It's not the capital of Rhode Island, but it has about 70% the population of that city and about 60% more jobs in its downtown. The Providence District of Fairfax County includes most of Tysons, Merrifield, Oakton, the Dunn Loring and Vienna Metro stations, and much more.
Edythe Kelleher, Erika Yalowitz, Dalia Palchik, Linh Hoang, and Phil Niedzielski-Eichner are all competing to succeed retiring supervisor Linda Smyth in the Democratic primary. The Greater Greater Washington Elections Committee posed some questions to these candidates, along with other races in 10 Northern Virginia primary elections for General Assembly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Commonwealth's Attorney.
All but Hoang responded to our questionnaire, and for lack of any better way to order them, we post the responses in the order they are submitted.
The Elections Committee will be deciding whether to make endorsements in the primaries, which we'll do if there is a clear best candidate in our opinion. To figure that out, we'll look at the questionnaire responses, but also, we'd like to hear from you. Do you have context we should understand about some of these answers? Other information? You can give us your feedback using this form.
The primary is June 11. You can see all of the races, and the responses we've posted so far, at our 2019 primary election page.
Who do you think has the hardest time finding housing that’s affordable to them in Fairfax County, and what steps do you plan to take to address that need?
Edythe Kelleher: Affordable, inclusive housing must be a top priority for Fairfax County. This will require sustained investment of public and private resources, innovation, and strong community engagement.
The lower the household income, the more difficult the search for housing. Those with incomes up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) are eligible for designated housing under the Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU) program and other programs. Those with incomes 80-110% of AMI qualify for Workforce Dwelling Units (WDUs). Those with incomes 60-80% of AMI are the “missing middle” and perhaps the most challenging to address. (It should be noted that there is an insufficient quantity of housing that is affordable at ALL these levels of AMI.)
My economics training taught me the law of supply and demand, therefore, I begin with the desire to increase the supply of all housing types. (New housing may result in upward price pressure on older housing, but prices will increase more if supply is constrained.)
I was proud to be a member of the county's recent Affordable Housing Resources Panel, and I want to pursue its recommended initiatives which include: dedicating an additional penny on the tax rate to housing production, directing commercial proffers to the housing production, utilize Housing Trust Fund more for housing production, reduce regulatory burdens such as processing time and parking requirements, tax abatement for non-profit housing providers, and tools such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Preservation of existing affordable housing is also critical, and I support maintaining the current tax rate half-penny and other measures. I am open to other ideas and would actively investigate those that have been successful in other communities.
In addition, EVERY county building project should be considered for co-location of affordable housing. I would also seek partnerships with for-profit housing developers wherever possible.
Housing that is affordable to households of all types and income levels is essential to the economic success of Fairfax County, as well. I am an original member of the Economic Advisory Commission, which included social/racial equity as one of its six goals. It is not only right and fair, it is the smart thing to do for the economic future of Fairfax County.
Erika Yalowitz: The Affordable Housing Resources Panel (AHRP) report, released just this month and which I fully endorse, found that 15,000 new homes were needed by 2035 for people making 60 percent or less of the area median income and that Fairfax needed 62,000 new homes. Despite this deep need, the county has continued to approve fewer homes than needed and neglected its dedicated affordable housing funds, which have been cut down to just one-half of one percent of our real estate property tax revenue.
To get us to 15,000 affordable homes and to meet our growth need of 62,000 homes overall, the funding stream should be raised from 0.5 percent to at least 2 percent, if not 3. This new Three Penny Fund would raise between $50 million and $75 million every year for preserving affordable housing and building new homes.
I also believe our zoning laws must be changed. Fairfax County should eliminate parking minimums near Metro stations and require the cost of parking to be unbundled from rent. Both measures will save renters thousands of dollars per year and help new projects go forward where they otherwise couldn’t. We should strategically raise the baseline height limits near transit and allow height and density bonuses for qualifying projects. We should look at creative ways to encourage new accessory dwelling units, especially in high-income neighborhoods where there is little income diversity today.
Finally, we need to include long-term care and housing for seniors in newly developing areas like Tysons, Merrifield, and the Richmond corridor. AARP has endorsed walkable communities as vital to quality of life and even for holding back Alzheimer’s. Allowing our senior neighbors to stay in Fairfax with the dignity of being able to walk to the store or to a transit stop is key to making Fairfax a home for everyone.
