Greater Greater Washington

Envisioning Crystal City as part of a larger community

In 2005, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommended transferring thousands of defense jobs out of Crystal City. Accordingly, in 2006, the Arlington County Board established a task force to "create a vision for the future development of Crystal City." They produced, and in December 2008 the County Board adopted, a vision and framework.

Adjacent to Crystal City are two residential communities: Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands. These neighborhoods comprise a relatively small area bordered by Interstate 395 on the north and west sides, Crystal City on the east, and Four Mile Run and Alexandria on the south. Both the Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations serve the area, which shares many facilities with Crystal City. Thus, although Jefferson Davis Highway creates a major physical barrier between the Aurora Highlands neighborhood and Crystal City, the two areas are closely linked.

On May 14th, the Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA) hosted a meeting to update residents on the plan. The notice of this meeting appeared to frame the redevelopment project as placing the neighborhoods at grave risk. The notice expressed concerns relating to increasing density and the associated impacts on traffic, parking, transit, and other neighborhood services, as well as increasing building heights.

The crowdas many as 100 over the course of the eveningwas noticeably skeptical as Anthony Fusarelli, the County's project staff made his presentation, and Richard Best discussed transit. The mood became downright ugly, though, by the end of the evening. Feelings of past betrayal amongst the long-time residents of the Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands neighborhoods were vivid as audience members frequently referenced the Pentagon City planning process with contempt. There is clearly history between neighborhood residents and the County Board that does not engender trust.

I came to the meeting as a soon-to-be new resident with no baggage and an interest in "new urbanism." I liked what I had seen of the Crystal City vision plan on paper, and I was surprised by the strong concerns voiced by many of the resdients who attended the meeting. Nonetheless, I was equally surprised that Mr. Fusarelli and Mr. Best were not better prepared to sell the benefits of a redeveloped Crystal City to the people that live closest. They did a great job of explaining the nuts and bolts of the plan, and Mr. Fusarelli was very responsive to questions, but the County's leadership has not equipped them with the tools necessary to explain the potential benefits to the neighboring communities.

In an open letter, the President of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA) wrote to County Board members,

There is no acknowledgement of the compounding impact of the new density coming from Crystal City and Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, nor transient traffic increases that will pass through on Route 1 and Glebe and around us on 395. All this traffic will attempt to cut through our large neighborhood area. And the Crystal City Plan doesn't seem to acknowledge the true impacts to our neighborhood area. ...

Where is the comprehensive plan that talks about growth east of 395 as a whole, not these artificial boundaries that only exist on paper. ... [The presentation] just stoked our fears more about what else we will lose (ex: library and community center). This is now yet another set of senior staff saying publicly what they feel the long term view is, which seems to diminish our neighborhood.

While one may not agree with the overall tenor of these comments, they raise a good point about viewing projects like this from the perspective of the wider community rather than within specific neighborhood boundaries. Unfortunately, many residents of the Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge neighborhoods are approaching this process from the same, limited perspective the AHCA President was criticizing. They don't appear to see Crystal City as part of "their" community, and they view the redevelopment of Crystal City as something that will negatively affect "their" neighborhood. There appears to be great difficulty with defining the term "community" for the purpose of determining costs, benefits and appropriate representation when discussing specific area plans such as the Crystal City Vision Plan.

The proposed redevelopment of Crystal City brings with it great possibilities. Crystal City is not presently an inviting place and it is disconnected from its neighbors. It is one of the primary economic generators in Arlington County and has the potential to be a great urban place, so close to central Washington. Yet it remains a relic of a failed model for urban development. Revisioning Crystal City brings an opportunity to enhance the surrounding areas by developing a multi-modal, traditional above-ground, pedestrian-friendly community with new services and amenities available to all of south Arlington.


Diagram of development, pedestrian circulation, and transit from the Crystal City plan.

Rather than fighting Crystal City's redevelopment, neighboring residents should fight to ensure that Crystal City's redevelopment offers something for everyone, including the surrounding neighborhoods. Rather than assume it will take resources away from the existing community, they must work to ensure that it provides new resources as it also provides new sources of revenue for the County.

The Long Range Planning Committee of the County Planning Commission will discuss the first three chapters of the Crystal City Vision Plan on June 9, 7:30 in the Navy League Building, 2300 Wilson Blvd, 1st floor conference room. Many nearby residents will attend, and if you live in the area or are interested in the Crystal City redevelopment process, so should you. More details of the plan, and the meeting announcement, are at plancrystalcity.com.

