Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The county’s Langston Boulevard (nee Lee Highway) Plan for reimagining that five-mile North Arlington thoroughfare has now officially ruffled some feathers. Following this May’s release of area planning maps and a presentation on density from consultant AECOM, a furious screed was published by Lyon Village Civic Association president John Carten.

Though the process is still in the community engagement phase that precedes concrete recommendations, the hint of possible changes in the General Land Use Plan prompted the Lyon Village group to predict a parade of horribles:
“The destruction of 75 single-family homes (10 percent of all single-family homes); 43 townhomes (50 percent of all townhomes); six affordable apartment buildings (40 percent of all affordable apartment buildings); as well as the futures of all the families living in them.”

Please cancel the plan, they suggest, as it applies to their neck of the woods.

AECOM presenter Ryan Bouma took a different tack. He asserted that the still-evolving land use, economic and housing affordability plan would not involve “taking” of properties. It will rely on private investment and willing sales. He acknowledged that new flexibility on building heights “can create sensitive issues with adjoining neighborhoods.”

I ran all this by Anthony Fusarelli Jr., the county’s newly installed planning director who is a 15-year veteran of county staff. The past 16 months of dealing with Covid, he said by way of context, have shown “how fragile certain things are,” citing evictions as an example. “Flexibility and adaptability” will be important going forward, he said. “The past year has also spotlighted equity issues in terms of the environments in which various demographic segments of our community live.”

Arlington will face a challenge, Fusarelli said, in “living up to our vision of being an inclusive community.” Factors he cites include “the cost of living, increasing housing prices, and market forces that are in many instances regional in nature.” They present “an ongoing challenge to keeping Arlington accessible to a broader range of people.”

While preparing recommendations for this fall and winter on both Langston Blvd. and the coming countywide “Missing Middle” housing initiative (which might, for example, allow duplexes in single-family-zoned neighborhoods), his office will stress “sustainability.”

Planners are “trying to continue pushing the envelope on how we can shape development and limit adverse environmental impact.”

There are no plans to seize property under eminent domain, Fusarelli stressed. “Since the 1970s, Arlington has always been about working with the community to get to a vision, and putting in place tools to realize that vision. We don’t actively rezone property,” leaning on developers and market forces for “incremental change in residential neighborhoods in appropriate locations.” But change, he added, is going to happen regardless.” To “do nothing” about teardowns being replaced by luxury homes “is to say that trend is going to continue.” The trend reinforces “a level of segregation that we’re working to further explore and address.”

Fusarelli “fundamentally disagrees” with critics’ assertions that planners are moving without firm data on population growth and the impact on schools, traffic, property values, and impermeable surfaces.

“All these things are important to making sure the community continues to function. We see the potential outcomes as opportunities to strengthen [the] community and mitigate the impacts already experienced.” Fusarelli hopes to hear from a “broader range of voices,” recognizing that with Covid, people may have felt too overwhelmed to take time from daily lives to engage with county planning issues.

My imaginative neighbors Eric and Jenn grew tired of backyard flooding and puddling rainwater.

So this summer they renounced lawn care and installed an artificial green space. Their plastic turf is tastefully laid out over a re-graded, fenced-in yard lined by a rock garden, vegetable garden, stone patio and kids’ trampoline.

The self-draining lawn is easier to clean than natural grass, they say. The change is actually better for the environment now that chemical fertilizers and energy-hog lawnmowers are, for this family, a burden reduced. Their front yard remains au naturel.