Dalia Palchik: Fairfax County is in high demand, and therefore is a very expensive place to live. Many young professionals, teachers, public safety personnel, government workers, people with disabilities, people working in restaurants and retail establishments, older adults on fixed incomes, and immigrant workers have trouble finding housing that is affordable to them in Fairfax County. The Affordable Housing Resources Panel recently presented a number of recommendations to the Board of Supervisors to consider during the next budget cycle (FY2021). The panel recommended that a minimum of 5,000 new homes affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) be produced in Fairfax County over the next 15 years. To achieve this goal, the group proposed that future members of the Board of Supervisors allocate the equivalent of one penny on the tax rate to be used for capital purposes to support the creation of new homes that are affordable. They also recommended that a future Board develop a package of innovative land use policies to facilitate the development of affordable housing, proactively identify opportunities to co-locate affordable housing with bond-funded county capital facilities, consider a countywide proffer policy on commercial contributions that are used for affordable housing production, and partner with houses of worship to identify opportunities for housing development on land owned by faith communities, to name a few. As Providence District Supervisor, I would work with my colleagues on the Board to prioritize and implement many of the recommendations put forth by the Affordable Housing Resources Panel.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: The group or groups of people who have the hardest time finding housing that’s affordable in Fairfax County are the most vulnerable members of our community, i.e., those populations who are unable to gain access to housing because they have limited life options (e.g. financial problems, low educational achievement, physical and mental illness, and those without employable skills). Also, pre-Fair Housing Act residual systemic barriers continue to exist for some based-on ethnicity or skin color.
Other groups who have a difficult time are those in the traditional middle-class workforce who serve the community, such as police officers, firefighters and teachers.
Finally, the deficit in affordable housing constrains Fairfax County’s ability to attract companies who depend on a younger tech-savvy workforce
This is a complex problem driven by the scarcity of land in a nearly built out Fairfax County, zoning restrictions, and the absence of accessible public transportation in large swaths of the County.
Housing affordability is resolvable through creativity, innovative investments and through partnerships among federal, state, and Fairfax government agencies, and with the private sector.
The Wesley Huntington development in proximity to the Huntington Metro Station in the Mount Vernon District offers an important model to emulate. Additionally, new investments in Fairfax County owned and operated housing sites offers opportunity. Finally, we should be looking for opportunities to repurpose and revitalize failing commercial sites into vital mixed-use housing and commercial developments. I
also support increased local investment from at least a penny increase in the County property tax to more fully replenish Fairfax County’s housing fund. In this regard, we need a mechanism for property tax relief for long-term homeowners – linked to repayment upon sale of their home — who might otherwise be forced out prematurely due to ever-increasing assessment of the value of their homes.
While, we must have the political will to move these initiatives forward, we must recognize that we have a local housing budget heavily dependent on federal government funds. Many of the programs that I support are not supported by the current administration. Recently, for example, the President proposed cutting HUD by $8.6 billion and eliminating Section 8 vouchers and limited Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).
Would you champion increasing housing diversity in parts of the county which have fewer lower-income residents than the entire county and Washington region as a whole? Why or why not?
Edythe Kelleher: Yes, in broad areas of the county. People need to live near employment centers, which has a positive impact on all sorts of other concerns (traffic congestion, air quality, etc.). Tysons, for example, needs restaurant cooks and wait staff, landscapers and janitors as well as computer programmers. Police officers, teachers, sanitation workers and many more are needed in all parts of the county.
Erika Yalowitz: ABSOLUTELY!
We need mixed use and mixed income housing to allow all people to live near work, reduce commutes and allow the time and funds spent on traffic to increase quality of life, generate productivity locally.
We need mixed-use and mixed-income housing to allow all people to live near work, reduce commutes, and allow the time and funds people now spend on traffic to be spent on their own quality of life and the quality of our neighborhoods.
Dalia Palchik: Yes. I believe that diverse neighborhoods are healthier neighborhoods where people of all incomes levels, races and backgrounds are able to send their children to the same schools, have access to the same resources, and can grow and lift one another up in community. This would be the true embodiment of “One Fairfax.”
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: Yes, the status quo results in pockets of lower income residents. This concentration can cause a downward spiraling impact on a neighborhood’s and community’s viability and the ability of schools to provide a sustained high-quality education for all students. I believe one of our development models is compelling, which allows for a “density bonus” for new developments if affordable units are embedded with market-price units. This said, there is also a place for placing developments in non-traditional settings, as long as the development is accessible to public transportation or otherwise can assure that transportation is not a barrier to employment opportunities.
How do you reconcile the need to provide housing affordability in the parts of your district with good transit with some other people’s stated desire to slow development?