Eric Hallstrom is attorney interested in political law, public policy, urban planning and music. He lives in Arlington, VA. 

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Well, no matter what, Crystal City cannot stick with the status quo. It needs a drastic change and an infusion of some street life. It is "technically" urbanist but it doesn't feel as such.

Also, who lives in a neighborhood behind a city with density as high as Crystal City and then complains about said density? If you want low-scale, Crystal City is NOT the place to live.

by SG on Jun 4, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

"Also, who lives in a neighborhood behind a city with density as high as Crystal City and then complains about said density? If you want low-scale, Crystal City is NOT the place to live."

So by your reasonsing, SG, any density must inevitably be followed by greater density? In that case, people who don't want to live in condos/townhouses are absolutely right to opppose any such developments anywhere nearby. Arlington until WWII was completely rural, with just a few farmhouses; then the neighborhoods of single-family homes were built in the 1930s.

These neighborhoods (including those in the article) were there long before the garish ugly concrete boxes that make up the laughably named Crystal City. Homeowners there have a right to maintain the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and when a proposed development will threaten that, you shouldn't be surprised that they oppose it. The pat response to this is calling them NIMBYs, but what does that really mean? You'd be a NIMBY too if, say, someone wanted to build a lead smelter, prison, etc., near your home.

Instead of building more of what we don't need in Arlington--more condos and apartments--we should build housing of which there's truly a dearth and for which there is huge demand: small, detached single-family homes, with a permanent ban on rezoning or expanding them. There's plenty of housing for the wealthy (McMansions); the poor (County-subsidized low-income housing--the expense of which is a major driver behind the County's unending quest for more property-tax revenue); and the upwardly mobile 20-somethings (apartments/townhouses). What's missing are reasonably priced detached houses that youngish couples can afford.

Alas, the county board is not a representative body. Instead, it advocates for the interests of developers (who want more big projects) and the lowest-income residents (who want dirt-cheap housing). Someday this will change.

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 11:27 am • linkreport

My experience with other Arlington civic associations is very similar. You get a lot of older home owners who resist change. I have experience in both the East Falls Church and the Penrose civic associations. It's the same - traffic and parking, traffic and parking. As if Arlington is not at the core of a six million strong metro area. Somehow they think that they can resist change in their neighborhood and Arlington will remain sleepy as in years past. On the other hand, I think those who turn out for these meetings (and especially those who speak up) do not adequately represent the attitudes and opinions of the community as a whole. I think there is a great deal of support for smart development in Arlington, certainly there is in county government. Which brings us to the county staffers who come to these meetings. I agree wholeheartedly with your observation - they are strangely unable to articulate the broader benefits of the change that we see around us in Arlington. This can further anger some citizens who come, voice concerns, and basically hear - "Well this is the way it's gonna be...." Instead of being shown how their concerns would actually be even more likely to come true should the county take no planning steps to shape growth.

by Josh on Jun 4, 2009 11:28 am • linkreport

JB, is the model of single family detached homes the best land-use for an area that is served by Metro, already has significant amounts of single-detached homes, and is in major need of a more vibrant city streetscape?

by William on Jun 4, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

Josh, far from being an "older homeowner," I'm in my 30s, and I oppose this kind of change.

I think you'd resist change as well if it were the kind of change you wouldn't like.

That's what I find so arrogant about many of these arguments--the smug assertion that if I object to something that will in fact increase traffic, congestion and noise near my home, I'm some kind of reactionary who can't abide change of any kind.

What this all comes down to is that any given community can only sustain a certain number of people without the nature of that community changing for the worse. Arlington needs to cut the many wasteful programs ($1 billion for "cultural affairs," anyone?) responsible for its ever-growing demand for more tax revenue. (And I'm a Dem and a huge Obama supporter.)

If the county would just run the schools, pay the cops, pick up the garbage, pave the roads, then there would be plenty of tax revenue.

Not everyone can live in Arlington--or in any given community.

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 11:43 am • linkreport

William--I disagree with your premise taht there needs to be a "vibrant city streetscape." This is a pretty vague phrase, but we're probably picturing the same thing.

I disagree that there are enough single-family homes in Arlington. There are too few that aren't so large as to be prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest.

I'm not categorically against condos and townhoues near Metro, but we have a major glut. We absolutely don't need more.

In addition: We already have crushing crowds on the Orange Line that weren't there even five years ago. Why do you think this is? It's because of all the TOD nearby. This is driving many people away from using transit. Transit is a great thing, but there's a limit to what people will tolerate.

