Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Powers that be in the deal to bring the Amazon HQ2 to our shores assured us the planners’ term “National Landing” was not an attempt to rename Crystal City, Pentagon City or Potomac Yard.    

But last week, the board of the Crystal City Business Improvement District announced a proposed new name: National Landing Business Improvement District, necessary to reflect joint participation by Arlington and Alexandria in responding to the impact of Amazon employees on housing, transportation and social services.  

“Pending approval by the Arlington County Board and a formal vote by the BID’s full members at our annual meeting this spring, the National Landing name will be utilized as an umbrella term for Virginia’s most vibrant and largest walkable downtown,” the board said, citing consultation with neighbors. “It will not replace the existing neighborhood names,… which each maintain their own unique identities and distinct characteristics.”     During the Amazon selection drama, county board members welcomed a chance for more joint planning with City of Alexandria officials. But the two jurisdictions have not always gotten along. The tensions actually go back more than 100 years.      

 One of the more obscure books I own is “A History of the Boundaries of Arlington County, Va.,” written by my boyhood neighbor and then-county manager Bert Johnson, published first in 1957, updated 1967. Johnson (a glutton for punishment?) examined deeds, local histories, surveys, court cases and legislation back to 1607. That includes George Washington’s first survey done in 1749.      

Johnson shorthands a history of Alexandria County’s retrocession from the District of Columbia (1846-47), describes the efforts of Clarendon to declare itself a city in 1920, and discusses the separation of East Falls Church from Falls Church in 1936 and the short-lived town of Potomac (1908-1929) in what today is astride Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria.       

As a onetime resident of both jurisdictions (46 years in Arlington, 15 in Alexandria), I got interested when two Alexandria friends who live at Braddock and Russell roads swore their property was once subject of a lawsuit claiming it was part of Arlington. Turns out they were right!     

Johnson describes how the Alexandria City Council in 1913 sought to annex adjoining territory from both Fairfax and Alexandria County (pre-Arlington). The Virginia Supreme Court approved in 1915, and Alexandria gained 866 acres from the Arlington area and 450 acres from Fairfax. Land grabs continued after Arlington took its name in 1920. In December 1927, the city began new annexation proceedings, with a court ruling in December 1929 that “it is necessary and expedient that the corporate limits of the City of Alexandria should be extended” and that “the territory to be annexed from Arlington County is a reasonably compact body of land and contains no land which is not adapted to city improvement,… and no land is included which the city will not need in the reasonably near future for development….”    

Legislation in 1938 precluded further encroachments on Arlington’s 26 square miles. But in 1962, the two areas cooperated in an approach to General Assembly to enlarge Arlington’s sewage treatment facilities on land on the north side of Four Mile Run belonging to Alexandria. In December 1965, Arlington gained 167 new acres.      

May the new National Landing promote such peaceful co-existence.   

The school board is confident it can ride out the newly filed lawsuit challenging its removal of Robert E. Lee’s name from what is now Washington-Liberty High School.     

Last week, the W-L alumni association asked the Eastern District Court to restore the old name and award it injunctive relief, arguing that the public comment process was flawed, the board lacks authority and that the association may shut down due to pressure to change its own name.   

But the board believes its 2018 decision “was appropriate and will vigorously defend any legal claims challenging it,” spokesman Frank Bellavia told me.  The “engagement process included participation from community members, including current and former students, members of the alumni association, W-L staff and members of the wider community.”