Edythe Kelleher: I have spoken with a few citizens who desire building nothing more, creating no new jobs and attracting no new residents. My opinion is that change is inevitable; for example, can we stop people from shopping online? As the world changes, we must also change. The past few years have seen a net out-migration from our area for the first time (especially among young people), housing affordability will help halt that.
Sequestration and government shutdowns make diversification of area employment even more urgent. Employers want a trained workforce with access to employment centers. This requires close-in housing that is affordable and transit to enable access.
This has been the theme of my economic development work in the Richmond Highway (Route 1) Corridor of the county, which has a relatively high percentage of lower-priced housing but is inconvenient to job centers like Tysons and the Dulles Corridor. The planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes will greatly enhance commuting opportunities.
I sincerely hope no-growth constituents appreciate my thought process even though we disagree.
Erika Yalowitz: Everyone has a right to a home. I’m an immigrant and many of my district’s residents are immigrants. We wouldn’t have found a home in Fairfax if it had closed the door to development like some people want. Some of these fears are justified. Fairfax has long ignored concerns about traffic and school crowding by pushing development into unwalkable, unsustainable sprawl in the middle of nowhere. New homes must be built so our new neighbors won’t need to own a car, in a way that makes our existing streets and commercial centers more welcoming for people on foot, bus, or bike. We need to take the concerns of those who oppose development seriously, but not if they are used as a pretense to oppose any development.
Dalia Palchik: I support high density (including affordable units) near Metro stations so that more people can take advantage of the mass transit system and have better access to job opportunities without needing to get behind the wheel of a car. Higher density near Metro stations also promotes more restaurants, retail experiences, walkability and bikeability, which are good for both the local economy and the environment. Urban-style living near mass transit is very appealing for many residents, but I understand that it’s not for everyone. For those who wish to live in a quieter setting with less growth, there are still plenty of neighborhoods further away from Metro stations throughout the county where people can enjoy that lifestyle.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: I’ve knocked on over a thousand doors since I entered this campaign in January and have met very few voters who expressed a desire to slow development. This said, many are frustrated with the impact – perceived or real – of development on their lives. The three most notable complaints are traffic, overcrowded schools, and loss of green space/tree canopy. My view is that the Comprehensive Plans for Providence’s two, transit-oriented urban centers need to be updated to build in lessons we have learned through their implementation. In addition, I want the gap between development and supporting infrastructure to be narrowed so that impacts on the community are mitigated more quickly.
Fairfax County has been pushing for walkable, transit-accessible communities to meet demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Would you continue this trend, and where in your district would you emphasize this? If not, why not?
Edythe Kelleher: Yes, as I stated above, I believe that mixed-use and transit-accessible communities that enable workers to live near jobs can help reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
My move from the Town of Vienna, somewhat walkable, to the Mosaic District is indicative of my strong personal belief in these communities.
The Tysons area of Providence District has great potential to create Mosaic-like communities within its much larger framework. Already neighborhoods are being created near Capital One and in The Boro. I would continue this trend and encourage development in the form of neighborhoods within Tysons.
Erika Yalowitz: Yes! This issue is also an inspiration and objective of my campaign from the start. Providence is home to Merrifield, Tysons and Dunn Loring and more Metro stations than any other district in Virginia as of to date. All areas that are primed for walkable, transit-oriented communities. We’ve seen how the Mosaic District has been a boon to the county’s budget and neighbors. Merrifield as a whole is primed for a similar transformation.
Tysons could and should be a great city, the downtown of Fairfax, and not simply a satellite of DC. The urban plan in the area is a great start, but the speed limits and design guidelines for Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road lock these in place as high-speed, dangerous roads rather than the main streets Tysons needs.
Walkable neighborhoods should not just be the privilege of those near Metro stations, however. If we have any chance of reducing how much we have to drive, strategic opportunities for more walkable village centers around high-frequency bus service and even future BRT stations as proposed for route 7 should be considered and pursued.
