Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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The Arlington County Board on April 16 bestowed final blessing on the recasting of the East Falls Church Metro stop. But relax-there’s still no detailed design, no schedule and no developers. Yet.

The long-agonized-over vision to create a “transit town” alongside the coming subway Silver Line would add some retailers, trees, new access paths, improved pedestrian safety, street lane reconfigurations, new housing and new bicycle facilities. It also would scrap the state-owned commuter parking at the intersection of Sycamore St. and Washington Blvd.

Whether the approved package is too much, too little or just right depends on which of three camps most interested Arlingtonians fall into. All three were represented on a panel convened on April 13 by the Committee of 100 in anticipation of Saturday’s board action.

The “just right,” or the “Goldilocks” camp, was represented by activist Mike Nardolilli, chairman of the East Falls Church Planning Task Force. His slide show hearkened back to the small-scale commercial district that was East Falls Church in the early 20th century.

Given the inevitable change being imposed by the Silver Line, he argued the task force’s plan-modified by county staff-was tiny in comparison with the disruption caused when I-66 was built in the 1970s. Nor would it require tall buildings or removal of single-family homes as did creation of the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor. He cited neighborhood surveys showing strong majority support.

The “too much” camp was given voice by Alan Parker, a retired State Department economics specialist who’s had a toehold in the neighborhood since 1975. Like many area homeowners, he backs some changes, like a western Metro entrance and a new public gathering place. But he balks at dismantling the commuter parking lot, calling the plan “frankly auto-unfriendly.”

There’s not enough room, Parker said. “They’re overbuilding” on a small site, which “would create congestion and undermine the neighborhood’s suburban character.” He cited a petition showing some 200 protesting the plan for buildings as high as nine stories, and says the task force surveys were “fraught” with faulty methodology. He laments that “key characteristics are being made a bargaining chip for real estate developers.”

Leading the “too little” camp was Alice Hogan, member of the Arlington County Housing Commission and board member of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. She criticized planners for neglecting the affordable housing components. She and allies had pushed for higher buildings (the plan’s height limits range from three to nine stories depending on location) and a quantified commitment on the Metro site rather than the plan’s “goal” of 100-250 units in the general area. She wanted square footage large enough to attract developers, noting that higher buildings are rising just across I-66 in Falls Church.

“It’s a missed opportunity for redevelopment,” Hogan says. She understands the resistance among residential neighbors, “but we have to give” to get an income-diverse community. “We need a bold and imaginative move rather than letting it happen through fickle market forces.”

At Saturday’s board meeting, sparks did fly. One speaker heaped contempt on the politicians, demanding they cease using the phrase “it sounds counter-intuitive” while selling the community on the plan’s benefits and to stop “planning for property you do not own.”

Such is the nature of planning, said board Chairman Chris Zimmerman. “Local planning is almost always about land we don’t own.”

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]