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 11:50 am • linkreport

Residents of Alexandria near the King Street and Eisenhower stations were similarly worried about traffic from new high-density development. Some said they wanted to move out before congestion got so bad that they couldn't even back out of their driveways.

The transit oriented Carlyle development and new Patent Office was built, and it turned out that people used transit and walked in high numbers. The Patent Office has the highest rate of transit commuting of any federal agency, according to Alexandria planners.

And the residents who were so worried about traffic? After the new development was occupied, many didn't notice a difference in traffic. Some didn't even realize the new development was occupied. The ideal result of Crystal City redevelopment would be similar.

by Laurence Aurbach on Jun 4, 2009 11:57 am • linkreport

The dozens of NIMBY trench warriors of the Aurora Hills Civic Association would erect barbed wire gates along the borders of 23rd St. and Arl Ridge Rd if given the choice. Most of us in the condos and rental buildings nearby welcome anything that makes the community better for those who actually leave their cul-de-sacs to enjoy it.

Erect security gates on Fort Scott Dr., trenchs along 23rd St., and concrete walls along Arl Ridge Rd, the rest of us don't care. Just quit meddling in the community you don't want to be a part of.

by darren on Jun 4, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

JB, have you asked Arlington County to cut minimum lot sizes in single-family home zones in half, and eliminate side setback requirements? That would be necessary to get a significant number of additional single-family homes in Arlington.

by tt on Jun 4, 2009 12:23 pm • linkreport

I would hope that the ideal result of Crystal City redevelopment is a lot better than Carlyle. It's a total dead zone outside of office hours.

by alexandrian on Jun 4, 2009 12:27 pm • linkreport

JB, where in Crystal City is there any room for houses like you suggest? Your wishes make no sense in this case.

by NikolasM on Jun 4, 2009 12:30 pm • linkreport

"That's what I find so arrogant about many of these arguments--the smug assertion that if I object to something that will in fact increase traffic, congestion and noise near my home, I'm some kind of reactionary who can't abide change of any kind. "

I don't think anyone's doubting your objections, they're doubting the 'facts' that you've based them on.

Higher density development will not, in fact, increase your traffic. Traffic hasn't increased along the Orange Line corridor, nor has it increased in Alexandria (per Laurence's example).

I also find your economic reasoning highly specious. You say that what Arlington needs more of is single family detached homes. Based on what? The economics of the land value certainly disagree. Does Manhattan need more single-family detached homes too?

by Alex B. on Jun 4, 2009 12:34 pm • linkreport

"The dozens of NIMBY trench warriors of the Aurora Hills Civic Association would erect barbed wire gates along the borders of 23rd St. and Arl Ridge Rd if given the choice. Most of us in the condos and rental buildings nearby welcome anything that makes the community better for those who actually leave their cul-de-sacs to enjoy it.

Erect security gates on Fort Scott Dr., trenchs along 23rd St., and concrete walls along Arl Ridge Rd, the rest of us don't care. Just quit meddling in the community you don't want to be a part of."

How is this helpful? As one of the residents of Fort Scott Drive, I have no desire to see gates or walls separating me from the higher density development in Crystal and Pentagon Cities. I bought in Arlington Ridge because of its proximity to those areas and the vibrancy, walkability, and vitality that they bring. And I can understand why a resident in Crystal City would look forward to pedestrian and streetscape enhancements.

That said, I think it is perfectly reasonable to raise questions regarding traffic impacts along Fort Scott, 23rd Street, and Ridge Road. These roads have 25 mph speed limits and are one lane in each direction, and are not supposed to handle a high degree of cut-through traffic. I am reasonably confident that the development in Crystal City can be controlled and shaped to direct traffic along Route 1 rather than through the neighborhoods, but it is certainly reasonable to raise the question.

It's also reasonable to question whether the development should be accompanied by additional traffic-calming to deter cut-through traffic. The 25-mph radar signs along Ridge Road are fantastic. Traffic along 23rd Street also seems to obey the limits within reason. Fort Scott is fine for now, most of the time, but there are some folks that speed along what is a curvy, hilly, and frankly dangerous road. I fear for neighborhood kids and pets, as well as my future children, every time someone speeds around the bend and narrowly misses rear-ending a parked car or pedestrian.

