Having seen the “it’s just a work in progress” ruse pulled on others in the past, those concerned about the prospect of major zoning increases in the Lee Highway corridor are getting their objections in front of elected leaders sooner rather than later.
Critics have pounced on staff proposals for the North Arlington corridor (recently renamed John Langston Boulevard), which project major increases in land-use options.
County Board member Katie Cristol suggested that the proposals now being mulled represent options, not eventualities, and were a chance to “get different ideas, get community feedback.”
Feedback? Yes, county officials are getting feedback.
“Developer-driven interests . . . are being shoehorned and reverse-engineered for their short-term profit at our long-term expense,” Old Dominion Civic Association member Jane Zimmerman said at the July 17 County Board meeting.
“It breaks faith” with past planning “and represents a radical departure from the feedback and expressed viewpoints of the primary stakeholders – Arlington County residents,” she said.
The comments came several days after an activist group raised the alarm about what it suggests could be a major upzoning along the Route 29 corridor.
Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF), which in recent years has counseled moderation in urbanization efforts across the county due to the impacts on infrastructure and government budgets, said efforts to impose “major increases in density” along the 5-mile Lee Highway corridor were resulting in “stiff opposition” from residents.
The group encouraged those with concerns about the proposals for more intense zoning to get in touch with County Board members sooner rather than later to prevent what some veteran county-watchers know as a planning two-step: first say the project is not far along in the development stage, then not long after say it might be too late in the process to make substantive changes to what staff had proposed.
At least County Board members can’t say the issues haven’t been brought to their attention. Cristol acknowledged she had heard “a lot of concerns in the community.”
Part of the verbiage of the proposal under consideration intimates the county government could use its eminent-domain powers to acquire – by court order if necessary – homes and businesses in the corridor for a broad array of public purposes. And in attempting to tamp down that possibility, County Board members inadvertently only muddled the waters of what might happen to property owners in those circumstances.
“We couldn’t force them to sell,” board member Libby Garvey said, before being quickly corrected by about five voices at the dais.
Garvey apologized for the confusion, saying that the county government takes its eminent-domain powers very seriously and exercises them only judiciously.
“There are lot, a lot, a lot of guardrails,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen often. It’s just not what we’ve got planned.”
County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti – who agreed eminent domain is only used by county leaders in “very, very limited” circumstances – said the point of planning exercises was “to strike the right balance.”
“We want to be mindful and respectful . . . of what fits,” he said. “We have heard concerns. We still have work to do.”
Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future said it would continue public outreach to ensure the community knows what might be coming.
Local organizations and civic associations can “also request an ASF briefing that will address tax, demographic, school, environmental and infrastructure implications of this initiative that would add enormous density along a corridor that lacks Metro connectivity,” the organization said.