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Peter’s Take: Shirlington Road Land Acquisition — Wiser Than a Swap

by Peter Rousselot October 5, 2017 at 10:30 am 0

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.

Last week, County government added an item to the County Board’s agenda for its October 21 meeting.

This item seeks Board approval of a resolution authorizing:

  • an offer to purchase certain properties on Shirlington Road
  • the transmittal of an agreement of sale to the owner
  • the acquisition of the properties for public purposes and by eminent domain, if purchase negotiations are ineffectual or unsuccessful

A subsequent notice from the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) stated that the Shirlington properties “would be used for public transit facilities and related uses.”

Acquiring the Shirlington properties outright is a much better choice than swapping those properties for a portion of the more valuable land at the “Buck” site on N. Quincy Street.

Abandon Arcland’s land swap proposal

For far too long, the County has been considering a proposal from an entity called Arcland to swap properties Arcland owns on Shirlington Road in exchange for a portion of the Buck property. Arcland wants the right to use a portion of the Buck property to build and operate a private, self-storage facility. My June 1 column sharply criticized this proposal.

It has been apparent for months that adopting Arcland’s proposal would severely restrict the County’s potential uses of the Buck property. It would:

  • result in the permanent loss of 38% of the Buck property’s acreage
  • limit short and long-term flexibility in County use of the property
  • diminish the potential to expand adjacent park space

The Buck property’s central location, size and flexibility are too unique and valuable to be compromised by a swap with Arcland for low-lying land that may contain hazardous waste.

Decide how best to use Shirlington Road properties

Arlington should organize an open, transparent public process to identify the best uses for the Shirlington Road parcels to be acquired.

JFAC has received a briefing (pp. 18-19) regarding storage issues related to ART and APS buses. The briefing specifically cited the Shirlington Road properties. However, JFAC must promptly turn its attention to long-term,
countywide facilities planning. The detailed public review of alternative uses of these Shirlington Road properties ought not to be assigned to JFAC.

I understand that County staff previously presented possible development options for these Shirlington Road parcels at a meeting of the Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV) Working Group. Because Arlington has been “temporarily” parking vehicles/buses at Jennie Dean Park, a 4MRV Working Group member suggested using the Shirlington Road land to build a structured parking garage for County vehicles and APS buses. However, staff countered that it would be “too expensive.”

Staff also claimed that there is a federal security prohibition against co-locating buses and certain other uses too close to each other. Staff should be required to document the precise terms of any such prohibition during the public hearing process.

Conclusion

The County Board should declare publicly that it has abandoned the Arcland land swap in favor of acquiring the Shirlington Road properties outright. Hopefully, this acquisition will be the start of a new commitment to close a serious gap in available public land for critical County services.

Any development of the Shirlington properties will be expensive — and the County is already renting space there to park buses. Therefore, the costs vs. benefits of the structured parking garage option should be fully evaluated rather than rejected out of hand.

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