Greater Greater Washington

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Great East Falls Church plan approaching the finish line

The Arlington County Board will be voting tomorrow on whether to adopt the East Falls Church area plan. They should enthusiastically support this great proposal.


Image from the East Falls Church Plan.

Today, too much of the environment around the East Falls Church Metro station is dominated by wide roads and fast traffic which makes walking and bicycling and access to the station difficult and unsafe. I-66 has divided the neighborhoods and the area lacks the neighborhood services and activity that are possible in a Metro station community.

This plan represents a modest level of development. This level of development- 600,000 square feetis essential for the community to gain a range of benefits including neighborhood retail services and redesign of the streets to be safer for all users, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit-users, drivers and people of all abilities. Additional development capacity may be needed to meet the county's affordable housing goals, and could be provided without undermining the plan or detracting from the community.

Why is this plan so great?

  • It's particularly friendly to pedestrians and cyclists by incorporating wider sidewalks, on-street parking and bike lanes, as well as narrower streets to reduce car speeds.
  • It includes a proposed platform extension with connection to a park and bicycle/pedestrian access to the Falls Church side of the station. Combined with the pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements to Washington Boulevard, Lee Highway and Sycamore Street, the two sides of the community will be knitted back together.
  • The overall design is appropriate, including the redevelopment of the Metro Station parcel with a mix of uses, and with heights that are appropriate and step back to the highest heights next to the highway. This approach will transform the Metro station parking lot into a vibrant community with residences, neighborhood retail services, and a public square.
  • The analysis of the transportation performance shows that this approach to development will not add measurably to future traffic and will in fact offer more non-auto options for local and regional travel.
  • The plan will contribute to the revitalization of the area around the Metro station by improving safety on surrounding roadways and adding neighborhood retail and a mix of housing.
  • The plan includes provisions for affordable housing, offering options for a diversity of households (but see our testimony (PDF) for additional recommendations).
  • It manages traffic well and offers balanced parking solutions to serve current and future residents and businesses.
In addition, the extensive process that has gone into the development of a sustainable, walkable vision for the future has incorporated input from a citizen task force that included representatives of neighborhood associations and other stakeholders, as well as additional analysis and refinement by county staff based on feedback from the community. Clearly, there is great support for this plan.

With the coming of the Silver Line to Tysons Corner and beyond we have the opportunity to expand our region's network of transit-oriented communities and the transportation performance must be seen in this light. We know the plan isn't perfect and have made suggestions to the County Board, including a recommendation that careful consideration be given to the design of the Metro station parcel to ensure that retail is located on the right frontages and that the public green is in the best place to ensure active use and its potential role as a center of the community. In addition, we'd like to see the addition of more affordable housing.

Nonetheless, we've reviewed dozens of mixed-use transit-station plans, and we see this as an excellent and appropriately scaled plan that offers a range of community benefits. The plan offers the opportunity to make the streets and access to Metro safer, to reduce medium and long-term traffic, provide convenient neighborhood services, and to enhance the desirability of surrounding neighborhoods.

If you are interested in showing support for the plan, you can testify tomorrow morning or email the County Board. Here's how:

How to testify: The County Board meeting will be held tomorrow, Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 8:30 am in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd (Near Courthouse Metro station), 3rd Floor. You can find out about speaking procedures and download a speaker form on the Arlington County website.

While the Board meeting begins at 8:30 am, there are a number of consent items for the Board to work through. This means the East Falls Church Plan discussion (Agenda Item #33) would likely not come up before 9:30 am. If you live close by, you can monitor the hearing online or on Comcast Channel 74 to see how it's progressing.

Provide feedback online: If you can't make it out Saturday morning, you can still make a difference. Show your support for the East Falls Church Area Plan by emailing the County Board. It only takes a few minutes.

Stewart Schwartz is Executive Director and a founder of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which he built into the leading smart growth organization in the Washington, DC region, addressing the interconnected issues of land use, transportation, urban design, housing, and energy. A retired Navy Captain with 24 years of active and reserve service, he earned a BA and JD from the University of Virginia and an MA from Georgetown University. 
Laura DeSantis is the Online Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Prior to joining CSG, Laura worked at Fleishman-Hillard Communications, where she worked on digital and social media strategy for clients. Laura is a 2009 graduate of Penn State University and holds bachelor's degrees in Public Relations and History. 

Comments

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What I don't see here is an explanation of how Arlington plans on turning those parking lots into buildings -- without VDOT's agreement.

Given WMATA's cash crunch -- removing parking lots shouldn't be on the agenda. What that area needs is some decent underground parking.

by charlie on Apr 15, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

VDOT is going to hold on to that easement like grim death.

by Lou on Apr 15, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

This is very exciting! I have emailed the Board..thanks for motivating us Arlington residents. I've been a tax paying Arlington resident and property owner now for 11 years and a Virginia resident for over almost 20 years, so am deeply interested in the development of the East Falls Church area.

@Charlie: Good point. But wouldn't any new commercial ownership bring with it some poss. for underground parking? Target, Best Buy or any of those box retailers will most likely require some form of underground parking, same with any new condos or rental buildings..a la Clarendon and Ballston and Virginia Square currently.

by LuvDusty on Apr 15, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

Those lots are integral to this plan, and VDOT will never give them up.

Its payback time for the Arlington County Board. I'd pay good money to see Zimmerman's face when he learns VDOT tells them "NO"

by TGEoA on Apr 15, 2011 4:32 pm • linkreport

Because of VDOT, I'm guessing that, ultimately, there will be replacement for the 400 or so commuter parking spots here, and they'll continue to be subsidized, but maybe not all the way down to $3/day. As a trade off, I think the density's going to have to go up to the higher end of the range.

