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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 that the Metro corridors would concentrat density in bullseye patterns AROUND Metro stations.  This compact is under threat as the county coordinates now more 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.  Arlington also faces the challenges for jurisdictions on both coasts where high-paid jobs have made housing scarce or too expensive.  At the same time, we face the challenge of Covid, with a K-shaped recovery widening gaps between the top and the bottom of the income scales.  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. 

Runaway Growth and No Honest 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 that is gentrifying away our diversity, and intense density that approved 12,000 more people but no school in the 2022 Pentagon City Sector Plan.  A new skyline at National Landing with Metropolitan Park and Pen Place (Amazon HQ2), the Shirlington Arts-Industries area, the Clarendon Sector Plan, to name a few.  Rosslyn is sporting towers over 30 stories, notable even in that dense corridor.  Without creative new approaches, these and other growth trends will severely adversely affect our taxes, our infrastructure, our demographic/socioeconomic diversity, and our environment.  ASF currently is focused on two of the 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, 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. 

Amazon's Pen Place Bonus Density.  Arlington County Board voted April 23 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 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.  Ideas for added benefits, as well as the estimated values of both sides of the site plan deal, are contained in our slide deck presented at the April 23 Board Meeting.  You may also listen to our presentation to the Housing Commission on April 14 here.  Arlington's 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 burdening that Amazon's expansion represents for many lower-income residents. 


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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