Board Approves Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan

by Katie Pyzyk July 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm 5,961 39 Comments

The County Board decided to approve the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan during a meeting Monday night that stretched into the early hours this morning. The large scale plan aims to transform Columbia Pike into a more urban and walkable community, while maintaining affordable housing over the next 30 years.

The plan involves increasing density along the Pike — as many as 14,800 new apartments and condo units over the next 30 years — partially through allowing the construction of taller buildings. It also includes retaining approximately 4,500 affordable housing units, with all of them available at 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Those units are privately owned and operated, with the possibility of the county providing incentives for property owners. It also calls for the county, over the next 30 years, to develop 2,150 new rental units along the Pike that will be contractually committed to remain affordable.

“This is the most ambitious set of actions the county has ever adopted for preserving affordable housing as part of an area plan,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “Our experience has taught us that if we do not plan for affordable housing from the outset, rising property values make maintaining our diversity in housing choices and rents very difficult.”

For about three hours, 47 residents addressed the Board, both in favor of and against the proposal. The Board spent an additional two hours debating various aspects of the overall plan, such as the amount of affordable housing and how to fund it.

Much debate ensued over the issue of how much affordable housing developers should be required to provide, using Form Based Code to increase density and receive incentives. County staff had recommended 20-25 percent of net new development be reserved for affordable housing. The Board voted in favor of increasing the number up to 35 percent.

Financing the preservation of affordable housing through means such as a tax increment finacing area (TIF) split the Board. Members Chris Zimmerman and Walter Tejada supported the idea of a TIF, which would give 50 percent of revenue from increased commercial property assessments along Columbia Pike back to affordable housing initiatives in the area.

Zimmerman said a TIF would ensure some value goes back to the community to help mitigate any harm the development plan would cause. He also noted that the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) would need more funding — an additional $200 million over 30 years, according to county staff — to meet the county’s goals. He believes a TIF would be an appropriate way to boost the fund.

“The fact of the matter is, we don’t have enough money going into AHIF now on an annual basis to meet the goals the county has set. There’s no way that we’re going to get what we need entirely, or probably not even mostly, out of new development,” Zimmerman said. “If we’re going to be serious about achieving the goal here, we have to do a lot more.”

Board member Jay Fisette said the TIF proposal was thrown at him just hours before the meeting. He said it is currently too unexplored and the Board hadn’t been given enough time to examine the concept.

“I cannot support this today. I don’t think it was expected that this was going to be part of the action today,” said Fisette.

Hynes agreed, saying there may be alternate ways to boost the AHIF.

“I do support making regular increases, progressive increases, in the AHIF fund,” said Hynes. “In my view, we’re just not ready to do it this way.”

Tejada clarified that the TIF would not be an additional tax, but would come from the extra money generated by the proposed higher density. He said it’s important if the county wants to ensure the future of small businesses on the Pike.

“Currently we have a lot of businesses in the Columbia Pike area that are very nervous whether they’re going to be able to stay there,” said Tejada. “It’s up to us to act now to protect them.”

In the end, the TIF proposal was struck down by a 3-2 vote. Following that vote, the Board approved a motion to study a TIF in the future.

Later in the night, the Board approved another aspect of the long term plan for the Pike — the construction of a streetcar.

  • Rick

    TIF sounds like an excuse to hike the property values for the sake of funding a pocket fund. I’m glad three of the members were wise to this.

    • Josh S

      Except for two things (among others, I’m sure):

      1. This isn’t how TIFs have worked in the countless other applications around the country.
      2. Property owners can appeal appraisals.

      • ACDC Hack

        “1. Property owners can appeal appraisals.”

        …..and it CAN snow tomorrow……..

        • Ivy

          It might tomorrow. I know of someone who appealed his appraisal and won. Let it snow………

  • D'oh!

    Somebody tell that biker to get off the sidewalk and onto the streetcar tracks where he belongs. /s

  • Elmer

    What a farce! Political theater at its best.

    • ACDC Hack

      ” Political theater at its best.”

      ….except we all know how it ends…….

  • JohnB

    “The Board voted in favor of upping the number to 25-30 percent.”

    This is inaccurate reporting. The board voted for a tiered approach where the amount of affordable housing required is dependent on the amount of new density with higher density being required to provide more affordable housing than lower density.

  • JimPB

    Why focus on affordable housing in Columbia Pike neighborhoods? Disburse affordable housing throughout ARLCo.

    • UA


    • Elmer

      Do you really think the progressives that run this county want their lawn maintence workers, landscapers, babysitters and maids living door to them?
      Get real!

    • Josh S

      It’s the preservation part of the whole decision. There already are affordable units along Columbia Pike. 22207? Not so much. (I’m not arguing against requiring builders in 22207 (for example) to set aside a certain percentage for affordable units.)

