The Arlington County Board and school board agreed Tuesday night to further study three possible scenarios for the Buck and Virginia Hospital Center sites, as recommended by the county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.
Of the options, whittled down from a list of 10, two could allow for a building to be used by Arlington Public Schools. They could also provide space for the Office of Emergency Management and other public safety agencies, while some offer bus parking for both APS and Arlington Transit (ART).
Two scenarios for the VHC property remain under consideration, while just one is now being examined for the Buck site.
JFAC also formally recommended that the county acquire both sites. The Buck property is located near Washington-Lee High School, while the VHC site is at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road, and the county holds options to either buy the land outright or swap for them.
During the further study on the three remaining options, JFAC will explore how best to make the bus parking fit in. But County Manager Mark Schwartz said his preference would be for Arlington to purchase the current ART bus parking area at 2629 Shirlington Road given that bus dispatch is run from that location. Schwartz and staff will assess their options on that site too in a separate process.
JFAC chair Ginger Brown said residents had raised concerns about using one of the two properties for bus parking due to extra noise, traffic impacts and the need for security lights.
“Thank goodness buses don’t have feelings,” joked County Board chair Jay Fisette. Fellow County Board member Christian Dorsey said bus parking is necessary, and it can work within a community.
“These really can fit very well, but I don’t want to give anyone the impression that we’re looking to dump anything in the Nauck or Shirlington area,” Dorsey said. “This is something that can fit in well with a revitalizing area with planned future development…It’s not an evil thing that is going to disrupt how people live their life.”
The possible swap of a swath of industrial land owned by Arcland Property Company in Shirlington remains on the table, and will be studied for possible long-term uses.
“Maybe there’s some negotiations, some things that can make people more comfortable, but we need that land in Shirlington,” said County Board member Libby Garvey.
Members of both boards agreed that the Buck and VHC sites could be used to help ease APS’ capacity needs, with enrollment set to keep growing.
School Board chair Nancy Van Doren asked that staff from the county and APS work together closely to plan for the sites’ futures. But several urged caution as the schools review their enrollment projections. All agreed on the urgent need to manage the enrollment growth and provide a seat for every student.
“We really need to come to grips with how we’re growing as a community, where we’re going and when we’re growing and the criteria we’re growing and what we’re getting in return,” said County Board member John Vihstadt.
JFAC will now evaluate the short list of three remaining options, develop some rough cost estimates and go into finer detail on what can be done there. That next phase is set to begin as early as next month.