We're all in it together, darren. By responding as you did, you only further the divides rather than promoting dialogue and understanding.

by Dave on Jun 4, 2009 1:06 pm • linkreport

I wish I had been at this meeting. As a resident of Crystal City for many years I am keenly aware of the need for improvement and fully support the county's aggressive vision for Crystal City. I do not understand the arguments of the residents of Aurora Hills and other surrounding neighborhoods. I also believe those residents fail to understand the necessity and value of these projects.

Consider that the Arlington County Board's vision for Crystal City extends out for forty years or more to at least 2050. These changes such as bringing Route 1 down to street level, improving the mix of businesses in Crystal City, adding green space, etc. are not all going to occur in the next year. This is a vision that extends out for a long time and is designed to not be invasive to current residents. If only all planning commissions, county boards, and city halls had such foresight to make plans for the middle of the century. Do these residents honestly believe that their neighborhoods will be more pleasant in 2050 if Crystal City is allowed to continue on its current course (which is greatly improved from what it was 10 years ago thanks to this same county board)? Would they prefer that Route 1 remain an elevated highway that is a blight on the accessiblity and walkability of their community?

I think one of the great fallacies of the "not in my backyard" set is the belief that the current situation is not in and of itself attributable to smart growth and progressive development. Would Aurora Hills and Virginia Highlands be attractive neighborhoods today with high property values without the development of Pentagon City or without the addition of the Metro and increased transportation options in their area? No. So why the false affront that those communities have somehow been inured by the development around them?

I welcome the redevelopment of Crystal City. I would like to see the finalization of the redevelopment of Pentagon City and the removal of the last of the warehouses. What would that community be without the development that has occured so far?

It is baffling to me why a person would want to live right on the edge of such a highly-developed area with so many amenties, within earshot of the world's largest office building, blocks from a 14-lane superhighway, in the shadow of a busy airport, near an elevated highway, and beneath numerous office buildings and then complain about preservation and redevelopment of that neighborhood. I don't begrudge anyone's right to speak out against development with which they disagree. I completely understand the sense that we have too many high-rise apartment buildings. But let's not pretend we live in the country.

Crystal City is a great neighborhood with tremendous potential in need of improvement. The Arlington County Board's vision is practical, realistic, and aggressive. I can't wait to see the final results.

by Andrew Corso on Jun 4, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

>I disagree that there are enough single-family homes in Arlington. There are too few that aren't so large as to be prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest.

I'm not categorically against condos and townhoues near Metro, but we have a major glut. We absolutely don't need more.

Funny that someone would say these two things right after one another.

Actually, we desperately need many many more multifamily housing units near Metro stations, because there are too few that aren't so large as to be prohibitively expensive.

by BeyondDC on Jun 4, 2009 1:59 pm • linkreport

Dave, you're right, my tone really was inappropriate, and stifles good constructive debate. And painting with the broad brush is not fine art. I really loused up the tone of this debate, and I apologize to all.

However, I just don't think that the AHCA objecting to the core of what are really great plans for fear of traffic on the surface streets in question (Ridge, 23rd, Fort Scott), and the very few other thru-streets in that area, is constructive for anybody.

I also don't accept their premise that retooling Crystal City is going to increase automobile traffic on these streets by one single vehicle. Besides the emphasis on serving the existing close-in community, and relying on the existing bike/ped/transit advantages, many of the amenities proposed are duplicative of those already present in Shirlington, Pentagon City, and other areas.

But if it did lead to more cars bombing down the streets in the 'hood, i would say that it's fair to question whether partial cause may lie in the discontinuous design of the neighborhood between 23rd and Glebe, which funnels any and all thru traffic onto a very limited number of connected roads. The roads may not have been designed for it, but with such a central location, thru-traffic is a fact of life. Controlling speed is a reasonable request, but looking at an overhead map of Aurora Hills leads me to suspect that the primary tool used to date has been controlling access, and not only to automobiles. I don't live on Fort Scott, don't speed on Fort Scott, but I use it, both by car and bicycle, and I don't want that to change.

Pedestrian and vehicle density, and the resulting conflicts, are SO much greater on Joyce St around Pentagon City commons, Lynn St behind the condos, 15th and 18th Sts to Jeffdavis, and the ridiculous megablock overcapacity on the Hayes Street landing strip in front of the mall. With Arlington Ridge Rd already worked over by speed control, I would sooner see some attention paid to those spots. But, perhaps a properly engineered development of 23rd and Arlington Ridge into 'complete streets' that more naturally constrain auto speed while improving multi-use and aesthetics for the entire neighborhood would satisfy all of our competing interests.

by darren on Jun 4, 2009 2:32 pm • linkreport

It is baffling to me why a person would want to live right on the edge of such a highly-developed area with so many amenties, within earshot of the world's largest office building, blocks from a 14-lane superhighway, in the shadow of a busy airport, near an elevated highway, and beneath numerous office buildings and then complain about preservation and redevelopment of that neighborhood.

