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Peter’s Take: Too Much Detail For Retail

by Peter Rousselot July 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,246 0

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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.

The latest Arlington County Retail Plan— scheduled for County Board review on July 18— remains far too prescriptive. The plan’s underlying, fundamentally flawed methods dictate overly specific retail outcomes on a block-by-block basis.

To get a flavor of the scope of this government exercise in micromanagement, simply skim the combined total of 113 single-spaced pages in the two key Retail Plan documents posted on Arlington’s website:

Efforts to revise the Retail Plan can be traced back at least to a 2009 Arlington Economic Development Commission (EDC) report (p. 3) recommending greater flexibility. While the current plan claims to have abandoned the “retail everywhere” approach, it still embodies a heavy-handed approach that is fundamentally inconsistent with what the EDC recommended.

A few examples illustrate the plan’s flawed methodology:

Clarendon

Most of Clarendon is locked into the “red” shopping and dining/entertainment category (Retail Plan, PDF p. 39), which is the narrowest and most restrictive of four separate categories. Other retail uses — like gyms or hair salons — are excluded. Government-enforced clustering of too much of the same type of retail in a small geographic area can create an artificial retail “monoculture,” risking a domino-effect collapse if its popularity wanes or businesses begin cannibalizing one another’s customer base.

Ballston

Forcing retail space to be added to the west side of Glebe Road (Retail Plan, PDF p. 43), and then also trying to set rules that push competing retail to be located outside Ballston Common Mall, is self-defeating. It makes little sense to set up a public-private partnership with Forest City and provide taxpayer funds to aid a failing mall, while at the same time undercutting the mall by creating lots of competing space directly across from it.

“A-Townization”

Previously, the plan acknowledged “issues associated with the lively, noisy, energetic and, sometimes, messy environment created by night life uses.” The County’s noise ordinance doesn’t apply to mixed-use, multifamily housing (and is basically unenforceable after 6 pm and on weekends countywide). All four street categories permit “dining” establishments like A-Town to be located in close proximity to people’s homes. Thus, the current plan exacerbates the ongoing and inherent conflict between the operations of A-Town-style businesses and the right of residents to get a decent night’s sleep.

Conclusion

Though this plan now applies only to the major corridors, it will eventually be extended to all site plan development countywide, wherever it occurs. The County Board should:

  • reject the flawed, inflexible, interventionist methods driving this plan, and
  • direct the staff to submit a revised plan reflecting marketplace realities.

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