Last week, the County and School Boards held a combined work session with the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. County Board chair Jay Fisette also delivered a mid-year State of the County address.
Some of the comments made at these events reflected welcome candor — possibly a much-needed acknowledgement of the multiple, urgent challenges confronting Arlington.
As Fisette stated, Arlington’s critical response must be to “plan, plan, plan, plan.”
Arlington needs comprehensive, integrated long-term planning
Smart growth 2.0
Arlington’s much-praised transit-oriented smart growth vision was adopted in the 1970s. Almost 50 years later, residents are increasingly concerned about the challenges of future growth and development.
I have written columns about some of these challenges, including:
- What the County Board should do in 2017
- Addressing Arlington’s long-term budget gap
- Long-term planning for new schools
Between now and September, the County and School Boards should do some long-term strategic thinking about:
- aspects of our smart growth policies that should be re-examined based upon projected macro-economic conditions for Arlington over the next 30 years
- new tools that should be considered to address our challenges
Such internal deliberations must consider policy and priority choices that range far beyond the appropriate scope for JFAC.
By September, the County Board should propose for community discussion a draft working list of topics that ought to be reviewed in a very broad-based community process leading to Smart Growth 2.0.
Over the summer, the County and School Boards need to adopt a new work plan on which JFAC can commence at its scheduled September 20 meeting.
Comprehensive long-term facilities planning is paramount
JFAC’s highest priority must be the integrated assessment and planning for long-term County and APS facility needs, including of course APS capacity needs, for the next 15 years. This JFAC process must be continuously informed by and integrate the interim conclusions and decisions made by the County Board’s parallel Smart Growth 2.0 planning process.
JFAC should not be distracted by further BUCK and VHC responsibilities
To ensure that JFAC can focus its limited resources on the demands of its long-term planning process, the County Board should not task JFAC with any further significant leadership or operational responsibilities regarding land use decisions for the Buck and VHC sites. Instead, separate working groups should be convened for each of those sites, including neighborhood representation, to lead and make these decisions — perhaps with a JFAC liaison or co-chair.
Maybe relieve JFAC of short-term bus siting responsibilities
Only if resources permit should JFAC be tasked to conduct a short-term study of bus storage siting options. In any event, whatever group studies these options should not be artificially constrained either by locations within Arlington’s geographic borders or conventional approaches to bus storage.
With growing acknowledgement of the significant fiscal and physical challenges confronting the county, the County Board needs to commence in September a broad public conversation ultimately leading to an updated vision for future growth and development that commands substantial public support.
JFAC should focus beginning in September on a long-term, comprehensive assessment across county and APS of likely facility needs and siting proposals to be informed ultimately by the results of the “visioning” process.
If resources permit, JFAC should undertake a short-term project re bus storage siting. Any other possible JFAC projects should be addressed through separate processes.