The neighboorhood pre-dates that office building, that superhighway and those office buildings. Why do we accept that more growth is the only way to go? Encourage zero population growth and cut off immigration and then we can have both high-density AND single family neighborhoods, not a relentless march to paving over everything.

by Ho Lyn on Jun 4, 2009 2:38 pm • linkreport

Ho-

The redesign of Crystal City is not about paving things over and increasing density. Anything but. That is the absolute misconception that drives fear among these residents. It is, in fact, about increasing accessibility for residents and businesses in Crystal City, improving the sightlines, remaking the lay-out of streets to add green areas and improve walkability, and getting rid of the concrete barrier that is the elevated Jeff Davis Highway.

The vision is to turn CC into a more attractive, walkable, less-concrete dominant cityscape. Redevelopment is not always about adding more buildings and roads. The county board wants to improve density to bring life to a community by shifting the focus from exclusively government office buildings to mixed use offices, businesses, and homes, remove elevated highways to improve access, add parks and sidewalks, and a host of other improvements. This isn't about paving over green areas. In fact, the areas for added development are currently vacant lots (12th St. and Eads), old partially abandoned warehouses, outdated and ugly office buildings, and roads that don't go anywhere because Jeff Davis Highway cuts them off.

by Andrew Corso on Jun 4, 2009 2:48 pm • linkreport

Assuming we could stop growth in Northern Virginia, where would it go?

by BeyondDC on Jun 4, 2009 3:22 pm • linkreport

"Congestion on the orange line is so bad it's driving people away from metro"

"nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded"

by NAB on Jun 4, 2009 4:02 pm • linkreport

Encourage zero population growth and cut off immigration and then we can have both high-density AND single family neighborhoods, not a relentless march to paving over everything.

Sorry, this is just too outrageous for me to let pass. Stating that the County should simply stop growing is akin to saying we do not need storm sewers because it should stop raining. It will happen, whether you plan for it or not. Responsible people make plans for predictable events.

First of all, Arlington County does not have the ability to tell people how many children they can have or who can or can't move into the County (or country). The only way the County can discourage growth is to make the County so undesirable that nobody would want to live there. Is that really what you want in Arlington? If so, urge the County to dramatically cut back law enforcement, education, and sanitation. That will keep the population down, at least in the short-run. (It could eventually backfire as as slums are generally high density.)

Second, if you successfully create a slum, you will get even more traffic. People will move further out to get to a "safe" community and want to get through your newly-created slum as quickly as possible before they can become crime victims. Of course, they will be off your neighborhood streets. They will want to avoid the stray gunfire.

Arlington County has an admirable track record when it comes to long-range planning. Yes, the County makes mistakes. The existing Crystal City is a perfect example. But overall, the County has done well. The County has acknowledged that Crystal City needs to be fixed, and the County is trying to correct it. The County has done better than any other suburban jurisdiction with Metro. Traffic is actually lighter now in the densely-developed Ballston-Rosslyn corridor than before Metro. The B-R corridor may not be where everyone wants to live, but it is the economic engine of the County that keeps traffic and taxes lower in the rest of the County. (About 1/3 of the County's tax revenue comes from the 3% of the County in the B-R corridor.)

Perhaps your would rather the County not plan at all, just let things happen? If that had been allowed in Arlington County, affordable single-family homes would be almost non-existent in the County. Instead, the County has worked hard to require affordable housing units in new developments and is considering a density transfer program that would allow greater density in certain areas in exchange for protecting lower density in other areas. In addition, they have directed development into limited corridors and tried to prevent the sprawl that would eat up houses like houses ate up farms 50 years ago.

Arlington is a place people want to live. It is close to DC. It has good schools. It has a good and varied transportation network. It has a variety of types of housing. It has a variety of people. It has a variety of neighborhoods. It has numerous cultural and recreational opportunities. (Are you listening, JB?) You can either acknowledge that and try to maintain what makes Arlington a great place to live, or you can cross your fingers, close your eyes, and hope for the best.

by Stanton Park on Jun 4, 2009 4:12 pm • linkreport

Arlington County does not have the ability to tell people how many children they can have or who can or can't move into the County (or country). The only way the County can discourage growth is to make the County so undesirable that nobody would want to live there.

