The March 2021 newsletter is linked below. If you have any comments or questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Benefits – The “Arlington Way” by Scott Sklar, President, AHCA
What makes the Ashton Heights community so amazing is its long history of participating and leading within Arlington County on development, transportation, education and other issues. In fact, much of the uniqueness of living here has been a visionary set of leaders within our community who have put their visions, along with some sweat and tears beginning in the 1960’s, into a citizen’s participatory process which we call “The Arlington Way.”
In my ten years at the helm of the Ashton Heights Civic Association, I am always amazed at the breadth and depth of our members on the key planning issues. But I am also amazed about what I will term as “County Drift,” where a few years after a multi-year collaborative process, the planning processes within the County seem to discard the prior-approved consensus so we have to gear up to weigh-in on the issues again and again.
Nothing seems more open to this than the development and parking planning now underway by County government.
In redevelopment, the County allows developers to receive certain waivers if there are clear “community benefits.” In the proposed Clarendon Sector Plan, there appears willingness to allow heights above the mandated 110 feet and higher building densities without “community benefits.” So what are the community benefits we have fought so long and hard for? (I quote from the listserv from a sample of our association leaders long involved in this area: Joan Fitzpatrick, Brooke Alexander, Julie Mangis, Ann Felker, and others.)
Greenways: The existing greenway between Irving and Ivy Streets is almost adjacent to this proposed development! It is not irrelevant. We have already experienced one attempt to penetrate this important buffer. Having the greenway form a buffer along the northern edge of our neighborhood is absolutely necessary to define our boundary. And why should we retreat from the Greenway concept, which originated here in Ashton Heights? The County actually incorporated it into the GLUP based on our recommendation.
Building height: It is important to remember that the 110′ maximum was predicated on getting community benefits in return. So far, we have not been apprised of any proffers that would justify the 110′ height, much less the 128′ height. I think AHCA has done a good job of articulating our concerns about height and density, but I might consider including language regarding FARs (floor-area-ratios).
Building setbacks: Address light and imposing structures over our residential community. Here, we were informed that building step-backs present architectural challenges, including plumbing, electrical and other infrastructure issues. It was as if developers are resisting the step-back requirements. We need to challenge the 165′ measurement from our neighborhood regarding the 1:3 taper. We need to be vigilant about the tapering, transitions, step-backs and set-backs lest they, too, get modified. We are reminded of the time when developers told us that building residential buildings wasn’t “economically feasible.” So they got away with building the Rosslyn office canyons, which we’ve been trying to fix ever since.
Open space: A hotel terrace, at whatever level, provides any benefit to those of us who live in Ashton Heights. There is no plan for open space in these proposals, with the possible exception of the linear park replacing Fairfax Drive adjacent to Northside Social and St. Charles Church. It’s not clear to me whether that area would be paid for by the county or whether developers would be expected to provide the park as their community benefit.
A similar set of issues appear to be happening regarding parking strategies that were established as the Metro came through Arlington so that neighborhoods near Metro stops (we have three in Ashton Heights: Clarendon, Virginia Square, and Ballston) would not have commuter cars parking all day in our neighborhoods, so our residents living in these areas can park on their own street. Luckily, the Arlington County Board has held in place the program for the existing neighborhoods, good news. However, what is not good news is that developers are now allowed to put in less “inbuilding” parking for condominiums and apartment houses with the assumption that these people will not use their own vehicles, but utilize Metro. We can argue if that is true, these residents will have visiting relatives, friends, service workers and vendors that need to park as well.
I raise these points not to be whiny, but rather to illustrate that our community involvement has driven our area to be a great place to live. But that also requires the sweat and tears of an earlier time be taken on by newer and younger residents so as to keep the assets that attracted all of us to live in Ashton Heights.
We will be celebrating AHCA’s 100th Anniversary this year – where we all can learn, laud, and celebrate these achievements.
But I hope as we do, and many of you who read this newsletter and participate in the listserv, can build perspectives and join in on an outstanding legacy.