasn’t pleased when the two anti-Missing Middle advocacy groups at their January rally showed video of her appearing to say “the county has done no planning,” which, she said, “was taken out of context.” But she hopes to do more on future visioning.

If the construction of multi-family structures gets out of hand, she said, there is an” emergency brake,” and the ordinance could be revamped with one month’s notice.

Garvey has lived in the Fairlington subdivision for more than 40 years. “It’s Missing Middle housing,” she said. But in her 25 years in office (counting 14 on the school board), Missing Middle became “the most difficult issue she dealt with,” including school boundary changes, the (canceled) Columbia Pike streetcar, and the arrival of Amazon. “We can’t stop change, but we must manage it,” she added. Given the housing shortage, “there was not a choice of doing nothing.”


My spring column on Yorktown High School grad and Olympic swimmer Torri Huske reminded a reader of a Washington-Lee (now Liberty) grad who reached a similar pinnacle.

Shelley Mann, W-L ’55, starred in the world-class pool for the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia, where she won a gold medal in the 100 meter women’s butterfly. The lifelong Arlingtonian who attended Thomas Jefferson Junior High as a child actually trained downtown at Walter Reed Hospital’s pool. There she would help win national titles with the American Athletic Union, according to the Center for Local History.

Mann’s performance in Melbourne brought her home for an audience with Vice President Richard Nixon, a key to the city of Washington D.C., and plaudits from Arlington officials. She retired from swimming at 20 to attend Cornell University. Mann died at 67 in Arlington in 2005.