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Progressive Voice: Our Hope for Columbia Pike in 2017

Krysta JonesProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Krysta Jones

The Arlington section of Columbia Pike runs from Arlington Cemetery and Fort Myer to the western end of Arlington approaching the Skyline area of Fairfax County. For decades, Arlington County, in partnership with local organizations, has sought to make the Pike a destination instead of a thoroughfare, a hub of economic development and a community of vibrant, diverse neighborhoods.

County and regional plans show two-thirds of Arlington’s population growth and nearly half of its employment growth over the next 30 years will occur along Columbia Pike.

In the wake of the cancellation of a streetcar project that was a key element of the plan to revitalize the Pike and protect affordable housing, determined residents are working to find other ways to continue to attract development to the area.

The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and numerous civic associations have stepped up their efforts to work with the County government to transform the Pike, albeit more slowly, into a model of community development.

While more — and more sustained — focus is needed, in light of recent changes along the Pike 2017 is shaping up to be a year of progress for the community.

  • In July 2016, the County Board unanimously adopted a new Transit Development Plan that includes improvements through 2026 and will explore the possibility of customized bus vehicles, larger articulated buses and more frequent off-peak service that could encourage more people to use transit.
  • Orr Partners is scheduled to break ground on the Columbia Pike Village Center in 2017 at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive. The Village Center will include a 6-story mixed-use building on the site currently occupied by the Food Star grocery store. In addition, there will be 350 new residential units, ground floor retail including a Harris Teeter and three levels of below-grade parking. The development will also include a public square.
  • The iconic Rappahannock Coffee shopping area (now referred to as 2400 Columbia Pike) across from Penrose Square will be converted to a 6-story mixed-use building with 105 new residential units.
  • The revitalization of Columbia Pike is integrally tied to the growth of recreation and entertainment opportunities. The Pike has been home to the Columbia Pike Blues Festivals and a Sunday farmers market. Recently the Fall Wine and Craft Beer Fest has been a popular attraction. The Penrose Square and Arlington Mill movie nights are also welcome additions for family nights for those who live on the Pike and throughout the area. The Arlington Mill Community Center is a refreshing addition to the west end of the Pike and hosts County and civic meetings and activities.
  • Despite some concerns expressed about affordable housing, particularly from several residents on the west end, the County seeks to preserve 6,200 affordable housing units along the Pike. Some residents fear the concentration of affordable housing along the west end will deter new retailers from investing in new developments in that area. As previous Progressive Voice columnists have written, affordable housing is an important aspect of Arlington’s economy, schools and public safety and mobility. Continued conversations about affordable housing are critical to the area’s future development.

These are just a few of the changes that have occurred along the Pike in recent years, but many would not have occurred without years of planning and discussions by visionary officials and determined community leaders.

If the Pike is to reach its potential and be able to accommodate successfully the likely population and employment growth it will experience, Pike residents will need the County to keep up its commitment to preserving the diversity and economic vitality of the Pike.

Our hope for 2017 is that Arlington County will continue to reflect our progressive values as it works to make Columbia Pike, and all of our communities, better places to live, work and play for all Arlingtonians.

Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

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