I was speaking not specifically about Arlington County, but about our whole society's perception that perma-growth is not only inevitable, but that it is desirable (and I beleive your response illustrates my point, SP). We, as a society have accepted that the choice we have is never-ending growth, where farm land must be replaced by single-family neighborhoods, that must be replaced by townhouses, that must be replaced by highrises, that must be replaced by even taller highrises and there is nothing we can do about it. Why is it not even considered an option to keep the status quo? Why have we swallowed hook, line, and sinker the canard that if we don't grow we die (or become a slum)? There are other options, despite what your corporate overlords tell you.

by Ho Lyn on Jun 4, 2009 5:13 pm • linkreport

Agreed, darren. The disconnect is much greater closer to Pentagon City. The walk to the Metro in the AM up Joyce Street always gets interesting as I approach the Mall. Why they didn't reconfigure the roads to create a simple intersection is beyond me. Way too many unsignalized crossings.

I do agree that the lack of a true urban grid is the cause of some of the problems, though that is as much due to topography as any other conscious attempt to create a "suburban" form (I think). South of 23rd Street, the streets seem to follow the contours of the hills and it results in few potential through street options.

And all Fort Scott needs is a few speed humps to slow things down - and a redesign of the intersection with 23rd Street to create a "T" intersection with a full fledged, ped-oriented crosswalk. One of these days I expect to be clipped trying to cross the street from the bus stop.

by Dave on Jun 4, 2009 5:16 pm • linkreport

Alex B wrote: "Higher density development will not, in fact, increase your traffic. Traffic hasn't increased along the Orange Line corridor, nor has it increased in Alexandria (per Laurence's example)."

Tt and Nikolas: I'm for preserving the dwindling number of small detached homes that we have--but I think it'd be great if we could level some of those drab towers and office buildings and put in more such homes. I know--keep dreaming.

I have yet to see a figure proving this assertion--but even if it's true, you can't deny that the Orange Line has become overcrowded in the last few years, mostly because of all the new residents living near the Metro stops in those new condos.

Stanton Park: It's actually easy to stop Arlington from growing. If we simply quit creating more residential units and strictly enforced the zoning, that would prevent more people from moving here. Of course the county can't undertake population control; come on. That's a straw-man argument (though I agree with Ho Lyn that on a national and global level, this has to be addressed).

Nor is the answer making living here "undesirable." Another false choice. But just because people will always desire to live in a place doesn't mean they get to. I'd love to live in, say, Switzerland or Maui--but I can't afford to (among other reasons). Does that mean Maui should build tiny little condos that even I could afford to buy? At the expense of their rustic, beautiful, quiet scenery? Of course not.

Andrew Corso wrote: "Would Aurora Hills and Virginia Highlands be attractive neighborhoods today with high property values without the development of Pentagon City or without the addition of the Metro and increased transportation options in their area? No."

This presumes that people *want* sky-high and ever-increasing property values. Of course people want their homes to appreciate over the long term--but huge increases just mean more in taxes--and that smaller plots of land become so valuable that the smaller homes are leveled in order to build those awul McMansions.

What we need is a ban on more housing units and a ban on subividing current ones. Then we'll at least know that the current overcrowding on our roads and public transit won't get worse.

As to my comment on cultural development: I'm as into culture as anyone else, but the fact that a *county* is promoting this is absurd to me. And having a "cultural affairs" department with a $1 million budget (as Arlington does) to me is intolerable and senseless.

You guys keep coming back to this "economic engine" thing as the reason we need high-density, mixed-use development--that this results in higher property taxes (true) which brings more money to the County coffers (also true). But I disagree with your premise--that the County truly needs this money to serve its citizens. I think the County government is woefully bloated and inefficient. And I'm one of those pro-big-government left-wingers!

And as to SP's final sentence--I agree that proximity to DC is part of what makes Arlington a great place to live. But unlimited development and the incredible crowding that brings to the Metro and to the roads will ruin it for everyone.

Look, I know I'm never going to convince some of you. But don't you at least see my point? For years Arlington had a good number of small and mid-sized houses that regular people could afford if they saved up and had a decent job. Now the prices are sky-high--and a big reason is declining supply and spillover land values from the TOD.

Do you die-hard pro-developer folks really think there should be no limits? That we should cram the greatest number of people into every piece of land? And if so, are you saying the only limit should be how high we can build a condo tower without having it fall over?

