Erik Gutshall. Image from his campaign.
Arlington businessman Erik Gutshall has thrown his hat in the ring for the county board democratic primary, challenging incumbent Board member Libby Garvey.
A resident and former civic association president of Lyon Park, it would be easy for Gutshall to sit back and hope that the democratic electorate punishes Garvey for endorsing independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 election to the county board. The result there was the death of the Columbia Pike streetcar along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes deciding not seek re-election.
Gutshall, however, views his race as more a referendum on the future of Arlington than one on Garvey’s actions in office.
“Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?,” he said in an interview with Greater Greater Washington. According to Gutshall, Garvey told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was “no initiative.”
Gutshall has Planning Commission roots
Gutshall is a proponent of smart growth. He has worked on the Arlington County Planning Commission for almost three years and understands how important it is to develop urban, mixed-use districts, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that is known nationally as a prime example of transit oriented development.
He has also been a member of a number of local committees, ranging from the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study Task Force to the Site Plan Review Committee involved with Clarendon area projects.
Gutshall says that his background provides him with a solid understanding of how to balance urban planning with economic development, noting that the latter drives the ability to effectively accomplish the former. Without urban planning, he says, Arlington could end up a developer-driven, auto-oriented suburb like Tysons Corner.
He also believes smart growth is connected to all of the other issues that affect Arlington. For example, on the issue of Arlington county schools, Gutshall says “it is important to incorporate school development into long-range land use and transportation planning.”
“We have to look at how many students a density plan will result in and how transportation systems would address this,” he says. “We have to be forward thinking, rather than just coming up with short-term solutions.”
When it comes to housing costs, Gutshall points out that Arlington has done a great job keeping single-family homes while encouraging high-rise development. However, it has not accomplished its goal of building intermediate housing — something he calls the “missing middle” — for those who earn between 80% and 120% of area median income (AMI), he says.
In order to attract the best employees for the new Arlington business climate, Gutshall advocates for market rate housing alongside housing affordability. Although Arlington has seen a decline in commercial high-rise occupancy, it continues to push forward in becoming a hub for technology and health-oriented small- and medium-size businesses even as it faces stiff competition from other developing communities, such as Tyson’s Corner.
He’s also a local business owner
Gutshall brings a unique background of both business — he owns the home improvement contractor business Clarendon Home Services— and civic engagement to the county board race. He hopes this background will help address some of the major issues that resulted in former county board member Alan Howze’s loss to Vihstadt in 2014.
The Arlington County Board frequently gets criticism that it ignored the concerns of residents, and Gutshall points to his successful business as reason to believe he would help reverse that course— losing the trust of customers, the thinking goes, is a costly endeavor.
Transportation is on Gutshall’s radar
Gutshall says widening I-66 is not consistent with smart growth. He says the original compromise, which would have delayed widening 66 for at least five years until multi-modal improvements have a chance to reduce congestion, was a good deal. He doesn’t think so about the more recent regional compromise announced in February, in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will build a third lane in each direction on the interstate to Fairfax Drive inside the Beltway. In exchange, outer-suburb legislators will support the governor’s plan to convert the current peak-direction HOV-2 operation to HOT-2 lanes.
Gutshall notes that Arlington will have a seat at the table and be able to use toll revenue to develop other modes of transportation, like bike trails, bus service, and Metro.
Arlington has long opposed widening I-66 inside the beltway, favoring instead more of the alternative transportation options Gutshall mentions.
One thing Gutshall says he would do if elected to the council is push for Arlington to have an advanced transportation system, though he’s not firm on exactly what that system would look like. This would undoubtedly include some form of improvements along the Columbia Pike corridor, though he agrees that the streetcar there is dead.
Correction: The original version of this post said that Gutshall supported the most recent I-66 widening deal. He emailed us to clarify that he supported a previous agreement, but that he sees the recent regional compromise as “short-sighted and disappointing.”