Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


Arlington looks at a town square for Courthouse

Can Courthouse, the area around Arlington's county seat, become a vibrant civic center? One solution may be a new town square, which Arlington County will consider as part of a new planning effort for the area.


Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

Envision Courthouse Square will update a 1993 plan which envisioned this area as a state-of-the-art government center with a signature public open space for everyone. Arlington hopes to retain that vision while updating the details to better promote multiple transportation options, smart growth, energy efficiency, and placemaking.

This effort centers around the county-owned parking lot one block from the Court House Metro station. Arlington County will consider creating a public open space, like a town square, that will be an "integral component" of the government center.


The study area boundaries. Aerial photo by Arlington County.

The study will also look at the privately-owned AMC Courthouse movie theater, the county-owned Court Square West building, and the "Landmark Block," a group of small, low-rise buildings (some of historic importance) which a single owner has recently consolidated. That recent consolidation, as well as the impending expiration of the county's lease on their current office space in 2018, provide significant opportunities for a public-private partnership to reshape this area of Courthouse.

Envision Courthouse Square will look at how to use public and private buildings in Courthouse, including what types of public amenities other than government offices would be a good fit there. It will make recommendations about building location, height, and density, including a future county office building in the area.

Planners will consider improving the overall pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular circulation network between Courthouse and surrounding neighborhoods. They'll consider valuable cultural resources, like historic buildings, the well-known "Memorial" and "Mother's" trees, public arts, and a potential cultural facility. All parts of the plan will emphasize sustainability, from building and landscape technologies to an energy master plan for the whole community.

If you're interested in helping craft an updated vision for Courthouse, the first community workshop is this Wednesday, March 26th from 7-9 pm at Key Elementary School, 2300 Key Boulevard.

Chris Slatt is chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, President of the Penrose Neighborhood Association, and a founding member of Arlington Streetcar Now. His posts are his own opinions. 

Comments

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More residential units, thank you

by Navid Roshan on Mar 20, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

Yes, the whole parking lot doesn't need to be turned into a square. Keep the public space about as wide as the detention center and you could develop the remaining part.

by drumz on Mar 20, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

Removing the homeless -- oh wait, they are putting more in.

Underground the parking.

Since every bar in town is showing soccer games not sure if the sports bar will ive.

by charlie on Mar 20, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

This could really be phenomenal. The pedestrian courtyard next door is already very nice. Between the two you could have a multiuse space that could accomodate all kinds of activity. Ideally I'd reserve at least a quarter of the site for a plaza/park contiguous to the pedestrian courtyard.

by BTA on Mar 20, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

1. Sounds like a great opportunity.

2. FWIW, the term "public private partnership" is way overused. Partnership as a word means joint interests. Usually PPP as used in the "smart growth" world is about financing relationships between governments and the private sector, where the two parties are not co-equal on the transaction. The government is desperate for financing, so they call this "a partnership."

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/the-hidden-price-of-public-private-partnerships/article4611798/

I don't know why Arlington would need a public private "partnership" to redevelop a parking lot they own into a "town square" unless they want to make the parking go underground and build a town square on top. And that's tough because the value of a parking structure only isn't enough to pay for the cost of building it exclusively underground except on a multi-decade time frame.

by Richard Layman on Mar 20, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

Are they planning a 1 for 1 replacement of parking? The site is right on top of the Metro and many bus routes. They could definitely go car light there.

by BTA on Mar 20, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

The town square is in the lead as it is the most interesting piece here (in my opinion) but this is also motivated by the County's lease ending in their current office space next door.

I think the goal is to kill a lot of birds with one stone here. Turn that parking lot into something with more value, create a great public space, own their own office space, guide the redevelopment of the Landmark Block. I wouldn't be shocked to see the County consider doing something like what Marymount recently did partnering with a developer on the Blue Goose in Ballston.

by Chris Slatt on Mar 20, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

BTA: I think reducing parking hurt the farmers' market. It's so difficult to get to that I know many who go to Falls Church market instead. Although this could be offset with increased residential units.

by DE on Mar 20, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

They should consider using a garage with first story retail like along Clarendon/Wilson blvds to avoid the massive costs of underground parking.

by Fa on Mar 20, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

I work nearby and I have always been surprised that a surface lot still exists in this area. Now that the comments reveal this is gov-owned it makes sense. With all of the existing and new condos and apartments nearby I think this would drive a need for a better public space. Start with a farmers market on 1/2 the lot during the weekends. I am also struck by the lack of parks for all ages anywhere nearby. They could split use of the land between basketball/racketball courts & kiddie playground and a square park with trees, benches, kiosk, and seasonal fountain. The plot is unique for the area for it is flat (most of everything around here is on steep hills). It is a real jewel waiting to be realized....

by armchairquarterback on Mar 20, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

This is what a Town Square looks like: http://downtownpittsfield.com/directory/park-square/

or this:
https://www.ligonier.com/

Most any other proposal is done for money alone.

by AMCIT on Mar 20, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

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