Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpLots of bustle in our county last week suggesting there’s life left in the famous “Arlington Way.”

That tradition of ultra-thorough community consultation permeated the long-awaited release of the Community Facilities Study and the four – count ‘em – four-day public “charrette” planners held on re-envisioning Lee Highway.

The facilities opus, the product of 10 month’s powwowing by a 23-member panel of savvy volunteers, is supposed to defuse some recent tensions over priorities and big-project spending. It strives for a politics-free research framework to help leaders “achieve more unified perspectives and objectives so that Arlington residents are more willing to pull in the same direction.”

In a perfect world, it would consist of stone tablets listing Solomonic solutions: Arlington could magically create land, accommodate an exploding school population, ease traffic jams, draw tenants to empty office space, unite the generations and treat all comers to comfortable housing. (While we’re dreaming, advocates for parks and fire stations would kiss and make up.)

In reality, the report’s a bit dry and reliant on generalities, but filled with useful statistics. To wit: Arlington’s population of 216,700 is forecast to rise to 283,000 by 2040 in the same 26 square miles we love today; our school class sizes are smaller than the average of eight neighboring districts.
“The challenge for the future is… to make better use of the land and facilities…and to look for opportunities to `create’ more land,” the report concludes. “It means building up, rather than out. It means building over and under whenever possible. It means making facilities flexible and adaptable and appropriate for joint use…And it means finding land where it does not now exist, such as decking over on I-66.”

The report stressed “the need to revamp community dialogue.” A good start was the Lee Highway charrette, to which as many as 170 came in person on different days to weigh in on redoing the five-mile stretch to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and automobiles; create housing; attract and steer development; beautify the streetscape and preserve cultural gems. “Lee Highway isn’t going to plan itself,” said Arlington County Planner Justin Falango, who brought in high-powered consultants.

One participant was economist Bill Ross, vice chairman of the Park and Recreation Commission. “It looks like good thinking has been going on,” he told me, “but with the widely disparate private ownership of the various properties, I am not sure how improvements would proceed over years according to some master plan. It would be nice to see a more attractive streetscape with more of a tree-lined boulevard look.” But there are tradeoffs in affordability, Ross added. “It would be nice if Caribbean Grill, Glebe Radio and Appliances and the Halls Hill barber shop could stick around.”

Andrew Schneider, a recent county board candidate and president of the Yorktown Civic Association, said the Lee Highway challenge is threefold. “A lot of the zoning is by right, so the question is whether residents and business owners will apply for zoning modifications or a change in the General Land Use Plan.” The Virginia Transportation Department has a say on Lee Highway, Schneider noted, and “it’s a very long property, with a lot of different communities, some 17 civic associations. We can create a cohesive vision about what we would like and try to find ways to get there.”
The Arlington Way.

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In the late-arriving news department, a friend recently dropped off some aging yellowed issues of the Washington Free Press, a radical alternative weekly from the angry 1960s.

I spotted a headline in the Feb. 15, 1969, issue “Students Organize at Yorktown High.” I was amazed to read of events I witnessed at age 16, a hippie student takeover of the school cafeteria that birthed an organization called the Student Union. It was a precursor of what became the H-B Woodlawn program.

“The student pressure group is seeking to reform the system, demanding a less manipulative and more relevant education,” wrote this hip downtown rag where writers felt free to editorialize and drop the F-bomb. Something actually came of it.