    • SamW

      That would be a great idea, but there’s a whole lot of “Not in my neighborhood” going around the rest of the county, i.e. most of North Arlington.

      • Greg

        Yes. And believe it or not, but many people are anti-affordable housing whether it’s in their backyard or not. But you take a more active interest when you spend a million dollars on a townhouse and they build affordable apartments next door and there is domestic fighting in the street and hideous tricked out Honda Civics pumping bass at 2 AM, and the number of Wendy’s and McDonald’s bags and broken beer bottles in the street and sidewalk rises 100 fold.

    • cj

      Much of the affordable housing is in garden apartment complexes which have to be preserved, if at all, where they happen to be. This plan focuses on the Pike and conserving the resources there, notably Barcroft Apartments and Fillmore Gardens. Other initiatives have preserved much of Buckingham, Woodbury Park, parts of Colonial Village and others in central and north Arlington.

      • John K.

        Arlington planning documents appear to envision knocking down any number of the garden apartment communities to put in mid-rises, some of which will be “affordable”. You know, instead of just saying no to new development in big chunks of the Pike and allowing the existing garden apartments with their gawd-awful setbacks (shudder) to stay. Barcroft, which I believe is targeted as preserved affordable housing stock, will be the exception rather than the rule.

      • Greg

        As someone who used to live in Colonial Village, the recent Section 8 housing didn’t preserve anything. They expanded an historic building and added a bunch of Section 8 housing. That’s not preservation.

    • S. Arlington Resident


    • ACDC Hack

      So are you volunteering to have some affordable housing next your house Jim ??

      • JimPB


    • Bluemont Resident


  • Mary-Austin

    Too bad we cant have a place in Arlington that has affordable housing that is not subsidized.

    But hey, bring on the ugly, overpriced, cheaply slapped together condos. That’s what makes us vibrant!

    • John K.

      AND walkable. Possibly, LEED-certified to boot….

    • faintly progressive

      market affordable housing is not guaranteed – in many places in the region such housing has been renovated and moved out of the affordable category.

      As for the new condos (which are actually mostly rentals, not condos, but who cares about being accurate?) the prices they get are what the market determines. People are willing to pay them, and seem to like the style.

      Its density and layout that makes Arlington vibrant.

  • JohnB

    My favorite part of the hearing was when one of the ladies from Foxcroft Heights asked everyone from Foxcroft Heights to stand. Unfortunately she didn’t ask them to stand VIBRANTLY!

  • Enough already

    I think that Zimmie and Tejada are secretly in love. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    • nom de guerre


  • Marlo Stanfield

    Nice, Now I am bringing my crew down from Bmore to work the affordable housing market.

  • Marie

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the sidewalks really were widened as much as the picture suggests and were bordered by those grassy treed areas.

    • AL


  • Enough talk about the street car. Columbia Pike needs more trees!

  • True

    I’m just sure that Columbia Pike is going to look like that. Totally.

    • Electricbill

      It’s probably going to look pretty good. IMO the fake town square at Pentagon Row looks better than the fake town square in Clarendon. I think they worked out the bugs when they built Pentagon Row. I see no reason to believe they won’t continue to learn. Arlington didn’t win those awards for nothing.

      • Josh S

        One thing which sets Pentagon Row apart from Clarendon Commons – no outdoor speakers piping musak into what should be a public space. I always fantasize about returning at 3 AM in the morning with a sledgehammer – I hate those outdoor speakers.

  • Kim Un Arl

    The TIF idea arose in recent comments on ArlNow. Glad Zimmie reads them (and then tells Walter what to say).

    $200 million in housing subsidies! Yikes! It’s not monopoly money — it is real money out of the pocket of people who live in Arlington. Heck, but it’s always fun blowing other peoples money for pet projects.

    By the way, the County’s budget for the year 2000 was $390 million (and 2012 the budget is $812 million).

    • Greg

      Budget more than doubles and the roads are in worse shape and the schools are massively overcrowded. Pathetic.

    • Josh S

      Do you call anything you don’t agree with a “pet project?” Sort of renders the concept meaningless then, doesn’t it? I think I’ll call anything I don’t agree with a “mutzelpot.” Eventually, it’ll have the same effect…..

  • JnA

    Arlington County, Developers, Planners, Non-Profits, etc., who have had anything to do with AHIF and TDR are looking to be investigated by the Feds for civil rights and housing rights violations.

  • YTK

    “The plan involves increasing density along the Pike”
    It’s DENSE enough already!! Try walking down Columbia PIke during morning and evening rush hours– THEN try to breathe.
    Arlington planning and the County Board — have become pathetic, for sure.


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