Only way I could see VDOT backing off their desire for subsidized parking is if an urban democrat is elected governor next, and he saw this as a pet project.

One other option: VDOT could use any ground-lease rents it receives to help subsidize parking in new garages there built as part of a private project.

by Joey on Apr 15, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

Look at Best Buy in Tysons. It started out in an "urban-style" location in a building with multiple floors and underground parking. But, within a few years, it moved to a more standard, single-floor building with a parking lot in front. The big question is: Whether East Falls Church is more like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or Fairfax County?

by tmtfairfax on Apr 15, 2011 4:59 pm • linkreport

I use the station daily and although I rarely drive (bus ride is cheaper than parking), I still like the idea of having some commuter parking spaces available. Bus service is infrequent after 8pm and the commuter lot gives commuters the flexibility to park-and-ride if they have to work late.
Build the town center, but find a way to preserve the little number of spaces available. The urbanization of EFC and the preservation of commuter spaces are not mutually exclusive.
Until Metrobus can provide high frequency services on Lee Highway, Washington Blvd, and expand services to under-served inside-the-beltway communities, the EFC commuter lot is still very much relevant.
In addition, although it is not Arlington County's job to address metro capacity issues, it is very relevant and must be addressed. The Orange Line is already operating at above system capacity during rush hours, the high density development will only exacerbate the problem.

by EFCrider on Apr 15, 2011 5:41 pm • linkreport

There will be a deal struck with VDOT.

Why would they cling to land and hinder development that Arlington officials want to move forward? Is VDOT going to build on it? A garage perhaps? That's unlikely. But what they may very well do is partner-up with a development project that ensures the existing amount of parking is retained in an underground garage. They could also sell the land outright, with added provisions to keep a certain amount of parking accessible for commuters.

by Anon on Apr 15, 2011 8:57 pm • linkreport

@Anon

Don't hold your breath on that. Richmond is uber pissed at the antics from the County Board. Especially Zimmerman. I wish he would run for state senate and get out of our hair. Let him be someone else's headache.

by TGEoA on Apr 15, 2011 10:03 pm • linkreport

As someone who owns a home about 1/3 mile from EFC for 10 years, I am all for the development of EFC for many reasons cited here. But here are a couple of comments

--contribute to the revitalization of the area--

I'm not sure how you need to revitalize the area given the initial starting price point for homes in the area is about 600K. What are you exactly trying to revitalize. This weakens your argument because it ignores basics facts of the area. The better argument is to say you want to develop more around the metro stop because of the need to raise density.

Most people moved to this area specifically to get away from the Ballston/Courthouse corridor and its density so any argument will have to take that into account - especially, the comments about taller buildings which in the previous proposal were higher but now lowered.

-- affordable housing, offering options for a diversity of households --

You, and the county for that matter, are essentially trying to insert a population, those that need affordable housing, into the area that doesn't exist and that is one of the bigger issues with the plan. In an area where homes start at 600K, there just isn't any affordable housing. Though, I will say that most homes up for sale priced at 600 are considered bargains and are sold quickly.

Now, you can argue that is a problem but the market drove that issue and any attempts by government fiat to change it is not likely to work. The proposal is attempting to shoehorn in people to a non-existent population. It will not be easy for them either given that there are more limiting transportation options in the area v. the inner part of Arlington.

As for the plan itself
- the attempt at narrowing Sycamore is probably a poor one and will result in more congestion. Most of the people driving on Sycamore take it north to the homes in Williamsburg and other parts of North Arlington. Those people are going to drive no matter what. They aren't going to take public transportation because
1) Most are high end professionals where time is more important because of the amount of hours of work they do - i.e. Doctors, Lawyers, C-level corporate officers
2) the mass transit options are limited because of the suburban roads outside EFC and off the main drags of Sycamore, Williamsburg, Glebe and Old Dominion

-- The plan to put a grocery store on the EFC site while a good one but then to charge for parking is only dooming that store to failure. No one in the area is going to drive to the store (and I know the idea is to limit driving) and pay to park when there are better options on both side of 66 which are about a mile away from EFC (Safeway on the south and Safeway and Harris Teeter on the north side of 66).

-- The plan also takes away some of the better small businesses in the area including
1)The exxon station which is at a vital point for travel as people get onto 66. the closest gas and mechanic are now several miles away from EFC. Regardless of how most inner-Arlingtonians feel about driving and the need to place their view of the lack of need of a car, most people outside that area know a car is needed.
2) The suburban animal hospital and other associated buildings which are heavily connected business in the area.

Lastly, VDOT is not going to give up that parking lot or other right of ways because they want to expand 66, not give it up to the County to do with as they please especially since the county has been such a thorn in VDOT's side on other issues.

by Burger on Apr 17, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

In regards to VDOT, shis is the way Arlington does things. Build the area plan, have everyone sign off and then go to work to get the approvals. Sometimes it can take years and a change of elected officials, but it is a very effective strategy to pull a completed/approved plan out of the drawer when the time is right as opposed to scrambling to get the plan in place when the right people are there.

by Steve M on Apr 18, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

This is about as TOD as it gets, and yes, the market is huge for this NOT from an Arlington perspective, but for commuters who live a drive away from Vienna or Dunn Loring. Look for a big influx of non-Arlingtonians, and underground parking. That is, if the VDOT easement clears. The buffers from residential look too good to be true because they may be.

by Frankie on Apr 18, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

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