PenPlace Not a Fair Deal for Arlington Residents

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, April 23, 2022.

The PenPlace approval process strikes me as a ritualistic exercise where boards, commissions and civic leaders outdo themselves heaping praise upon Amazon for its civic and environmental contributions. Yet they studiously avoid the question who is actually going to pay for the benefits Amazon plans to bestow upon us.

Arlingtonians for our Sustainable Future (ASF) stands alone among civic groups in taking a hard look at the numbers, concluding that Arlington taxpayers will pay heavily for the impacts of PenPlace. For example, in a revealing slide deck ASF reports that of the 3.3 million square feet County Board will approve today, 1.7 million square feet consists of excess bonus density that Amazon demands in addition to what is currently allowed under the zoning ordinance.

To get an idea of just how much space that is, consider that One World Trade Center occupies the same square feet.

Amazon proposes to “earn” its bonus density with:

  • Green building credits
  • affordable housing
  • a new community high school
  • a day care center
  • a 2.75 acre park and
  • assorted transit infrastructure

That may sound like a lot, but the difference between the benefits package, which ASF values at $75 million, and the estimated $488 million value of the bonus density it will acquire from County Board is $413 million. When County Board approves today’s deal, more than $400 million needed to address the impacts of PenPlace will evaporate, and taxpayers like you and me will pick up the tab.

To get an idea of what those impacts will be, ASF reported that Arlington’s population is likely to increase by 63,000 in another 20 years, even before Amazon hires and spinoff contractors are factored in. These new residents will require dozens of schools and parks, more libraries, police and fire stations, and a dozen transit routes—more than enough to absorb the $413 million in community benefits that County Board will forego today.

ASF concludes: “Any way you look at this, in square feet, in dollar terms, PenPlace is not a fair deal for Arlington residents.”

It’s actually worse than that. According to JustTaxes, in 2021 Amazon paid $2.1 billion in taxes on record profits of $35 billion, for a tax rate of just 6 percent. If Amazon can dodge the IRS corporate tax rate of 21 percent, it should have no difficulty extracting unearned benefits from Arlington County in perpetuity.

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