Development

Arlington Board will Vote on PenPlace HQ2 April 23!

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Arlington is giving Amazon 1.5 Chrysler Buildings

for

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

 

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Amazon's Pen Place Bonus Density.  Arlington County Board will vote April 23 on the second and final phase of Amazon's HQ2 in Arlington.  As proposed in early February 2022, the site plan would award 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.  Leading up to the Board review, ASF has lobbied several county commissions to ask the board to provide additional benefits for Pentagon City and Arlington, including options to improve equity, transportation, and environmental sustainability.  You can see the list of possible added benefits, as well as the estimated values of both sides of the site plan deal, in our slide deck presented to the the County Board on April 23.  For a shorter synopsis, watch our presentation to the Housing Commission on April 14 here.  Several commissions shared ASF's concerns, their letters will be posted as part of the final staff report (available here) to the Arlington County Board for its April 23 meeting.  The Housing Commission rejected the site plan in part due to ASF's concerns and because the $30 million for affordable housing does not go far enough to mitigate expected displacement and cost burdenng that Amazon's expansion represents for many lower-income residents. 

Site Planning and Proffer Systems.  As illustrated in the extreme by the PenPlace project, the County is failing 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, crippling impediment. 

Some ASF leaders have advocated that the County adopt a proffer system like those in use in many neighboring Northern Virginia jurisdictions like Fairfax County and Falls Church City.  Those proffer systems are more transparent than Arlington's current site plan system and they provide more opportunities to obtain more different kinds of benefits from developers, including more benefits that are not tied to the immediate project site.  We would also now prefer 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 has found the net cost to taxpayers of the 400-unit Merion Pike West project -- if built as proposed at S. Greenbrier St. -- to be approximately $20 million through 2031.  The builder sought and received a Special Exception Form-Based Code Use Permit due to the project size, and we expect these 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. 

RESOURCES

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?