Every Democratic candidate running for Arlington County Board claims to support smart growth. But when smart growth runs up against single-family homeowners’ interests, are they willing to make tough choices? At a recent forum, statements from most candidates weren’t promising.

The board has an open seat since Barbara Favola was elected to the state senate in November. Arlington Democrats will select a party nominee (who’s almost certain to then win the official special election) at 2 caucuses on Thursday, January 19th and Saturday, January 21.

Wednesday night, the Arlington County Democratic Committee hosted a forum with the candidates. The forum spotlighted the paradoxical views of Arlington Democratic voters: They want candidates to express concern about things like smart growth, affordable housing, and transportation, but may be reluctant to support the density increases, transit projects or higher taxes to pay for affordable housing programs that may actually deliver it.



In opening and closing statements, transportation was either not mentioned at all or waved at in passing. Potential expansions of I-66 or I-395 and Arlington’s efforts to fight them weren’t mentioned at all. Candidates didn’t talk about Metro funding, overcrowding, or congestion.

A question about the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar revealed only one full-fledged supporter in Melissa Bondi, while Peter Fallon, Libby Garvey, Kim Klingler, Terron Sims seemed to know much about the streetcar’s price but little about its value.

None of the four spoke of the value of investing in the Pike, cost savings to residents in a car-free diet, high demand for housing on rail, air quality benefits, or the potential for new tax revenue from development encouraged by a streetcar.

But no issue brings out a refusal to make tough choices quite like affordable housing, and it’s certainly not limited to this crop of County Board candidates. Arlington single-family homeowners say they’re concerned about a lack of affordable housing, but they also would like to see the value of their own home inflate indefinitely. Some are also so concerned about keeping their neighborhood the same that even strip malls get the historic preservation treatment.

Every candidate at the forum professed support for affordable housing, yet every candidate also expressed at least some skepticism about increasing existing density or adding new density in historically low-density areas.

Given that these candidates face an electorate that skews older and single-family homeowner in a low turnout January caucus and March 27 special election, candidates may be downplaying their commitment to smart growth policies now as a matter of politics. But as dense, transit-oriented development moves into new neighborhoods, from the Pike to East Falls Church to Lee Highway, it’s disappointing so many County Board candidates appear to be taking the low road.

Miles Grant grew up in Boston riding the Green Line, and has lived in Northern Virginia riding the Orange Line since 2002. Also blogging at The Green Miles, he believes enhancing smart growth makes the DC area not just more environmentally sustainable, but a healthier and more vibrant place to live, work and play.