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 5:23 pm • linkreport

Oops--switch those first two paragraphs of mine. (The third one is my reply to Alex B.)

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 5:25 pm • linkreport

"Why is it not even considered an option to keep the status quo? Why have we swallowed hook, line, and sinker the canard that if we don't grow we die (or become a slum)? There are other options, despite what your corporate overlords tell you."

Amen, Ho Lyn! Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness when I argue we should aim not for growth but for stability and true sustainability. Somehow no one wants to question the sacred cow that the population must keep growing and that those of us already here should change our lives and tolerate any sacrifice in our quality of life in order to accommodate the inexorable exponential increase.

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 5:31 pm • linkreport

The status quo is ugly development. This is a blueprint to fix it. The whole freaking plan covers land that is basically fully built up on already. I really fail to see what you guys are up in arms about. The plan looks really good. A new metro entrance near the VRE station is a great idea. So are the routes for the planed light rail/street car, also a great idea. I am hoping that most one way streets will be made two way as best as possible. I also hope that 12th street will be connected better to Pentagon City.

Calling congestion on the Orange line a sign that the density there is bad is an apples to oranges comparison. The complaint by NIMBYs is that the dense development will contribute to car traffic, which is definitely not the case.

by NikolasM on Jun 4, 2009 6:37 pm • linkreport

Looking forward to seeing your plan for decreasing housing supply AND decreasing property values.

Actually scratch that, I'm not. You just want to fence off the entire county now that you've got yours.

by after55 on Jun 4, 2009 7:59 pm • linkreport

after55 wrote: "You just want to fence off the entire county now that you've got yours."

Uh--just the opposite, actually. I want to see the supply of small detached homes preserved and even (dare I hope) increased, and I'd like to see housing prices stabilize. If you think $800,000 Clarendon condos are some sign of egalitarianism, I don't know what you're smoking.

Nikolas M: "The complaint by NIMBYs is that the dense development will contribute to car traffic, which is definitely not the case."

I've been called a NIMBY before, and I guess I am (depending on what's being proposed to be ploinked into my backyard). And my beef with extreme density is that it does make transit untenable for many.

I notice that no one has answered my question about where the limit will be on development. What's to stop someone in 30 years from tearing down your beloved 8-storey condos/retail just so they can put up a 100-storey skyscraper that only billionaires can afford?

by JB on Jun 4, 2009 8:24 pm • linkreport

If I may I'd like to add for your review a couple of thoughtful articles (Vanquishing the Density Demon and Addressing the Irrational Fear of Density) by Jim Bacon about how increasing density doesn't have to mean more traffic and parking problems. Both articles can be found at this link: http://commuter.typepad.com/commuterpageblog/2007/08/vanquishing-the.html

Chris Hamilton, Arlington County Commuter Services

by Chris Hamilton on Jun 4, 2009 9:14 pm • linkreport

Rather than picking on JB, it would be better to focus on the "conceptual plans" which are full of deadly, unreadable passages such as the following, "Increase the committed affordable housing stock in Crystal City by developing implementation tools that encourage the provision of on-site or nearby off-site affordable units." No wonder it brought the NIMBYs and was not assertively supported by local govt. Having lived through many of these kinds of plans and having once evaluated a 30 year master plan for a medium sized Midwestern city, this looks like it's full of potentially interesting ideas but without the tools to get there.

Crystal City is unattractive and overlong to traverse. I've used as a local and as an out of towner. Except for being near DCA, it's probably the least attractive place to stay in DC or its inner suburbs, unless you stay at the Marriott or perhaps if you know that the hotels close to Pentagon City are actually close to Pentagon City. It works during the lunchtime rush and probably for rush hour services, but is otherwise dead, despite the large number of local residents, including people in the condos. There are some interesting shops and restaurants in what's left of the old business district and conservation of that and its immediate surroundings would be a good place to start, esp. in terms of building bridges to the community. Fixing the street alignment and making the connection to Pentagon City easier would help--doable, near-term, though probably not radically remaking the area. The most recent re-do of the office buildings includes more restaurants that are oriented to the outside--this step hasn't achieved much and its unclear what kinds of retail businesses would want to follow, how their driving trade (which is vital to small business even in walkable neighborhoods) would be accommodated in the near term. Despite its limitations a great many people working in the area would be loathe to give up the mall.

