One of the head-scratching things about life in Arlington is listening to self-described Smart Growth groups fawn over Arlington’s supposed commitment to Smart Growth. Unfortunately, the reality appears to be that Arlington’s politicians* are committed to promoting themselves, their personal Smart Growth-branded business interests, and the interests of those property developers building megaprojects.
When it comes to making the Pike more walkable, urban, and lively, details matter. The Columbia Pike Form Based Code is supposed to provide for higher-density development than currently exists for real estate parcels close to the Pike.
Yet construction is nearly complete for a truly massive, lot-busting single family home at the corner of S. 11th Street and S. Edgewood St. in Columbia Heights. The home will face a commercial strip of retail on one side (Asni Supermarket), and across the street on the other side is the lot that is slated to be redeveloped as a mixed retail/22-unit condo complex (that will face S. Walter Reed Drive). In other words, the lot is behind the Rite Aid, in the heart of Pike Town Center and steps from a planned streetcar stop. A perfect place for a row of townhouses, a condo or apartment building in a region desperate for more housing. (Another pair of new single-family homes are going up on S. Glebe Road a block away from another planned Columbia Pike streetcar stop.) These homes are not consistent with an urban Columbia Pike corridor with continued market-based affordable housing.
The big developments like the Rosenthal site are important, but as developer-driven megaprojects, they are relatively easy to envision as consistent with Pike urbanism. But the parcels where smaller scale multi-family housing can be built, they can add up. They matter, too, if the Pike is to remain a place with some level of continued market-based rentals.
Unfortunately, failures like this add to the impression that the master plan on Columbia Pike isn’t about making a more walkable, urban part of Arlington: it looks like it’s all about what the developers want from the County Board. The construction of these homes is a failure of the Form Based Code and the Board that enacted it.
* Historical aside: the Smart Growth in Arlington for which the current crop of politicians take credit is largely just filling in the details from a previous brave generation of politicians who did things like fight to put the Orange Line through N. Arlington rather than the I-66 median as originally proposed. The fact that the existing board compares itself to that generation of leaders is a false and shameful comparison.
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Post-script: It’s important to stress that the criticism here is on the policy makers in the government; the new neighbors presumably followed the law and built the homes they wanted, where they wanted. It isn’t (and shouldn’t be) their responsibility to consider the land use issues if they comply with the law.