Dalia Palchik: Yes. One of the best ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our community is to promote urban-style, mixed-use, walkable communities where people do not need to get behind the wheel of a car to get to where they need to go. Mosaic District in Merrifield is a successful example. Tysons has an excellent foundation and has made tremendous progress since the Tysons Plan was adopted in 2010. Just a few months ago, a crucial “missing link” to the sidewalk system was installed. Now, it is possible to walk or bike from the Dulles Toll Road all the way to the City of Alexandria via 11 miles of sidewalk along Route 7. As Providence District Supervisor, I would continue to focus on moving Tysons forward into the future by working with the county’s Department of Transportation and VDOT to add pedestrian and bike lanes where needed. I would also ensure we are partnering to the fullest extent with Capital Bikeshare and other multi-modal transportation partners. Most importantly, I would work with community stakeholders and county staff to evaluate our success in Tysons during the past 10 years to determine what has been working well and should continue, and what, if anything, needs to be adjusted moving forward. All of this would be viewed through the lens of transportation infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and One Fairfax. I am supportive of the Tysons Plan and will continue to build on our current success. At the same time, I am a proponent of evaluation and ensuring we are always on the right track as we move forward.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: Yes, I would continue the trend for walkable transit accessible communities to meet demand and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. In 2017, the center for rural estate and urban analysis of the George Washington University school of business deemed Tysons as the 2nd most walkable area in the metropolitan region after New York.
The research singles out Tysons as so call Walkups or walkable urban places. This is characterized as dense, mixed use areas that are accessible by foot, bike, bus, rail and cars. Moreover, these Walkups which are located in mixed use development produces large economic and social benefits compared to drive able dependent suburban developments.
Notably, we have much more progress to be made in Tysons to fulfill our expectation of it being a community where its residents can live, work, and play.
We have some great walkable communities. For example, Shreve Road, Brayson drive residents can walk to the West Falls Church metro. I worked with the Board of Supervisors to redirect the large trucks from using Shreve Road as a cut through which makes it a safe and a usable area for residents to walk to the metro and children to walk and bike to school.
The multi-modal transportation options in the Tyson's, Mosaic and Vienna areas are other excellent models. They create accessibility to jobs thus also generating tax revenues. When the communities' needs were met with the implementation of the metro system, it eased traffic congestion. Moreover, it allows our older population to age in place.
In conclusion, going “green” is a win-win for the entire Providence district. Ultimately, It makes environmental and economic sense.
What are the top three transportation priorities you have for your district? Tell us why and the revenue source (including any new revenue sources you’d champion).
Edythe Kelleher: Pedestrian enhancements: Connect existing sidewalks (including bridging streams and difficult spots), build new sidewalks on existing streets, and require them for all new developments. In addition, provide the means (bridge, tunnel) to cross heavy traffic and highways.
Bicycle enhancements: Bicycle trails should be part of all new developments, and should be created in existing areas wherever possible. Connections should be made, like ped/bike bridges over the Beltway in the Fairview Park area.
Light rail or Bus Rapid Transit connection to serve the Tysons - Merrifield corridor: This will enhance connectivity for workers and shoppers, and reduce gas emissions and congestion.
Suggested funding sources: I would pursue all local, regional, state and federal funding, including Smart Scale, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and county bonds. In Vienna, we were very successful with sidewalk grants that required the Town to contribute a small percentage of the cost.
Erika Yalowitz: 1. Make public transit a real network and not some hodge-podge of competing plans. This means making transfers free between all the agencies that serve Fairfax residents: Metrobus, Metrorail, ART, DASH, CUE, and, of course, Fairfax Connector. Putting up artificial barriers to transit kills ridership and punishes low-income people that already need to rely on often too-slow and too-infrequent bus service.
Determining how to do this, and whether the new ridership will offset the cost, will be a complicated and technical task that reaches beyond our borders. As supervisor, I will work with staff and political leadership to determine the cost and revenue sources of this proposal.
2. We have gotten ourselves stuck in the quicksand of road-widening: the harder we struggle against traffic with bigger roads, the worse traffic gets. Unclog one place and another clog shows up. Unclog that place and two more places get clogged. It is never-ending. We will only be free of traffic if we get serious about giving people the freedom to choose how they move in Fairfax.
Because few roads in Fairfax are under our jurisdiction, this will require working closely with VDOT to reclassify roads and determine how to reallocate funds to other priorities.
3. Bikes! My goal is to make Providence a leader in bicycling infrastructure. Our current rating from the League of American Bicyclists is Bronze –not bad– we must do so much more. I believe that bicycles can be the preferred personal transportation choice in the future of our urban areas. I support the introduction of electric scooters in our urban centers and would champion free shared ridership program for students and low-income populations funded by the tax revenue resulting from scooter use.
So many people in Providence are stuck in their cars, whether they want to be or not, to run even the most modest of errands. If we want to reduce traffic in Fairfax, we have to free people to make choices about how they move. To make driving as safe and convenient as it should be, riding a bike must be equally safe and convenient no matter their age. If someone wants to load up their car with the week’s groceries, good! They should. But they should have a choice about whether it makes sense to get a cargo bike, and they certainly shouldn’t be stuck in traffic behind people who would just as soon be on a trail or bike lane if one were available.
