ARLINGTON, VA – While most Arlington residents are focused on this year’s presidential race, there are other important elections in progress. The County Board race offers Arlington voters a stark choice between the status quo embraced by my opponent Libby Garvey and the reforms I advocate as her challenger.
Development has transformed Arlington. New high rise construction is ongoing in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Columbia Pike and Pentagon City. In Ballston alone, 2000 new apartment units and 420,000 square feet of office space are planned or under construction.
While many view the County’s construction boom as a sign of prosperity, it belies some disturbing trends. First, at 20 percent the office vacancy is unacceptably high. Second, the impacts of hyper-development on schools, streets and parks have been largely ignored by County Board.
The most disturbing trend is the emergence of more classroom trailers on school campuses all over the county. In fact over 3,000 students are housed in trailers and many more will be in the future, as new housing construction produces a bumper crop of new students. Yet the County insists that the impact of new high rise development on the school age population is negligible.
In fact School Board incumbent Nancy Van Doren insisted at the September 6 Civic Federation debate that planned new classroom capacity will erase Arlington Public Schools (APS) projected 4,600 classroom seat deficit. Scrutiny of School Board budget documents reveals that Nancy arrived at this conclusion by double counting recently added new classroom capacity. Yet no one on County Board, let alone incumbent Libby Garvey has set the record straight.
Not only are County officials pushing the myth that massive new developments planned for Rosslyn, Ballston and Pentagon City will have minimal impacts on school enrollment, they also maintain that the impacts on traffic will be minimal. For example, a traffic impact analysis (TIA) done for the relatively modest six story development that will replace the Food Star at Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive will degrade rush hour traffic at the intersection from LOS D, which is stable to LOS E or “operating at capacity”. But this isn’t cause for concern for the County, since traffic congestion is routine in urban areas.
A massive Rosslyn Plaza Phased Development Site Plan (PDSP) between Kent Street and Arlington Ridge Road that will house 500 new housing units, 200 new hotel rooms, and 1.8 million square feet of office space, is slated for 2,168 parking spaces. According to the TIA, “at full build-out, six of the eleven signalized study intersections surrounding the site would operate at unacceptable levels of service in their current configuration.” But not to worry, because the impacts will be mitigated by a new street signal and road network.
In approving the PDSP, not only did County Board ignore the impact of additional traffic, it also ignored the joint appeal of the Metropolitan Washington Airlines Committee, Airports Authority, American Airlines, Airlines for America, and the Airline Pilots Association to defer approval of the Rosslyn Plaza project until FAA has decided whether to amend its regulations to consider the hazard of constructing office towers so close to White House prohibited airspace.
Finally there’s the issue of green space. At .8 acre Rosslyn Plaza is less than the 1 acre mandated by the Rosslyn Sector plan. 750 Glebe Road, the massive 500 unit luxury development at the intersection of Wilson Blvd. and Glebe Road, will have no publicly accessible green space. The developer of 2000 Clarendon Blvd. offers no new parks in return for the upzoned residential tower it plans to construct adjacent to the Odyssey. In rubber stamping these projects, County Board has essentially told residents that they can expect few natural amenities in return for usurious rents.
If elected to County Board, I plan to seek a fiscal an impact analysis of every major site plan development to assure that the project actually benefits the County and that its impacts are adequately addressed.