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Peter’s Take: Is Arlington Ready for a Major Flood?

Peter RousselotPeter’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.

In 1972, the eye of Hurricane Agnes passed directly over the DC metropolitan area. Agnes caused major flooding in Arlington, collapsing the Walter Reed Bridge, and severely damaging the rest of the Four Mile Run watershed. The Four Mile Run watershed is particularly flood prone — even in storms far less severe than Agnes.

Discussion

Email exchanges between an environmental activist and County staff raise serious doubts as to whether Arlington has planned adequately for a major flooding event — even though flooding has been identified as one of Arlington’s most significant hazards.

At its December 10 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to vote on County staff’s proposal to amend Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance for all S-3A zoning districts, which include public parkland and sites owned by Arlington Public Schools (APS). The amendments effectively remove the maximum height restrictions and minimum setback requirements for all new school buildings — whether they are built on APS-owned property or on public parkland. Staff also has requested to apply these changes to all uses (not just school building uses) in all S-3A districts.

Arlington environmental activist Suzanne Sundburg has:

  • asked the Board to delay final adoption of these sweeping changes to enable more careful consideration,
  • provided examples of environmental zoning protections adopted by other Virginia jurisdictions that Arlington should consider adopting,
  • posed a series of questions to County staff regarding the cumulative impact such changes might have on storm water run-off, and
  • asked the County to identify which staff member(s) have the final responsibility for comprehensive risk assessment and deciding whether the flood hazard and risk exposure are worth assuming.

Several Virginia jurisdictions have developed zoning solutions to help better protect their natural resources. Fairfax County has a zoning overlay for environmentally sensitive areas in its zoning ordinance. See Article 7, Part 3.

Likewise, Virginia Beach created a separate zoning category or district called a “P-1 Preservation District” in the city’s zoning ordinance to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Its goals include protection of its lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction. Critical areas of special concern include parklands, wilderness areas, open spaces, floodplains, floodways, watersheds and water supplies.

Arlington should adopt a comparable environmental protection ordinance before (or concurrently to) adopting changes to zoning in S-3A zoning districts in order to minimize the expansion of impervious and semi-pervious surfaces in or near sensitive watersheds and flood-prone areas.

Arlington’s storm-water management webpage summarizes its goals, but it appears that Arlington lacks an adequate plan to reduce or mitigate major flood risk. An example of such a plan is Westchester County’s (NY) Flooding and Land Use manual which covers the following topics related to flooding (among others) in detail:

  • Flooding causes and the relationship to development,
  • Comprehensive and watershed planning,
  • Successful floodplain management tools,
  • Local ordinances,
  • Site plan review tools, and
  • Storm water management design.

Developing a plan comparable to Westchester’s involves assigning a County staff person this task and giving him/her sufficient resources and the authority to use all appropriate means to minimize flood damage.

Conclusion

The County Board should defer final action on the proposed changes to S-3A zoning districts until it also adopts adequate protections to conserve Arlington’s watersheds, to comprehensively assess flood hazard and reduce or mitigate the risk, and to safeguard Arlington residents and their property against flooding.

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It is the decision of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) to implement the Proposed Action: the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update (Pentagon Master Plan) as the framework to guide future decisions regarding land use and infrastructure at the Pentagon site and Mark Center. The Pentagon Master Plan aims to provide an update to the existing conditions at the Pentagon and Mark Center and presents projects and revisions to land use categorizations that will address the specific needs to reduce the Pentagon’s environmental impacts and advance sustainability, security, and resilience. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review has been completed through preparation of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate environmental impacts arising from implementation of the projects. WHS has concluded that no significant impacts to the human or natural environment will result from implementation of any projects, and recognized negative effects will be reduced by adherence to standard best management practices, applicable permit and consultation conditions, and standard operating procedures. This decision is further documented in the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) signed on March 20, 2024.

This notice announces the availability of the FONSI to implement the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update.

For further information and to request a copy of the Final EA or FONSI, please contact Brian King, Environmental and Sustainability Program Manager, WHS/Facilities Services Directorate/Standards and Compliance Division/Environmental and Sustainability Branch; (703-614-3658 or [email protected]). Please include “Pentagon Master Plan Final EA and FONSI” in the subject line.

Submit your own Announcement here.

The 3rd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference will feature Thomas Silverstein, renowned Fair Housing expert and Associate Director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Come hear the latest news about fair housing enforcement, policy, and programs within Arlington County, Virginia, and across the country! Our expert panelists and guest speakers include fair housing advocates, elected officials, and government officials tasked with advancing housing equity at the local, state, and federal level.

Arlington has made substantial strides in advancing housing equity and improving fair housing policy with the adoption of the Regional Fair Housing Plan in 2023. Come learn what’s next to fight housing discrimination, incorporate equity for marginalized populations in our housing policies and programs, and increase awareness of fair housing rights under state and federal law.

We’ll have updates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing federal rule, a panel discussion of fair housing progress at the General Assembly and across Virginia, and a panel of local experts discussing the progress Arlington has made and what remains to be done.
Please RSVP in advance to ensure you receive your free lunch at the conference. Free and open to the public.

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Submit your own Announcement here.

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