The problem with mega-projects like Crystal City is that they are very difficult to change. Even a horrible mess like Rosslyn would be easier to evolve into something else--there are enough different landowners and building vintages that some really ghastly parts of the area will natural reach points of obsolescence with incentives for them to be fixed. Although Crystal City is economically healthy, it's a bit like a dead mall from the perspective of redevelopment and I suspect that the problems with redeveloping malls may help explain why developers have embraced the more flexible "lifestyle center" configuration.

by Rich on Jun 4, 2009 11:10 pm • linkreport

These comments are great and cover with honesty and intelligence the issues raised by this project. A couple things to keep in mind.

1. This is a long term plan and is not designed lead to a specific end point, but rather to guide the development of Crystal City over the the next 50 years.

2. Due to the BRAC process, Crystal City has lost or is losing many tenants of its office space. It is unrealistic to think that the owners of commercial properties won't be trying to attract new tenants (and it is unrealistic to think that the County would let Crystal City sit half empty). This is an effort to guide the inevitable redevelopment.

3. If redevelopment of Crystal City is inevitable, this is the chance to influence what future projects will look like and to ensure the needs of the wider communities are met.

4. Finally, remember we are talking about Crystal City's neighbors, and their interest in making sure a new, denser Crystal City doesn't result in significant disruption to their neighborhoods and that the byproducts of density are mitigated. This is perfectly reasonable on the part of ARCA and AHCA and their members. Transportation (auto) and transit are real issues when you live between 395 and Jeff Davis Highway. I'd expect readers of GGW to be sensitive to the transportation issues in particular. This is an exciting time to live in these neighborhoods because the redevelopment of Crystal City will bring with it opportunities to enhance the existing communities, as long as people remain engaged and open-minded.

5. Finally, more specific ideas for implementing this vision plan will be coming out of meetings of the Planning Commission and its Long Range Planning Committee. Hopefully some of the commenters will bring their perspectives to those meetings.

by Eric Hallstrom on Jun 5, 2009 8:22 am • linkreport

JB, please read my previous post about why Arlington chose to go the way it did with the R-B Corridor, why Montgomery is going in that direction, and what that means in the big picture.

The cost of providing services increases over time. It's a fact of life. You can't just fix the price of asphalt for roads or salaries for teachers. The only way for a government of an urbanized jurisdiction (which means developed, regardless of specific land use patterns) to remain solvent is if they have some sort of growth.

Since Arlington is geographically small and really close to DC, it was overran with those single-family houses that you advocate for by the mid-1960's. Since all developable residential land was consumed, it faced two choices, go broke in 50 years or plan for dense growth in targeted areas. The Metro was the perfect tool.

Fairfax County is hitting the same wall, which is why they're so relieved that they're getting the Silver Line so they get a mulligan with Tysons Corner. Tysons has hit the wall for how much economic activity can take place in a car-dependent environment.

There are much bigger things going on here. People made the same complaints in DC when they built new retail in Columbia Heights. Same with Silver Spring. Same with Bethesda. Yet, those same folks who complained now happily enjoy the better community and better amenities those vibrant walkable places provide.

by Cavan on Jun 5, 2009 9:46 am • linkreport

JB: "I disagree that there are enough single-family homes in Arlington. There are too few that aren't so large as to be prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest."

JB: "What we need is a ban on more housing units and a ban on subividing current ones."

Constraints on supply raise market prices, JB. What makes housing in Arlington expensive isn't the ease with which you can add housing units, and adding new restrictions on supply will raise prices, not lower them. Duh.

by Josh B on Jun 5, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

The only way for a government of an urbanized jurisdiction to remain solvent is if they have some sort of growth.

This is what they want you to believe so they can constantly whine about the need for more taxes.

by Nancy Reagan on Jun 5, 2009 4:45 pm • linkreport

I've almost jumped into this half a dozen times, but now I'm glad I didn't, because I've figured out how to cut right to the point. Actually, this could apply to any number of GGW threads.

Resolved: Arlington County, being the closest free-standing jurisdiction to Washington (which is the central city of the economic region), should and must always be the second densest jurisdiction, behind Washington.

Discuss.

(I'll start: I don't know how anyone can soundly disagree.)

by D on Jun 6, 2009 12:31 am • linkreport

i dislike the word 'BRAC' almost as much as 'grok'.

and crystal city has the most abysmal underground mall i've ever experienced. made me want to curl up and die every time i went down there for lunch.

happy to see it's going to be overhauled. hopefully.

by Peter Smith on Jun 6, 2009 2:37 am • linkreport

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