At the end of their May 19, 2015 recessed meeting, the Arlington County Board heard a so-called "additional item," labelled, "Disposition of a Limited Portion of the Real Property and Improvements at 400 North Manchester Street (RPC#12-030-043) in Bluemont Park (A Portion of the Reevesland Property)." (Item #34 on the County Board's May 19, 2015 Recessed Meeting Agenda).
The Manager's report to the Board for the additional item included this summary:
"After repeated efforts to determine the final disposition of the historic Reeves Farmhouse, staff is recommending that the best approach to maintain the integrity of the farmhouse structure is to create a new legal parcel for the limited portion of land surrounding the house and pursue the sale of that parcel that could ensure the historical integrity of the structure and leave the majority of the land available for Bluemont Park."
For the record, the Manager's report says, "The County purchased the 2.4 acre property for $1.8 million in 2001 to expand Bluemont Park." However, the country encountered various expenses, including hiring a consultant on two separate occasions "to develop (and update) an historical, architectural and archeogical survey of the property and explore potential reuse of the farmhouse."
By their nature, unless it represents an actual emergency, so-called additional items warrant taxpayers' attention, especially so in this case since the County has owned the property since 2001. Consequently, it is not surprising this Board action has caught the attention of Arlington residents.
Last Friday, as many residents were leaving for a three-day Memorial Day weekend, the Arlington Sun Gazette carried two news items. In one item, the newspaper reported that Reevesland supporters are angry because of the Board decision. The newspaper reported:
"The May 19 County Board decision to start the ball rolling on sale of the historic, though dilapidated Reeves farmhouse has left advocates for the property bewildered and outraged.
"Board members voted 3-2 to give County Manager Barbara Donnellan power to prepare a portion of the property, including the farmhouse, for sale. The remainder of the 2.4-acre property, adjacent to Bluemont Park, would be retained by the government.
"Board members Mary Hynes, John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey voted to approve the request, with board members Walter Tejada and Jay Fisette voting against it.
"The staff position: Having failed to find a prospective partner with the financial resources to upgrade the property, a sale is the best course of action.
“With the sale of the Fraber House at Oakgrove Park in 2013, the county has demonstrated that there are potential willing buyers with an interest in purchasing and renovating historic properties,” county officials said in a memo to County Board members.
"County officials say they have tried – and tried, and tried – to find possible partners who would restore the farmhouse, which was purchased by the county government for $1.8 million in 2001, but was left to deteriorate when county officials couldn’t determine what to do with it."
The entire article is worth reading in order to understand the complete context, e.g., the following exchange:
"County staff continued to meet with Reevesland volunteers, but on May 18 the group was informed of the proposal to sell the property. Joan Horwitt, who has helped spearhead efforts of the Reevesland group, called it a “hurtful slap in the face.”
“Virtually nobody in Arlington, including the civic associations that support the renovation of the farmhouse, was informed of this possible vote in a timely fashion,” Horwitt said. “That is not fair, it is not transparent, it is not democratic.”
"County officials counter that funds raised by the sale of the property could be used to improve the adjoining raised-garden beds, where the Lawns2Lettuce4Lunch program grows produce and teaches local schoolchildren about nutrition and the property’s past."
In a second article posted on Friday, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported that "Arlington County Board candidates rip decision to sell off Reevesland." Here's how the Sun Gazette introduced the report:
"Democratic County Board candidates reacted angrily to the Arlington government’s plan to sell off the Reevesland farmhouse, rather than turn it into a community center or learning emporium.
“It is a shameful decision, and the way the decision was made was shameful,” said Katie Cristol, one of six Democratic candidates vying for the County Board seats of Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes.
Five of the six candidates converged on Glebe Elementary School May 21 to debate (School Board Chairman James Lander was at a meeting of his own body). And while there was some disagreement over the merits of unloading the historic, but dilapidated, farmhouse, there was unanimity that the process was seriously flawed."
Growls readers planning to vote in the June 9 primary election should read the entire Sun Gazette article for the candidates positions on his issue as well as other issues affecting Arlington County. For more information about the July 9 primary, visit Arlington County's Office of Voter Registration website.
The ARLnow.com news site has Reevesland reporting here.
Not surprisingly, today's online Arlington Sun Gazette includes a lengthy letter "penned" by Arlington County Board chairman Mary Hynes "to those who have voiced anger at the decision," and reprinted by the newspaper. In the letter, Hynes says the Board's decision "accomplished several important community goals." Unfortunately, I could not find an explanation in the letter, which explained the necessity of making the Board's May 19 action an additional item; consequently flunking any effort toward transparency.
Looks like we can now add the Reevesland property to the list of projects that includes $1 million bus stops, $75 million swimming pools, and Columbia Pike streetcars.
Arlington residents, who want transparency in their local government, are urged to take a few minutes to tell Arlington County Board members the importance of transparency in everything the Board does. If there had been transparency, the Board would be taking a lot less hear.
- Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.
And tell them ACTA sent you.
If this lack of transparency by the Arlington County Board remains an issue, we will update this Growls.
UPDATE (5/29/15): In his weekly column, The Right Note, at ARLnow, former County Board candidate Mark Kelly devotes a portion of the column to this issue, including the following:
"This decision very well may make financial sense. But driving by the million dollar bus stop on Columbia Pike again the other day, I could not help but think of all the money wasted over the years by our elected officials. So newfound urgent fiscal concerns, particularly by our current Board Chair, ring a little bit hollow.
"A four month delay to proceed with the sale may not have been in order, but clearly the Board’s intent to consider decision could have been noticed for the June meeting at little additional cost to the taxpayer. It would have given the community ample time to plead their case."