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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gross and Feld offer opposing views on the state of Mason District

Penny Gross and David Feld have very different perspectives on the state of Mason District.

Feld, the Republican candidate hoping to unseat Gross, says the commercial centers of Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners are in dire need of revitalization, as redevelopment investment bypasses this part of the county.

“We are not getting our share of resources in Mason District,” Feld told the audience at a debate Wednesday evening at Bren Park Elementary School. And “there’s been no rhyme or reason” to the development that has occurred here, he said, noting that the replacement of a rundown motel with a storage facility is not an accomplishment.

Gross, a Democrat who’s represented Mason District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for 16 years, said there’s been a lot of revitalization going on and listed many businesses that have opened in recent years, including two Targets, the Arlington Federal Credit Union, and electronics retailer HH Gregg. A new transit hub is under construction in Seven Corners, and she said many shopping centers have been revitalized. “We have been successful,” she said. “I get upset when people denigrate the hundreds of millions of dollars in reinvestment we have here.”

Traffic congestion 

The two candidates also clashed on how they would address traffic congestion at the debate, which was sponsored by the Bren Mar Park and Edsall Park civic associations.

Gross strongly supports the Pike Transit Initiative, which will bring streetcars to Columbia Pike from the Skyline Center in Bailey’s Crossroads to Pentagon City in Arlington in 2017. Once that line is up and running and “proves its reliability,” she would like to see it extended to Annandale, Falls Church, Tysons Corner, and possibly Alexandria.

Feld called Pike Transit “a boondoggle.” He said cars will be stuck behind the streetcars and that articulated buses would be better and much less expensive. He called the expenditure of $7 million on a streetcar study “a waste of money” and said those funds could have been better spent on burying the power lines along Columbia Pike.

Feld would like to see the money slated for the Dulles Metro line redirected to projects to relieve traffic congestion inside the beltway. “We need that money,” he said, because once the BRAC complex at the Mark Center is fully occupied, “there will be a tremendous increase in traffic.”

Stopping the Dulles rail project would be “reckless,” Gross countered. “It’s already been approved, the funding agreements are there, and it’s already under construction. To stop it now wouldn’t even be legal.”

According to Feld, Fairfax County officials should have stepped in and prevented the Department of Defense from building the BRAC complex. Gross called it “ludicrous” to suggest that the county could have stopped that project.

The City of Alexandria has been doing a lot to address BRAC-related traffic and parking problems, Feld said, but “nothing is going on here.” Gross noted that she had convened a Mason District BRAC task force with representatives from affected communities, and it has been exploring parking and traffic solutions for the past few months. One plus for Mason District is that some BRAC employees might want to move here, she said, which “makes our housing stock more attractive.”

Feld called for municipal parking lots inside the beltway, in places like Seven Corners, Annandale, and Bailey’s Crossroads, so more commuters will be able to take non-stop buses to D.C. And when they get off the buses in the evening, they might want to stay and go to restaurants in those areas, which will jump start revitalization, he suggested.

Gross dismissed that idea as too expensive, while she said her tenure on the board has been marked by “fiscal prudence.”

Feld said spending on infrastructure maintenance is crucial, because deferred maintenance “will cost us a lot more money in the future.”

Help for aging communities
When asked about the need to revitalize older, middle-class neighborhoods, Gross said she is proud that houses are selling and more people, including an increasing number of children, are moving in to this area. “That is revitalization of neighborhoods,” she said.

She touted do-it-yourself efforts like the Neighbor-to-Neighbor programs in the Parklawn, Broyhill Crest, and other communities where people warn their neighborhoods about problems like trash and unkempt lawns before contacting county code compliance officials.

Feld called for the county to provide more affordable housing and low-interest home repair loans.

He criticized the county’s policy of charging for programs at county nature centers and suggested that park districts be established to run the parks instead of the county.

“That sounds like more hemorrhaging to me,” countered Gross, adding that it would cost more money to restructure the park system. It’s not the government’s money anyway, “it is your taxpayer dollars that provide resources,” she said.

In response to a question on how they would help aging community pools stay afloat, Feld suggested creating an entity to help community pools share resources and coordinate bulk purchases.

Gross talked about her success in having a property tax exemption approved for local pools and said she worked to reduce the cost of health inspections and helped recreation clubs get cell towers installed on their property.
When asked to name fresh, innovative ideas, Feld cited his “artful medians” proposal, a public-private partnership among VDOT, local businesses, residents, and gardeners to share resources and expertise to maintain the grass and provide landscaping on median strips.   

Gross said the one thing she’s most proud of during her tenure is Kaleidoscope, the monthly discussion sessions she convenes for local residents to talk about issues related to diversity and cultural differences. This program “has had a “tremendous effect” on bringing faith communities and cultural groups together, she said. “When we look for differences, we find a lot of similarities.”

“Just talking about it is not enough,” Feld said. He called for various groups to work together to establish a cultural center.

In response to Gross’s 16 years of experience on the board, Feld told the audience, it’s their experience that is most important.

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