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Unbalanced Deal Sees Arlington Board Give Amazon "Bonus Density" Equal to 1.5 Chrysler Buildings


Arlington is giving Amazon 1.5 Chrysler Buildings


A high school, a day care, $30 million affordable housing grant, and a park; it's NOT a fair trade



Community-Based Development

Growth Model:  Arlington's model for growth is reflected in its General Land Use Plan (GLUP), related zoning, and a citizen compact since 1979 that has limited extreme density to the Orange Line Metro corridor and dictates that the Metro corridors would concentrate density in bullseye patterns AROUND Metro stations.  This compact is under threat as the county coordinates with regional jurisdictions on job and population growth than with its own residents, and has let several key players, such as JBG Smith, Amazon, and non-resident speculative developers, and some local non-profits, shape the way to more tech-sector growth that fails to protect our most vulnerable populations  Arlington also faces the same challenges of many coastal cities where high-paid jobs have made housing scarce or too expensive.  Covid delivered both a K-shaped recovery widening gaps between the top and the bottom of the income scales.  Since Covid, many of our older office buildings face critical vacancies (upsetting the traditional 50-50 balance between commercial and residential tax receipts which form the backbone of our budget.) Add the new reality of climate change, and Arlington needs to rally with creative community-based growth models that will play out over 30-40 years.  County Board Chair Libby Garvey launched a new Arlington 2050 Visioning Effort, ASF applauds this and hopes to contribute.

Runaway Growth with Deceptive Planning:  On a practical level, the county is pursuing or has approved in the last decade major changes to entire parts of our community.  Form-based code at Columbia Pike is proving gentrifying; we saw new zoning for 12,000 more people but no school or new park in the 2022 Pentagon City Sector Plan.  A new skyline at National Landing is being shaped by Amazon (two new towers opened at Metropolitan Park but the Pen Place project (shown above) is on hold).  Rosslyn is sporting towers over 30 stories, notable even in that dense corridor, while the county in 2024 is considering raising even those limits.  And the County is increasingly approving density outside our "planning corridors" with arcane tools knows as "Special General Land Use Plans" (GLUPs).  These growth trends will severely adversely affect our taxes, our infrastructure, our demographic/socioeconomic diversity, and our environment.  ASF has focused much effort on two initiatives that will greatly change our community:  Missing Middle Housing and Plan Langston Boulevard, but also weighs in on general development especially in terms of financing and tax implications.  

Site Planning and Proffer SystemsAs illustrated in the extreme by the PenPlace project shown above, the County fails to obtain from developers adequate community benefits in site planning, the main tool it uses for larger commercial and residential building projects.  Theoretically, the County should negotiate community benefits commensurate with -- and mostly in the same area as -- the neighborhood in which the development is proposed.  Likewise, the County is not insisting on developers committing to adequate benefits in new Sector Plans, General Land Use Plans, or project-specific cases of "bonus density,"   Nor is the County planning -- as part of the regular budget process -- to provide the incremental services for expanded populations that will be required by these approvals.  And in a county which no longer has much public land on which to locate public facilities, these failures represent a major impediment. 

ASF has advocated that the County adopt a proffer system like those in use in many neighboring Northern Virginia jurisdictions.  Those systems are more transparent than Arlington's current site plan system (and related density giveaways that come with changing the land use of areas or individual lots).  They provide more opportunities to obtain different kinds of benefits from developers.  ASF advocates a system in which the County, not developers, plans and pays for necessary new infrastructure and developers simply adhere to our zoning code for their projects.  To illustrate the point, Dr. Jon Huntley of Arlington Analytics priced the net cost to taxpayers of the 400-unit Merion Pike West multifamily housing project at S. Greenbrier St. to be approximately $20 million through 2031.  We expect such losses are being repeated more often than not with dozens of other land use, sector plan, and site plan processes.  See more info in resources below.

Changes We Want to See:   Arlingtonians need to understand and address consequences of uncontrolled growth and density.  Before approving more intense land use, more bonus density allowance, or denser zoning anywhere, the County should:  

  • Adopt a flooding and land use plan utilizing an accepted floodplain management tool, based on understanding of root flooding causes, their relationship to development, our watershed’s carrying capacity in the face of climate change and what we must do to prevent flooding.

  • Adopt available community planning tools (such as the TischlerBise fiscal impact tool) to assess both costs and benefits of different development scenarios, including assessing fiscal impacts on our capital and operating budgets and infrastructure impacts (such as to storm water management).

  • Create a ten-year projected county operating budget for different population and revenue scenarios. 

Amazon's Pen Place Bonus Density.  Arlington County Board voted April 23, 2023 on the second and final phase of Amazon's HQ2 in Arlington.  The deal awarded Amazon 1.396 million square feet of bonus density for a much less-valuable collection of community benefits, leaving $380 million to $1 billion of unmet community needs.  ASF lobbied the County Board for additional benefits from Amazon, serving unmet equity needs, transportation, and environmental sustainability.  More information in our slide deck presented to the County Board, and in our testimony to the Housing Commission here.  


Single family mega-clump, no canopy

Megacondos at Ballston, no setback, no greenspace

By-right zoning shrinks permeable surface, takes all mature trees

Changing the character of long established neighborhoods

Must all new dwellings be so huge?

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