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Peter’s Take: New FAA Rules Imperil Grandiose Aquatics Center

by Peter Rousselot — May 15, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,309 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast Friday, ARLnow.com posted a story that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering “a policy change that would lower the maximum allowable building heights near airports.”

That story mentioned a new bill proposed by Rep. Jim Moran and Congressional co-sponsors that would require the FAA to adopt its new building height restrictions through a “standard rulemaking procedure” rather than through a “proposed policy.” The difference between these two alternatives is that the standard rulemaking procedure involves consideration of more factors and evidence than the proposed policy approach.

Regardless of which procedure the FAA ultimately has to follow, it is not clear from either the ARLnow.com story or from the FAA formal announcement precisely what the FAA’s new height limitations will be, nor which geographic areas of Arlington will be subject to them.

But, it is clear that the Aquatics Center site at Long Bridge Park is directly in the airport’s flight path. Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that the height of the roof of the currently-proposed design for the Aquatics Center — a height needed to accommodate the King’s Dominion-style water slide – will have to be lowered to meet the FAA’s proposed new height restrictions.

Given the FAA’s commitment to lower its height restrictions, it would be irresponsible for Arlington to proceed to a bid process for construction of the Aquatics Center without a binding agreement with the FAA that Arlington’s final design for this facility has FAA approval.

To the best of my knowledge, Arlington County does not have such a binding agreement with the FAA. If the FAA refuses to provide Arlington with such an agreement, the FAA’s refusal ought to be yet another reason to scale back the current Aquatics Center design. With so many other competing priorities, like the schools capacity crisis, “the community does not ‘need’ this gold-plated Aquatics Center, and we should not move forward with it even if we could do so within the whopping $80 million price tag we thought it would cost” as recently as last year.

Moreover, the continually-escalating construction costs for the current Aquatics Center design (now well north of $80 million) will be followed by the even more rapidly escalating annual operating costs of the current design (up from $450,000 per year only thre years ago to $3.8 million per year at last count).

The current Aquatics Center design is fundamentally flawed because it contains too many extravagant features. It’s time substantially to scale back the current design, and develop a new design for a sensible pool and recreation center at Long Bridge Park.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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