I will work closely with VDOT and FCDOT to determine how funds can be reallocated from road widenings – see above – and to determine what alternative funding sources are needed to close the gap. A benefit of protected bike lanes is how inexpensive they are per mile, so even a little money can go a long way.
Big new transportation projects are important, but we have so much work to do to make what we have work better. Our priority should be reorganization and efficiency before we pour new concrete.
Dalia Palchik: 1. Improve the ease and safety of walkability and bikeability in Tysons. Funding and support comes from a variety of sources, including from new development, the Tysons Transportation Service District, transportation bond funding, and the County’s General Fund.
2. Ensure Fairfax Connector is serving lower-income areas equitably. This would require working with DOT to look at ridership maps and adjusting service areas, where needed. If increases to bus service were needed, funds would be allocated via the County’s General Fund Budget.
3. Increase the number of Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations by working with developers, property owners and DOT.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: My top three transportation priorities include:
1) Gallows Road Corridor traffic mitigation, from Tysons to Merrifield to Inova;
2) Interstate 66 construction impacts and the cost of demand-driven tolls, and
3) Making urban centers and major arteries more pedestrian and bicycle friendly
I will aggressively seek, in partnership with others, to reinstate the $100 million to the Northern Virginia Transportation Fund that was redirected to support the modernization of Metro. Metro is a cost center in its own right and is deserving of separate direct funding from Virginia. The cost to our community from this “taking from Peter to pay Paul” is unacceptable. Otherwise, I am a strong proponent of building partnerships and will look forward to helping secure the resources we need from among the intergovernmental mechanisms and in partnership with the private sector when feasible.
Fairfax County is one of the few area jurisdictions that has not adopted Vision Zero. Given the high number of people who die or are seriously injured while moving around in Fairfax, what would you advocate to ensure safety for everyone even though Fairfax DOT has to work with VDOT to make changes in Fairfax’s transportation network?
Edythe Kelleher: Yes, I would advocate for adoption of Vision Zero. The necessary data should already be collected, it will be a matter of a different kind of analysis.
The Richmond Highway Corridor, where I work, has the highest level of pedestrian injuries and deaths in the county. FCDOT having to work with VDOT adds complications, but the need for safety makes the challenge worthwhile.
Erika Yalowitz: Our streets are not safe. Chandra Bhandari died in Tysons while trying to cross the street. Eliseo Ruiz died while on his way to help a friend, a detour from his normal early-morning commute. Subid Singh and Anjil Thapa died while speeding – a mistake that left families heartbroken and devastated. Jose Ramirez died on Telegraph Road. Nelissa Alston died trying to cross Richmond Highway. Tomas Maldonado died on Commerce Street. Pericles Apostolou died trying to cross Arlington Boulevard. Melanie McKenna died driving on Fairfax County Parkway. And that’s just this year.
Last year, it was kids like Daniel Serrano, who was crossing the street in Reston just after Christmas when he was killed, leaving behind his mom and a 2-year-old brother. He was the last of the 47 people killed in our county in 2018.
These are our children, our parents, our grandparents, our friends and sisters and colleagues doing nothing except trying to get to wherever they were going. I am outraged and crushed that we find this okay.
I fully intend to push for Fairfax to make a meaningful commitment to Vision Zero, not simply an empty promise. Working with VDOT makes quick fixes difficult, but the safety of our residents and visitors must be paramount. I will work closely with FCDOT to better understand our limits and opportunities for change. As supervisor, I will press to have roadway engineers work with county police to determine how the road’s design may have contributed to the crash, what changes can be made now, what permanent fixes are needed, and where those design flaws might exist elsewhere in our network.
I will also work with FCDOT to ensure the safest possible design speeds of our main roads. VDOT recommends speeds as high as 40mph for urban arterial roads, the design speed for the main roads around Tysons, my home neighborhood. Speeds in places where we want people to walk should be no more than 25 miles per hour, not the 40 miles per hour we have on almost every major road in Providence and Fairfax.
Dalia Palchik: I would focus on continuing to integrate transportation safety best practices into our design phases for new development and new construction. I would also support working with the Virginia General Assembly to increase fines for speeding.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner: I stand behind and support the objectives such speed reeducation in high pedestrian areas. I also support any legislation that would enhance safe and responsible vehicle operation.