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Peter’s Take: Four Mile Run Valley Draft Framework — Policy Follies Averted?

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.

ARLnow.com reported last Thursday that Arlington County has posted for public comment a 54-page draft “Framework” document that is intended to guide future development of the Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV) area.

Public comments must be posted by tomorrow, Friday, February 16.

Current draft very confusing

The current draft Framework is confusing, redundant and contradictory, making it impossible for an ordinary Arlington resident to know what it means, or which proposed action items might be implemented.

This failure might be welcome if it were clear that the Framework couldn’t be relied upon as justification for proceeding with any of the poorly conceived suggestions that were floated earlier in the 4MRV planning process: for example, adding excessive density, disregarding the community’s preferences for Jennie Dean Park, or creating an arts district.

Unfortunately, the Framework’s substantive ambiguity lends itself to justifying almost any iteration of the often-competing goals and alternatives listed in the Framework, including those noted above.

Excessive density

Appropriately, the draft acknowledges the unsuitability of dense redevelopment for most of the 4MRV area, which lies in a floodway/floodplain. Yet, the Framework lacks any actual plans to reduce runoff by removing hardscape or buildings — instead, planning to add more.

Also discussed are the extensive measures that are needed to remediate decades of environmental damage to the two streams (Four Mile Run and Nauck Branch). However, the majority of the draft discusses how to carve up and develop all this land.

Compared to the earlier versions staff/consultants presented to the 4MRV Working Group, there seem to be fewer/smaller areas to add a lot more density/housing. And, the proposal to retain the existing industrial area for continued industrial use — for which we have great need — would be a plus, if confirmed.

For any particular parcel, however, an ordinary resident cannot determine, in most cases, which potential use the plan will apply to that parcel after the plan’s adoption — or how that use might differ from today’s use.

Prior to the County Board’s final plan adoption, it should direct County staff to provide the community with the numbers of new housing units staff expects will be added with and without this draft plan’s adoption. In addition to these useful metrics (to assess the plan’s likely impact), the public should also receive ratios of added density to added parkland acres within the plan’s boundaries.

Jennie Dean Park

Given the community’s desire that the “portion of the park fronting the neighborhood at Four Mile Run Drive be left open for casual use” and avoid locating fields or courts adjacent to Four Mile Run Drive, the County Board should direct staff to honor those preferences.

Arts district

As I wrote recently, the County Board should adopt a comprehensive, easily understood, 21st century arts policy determining when, where and how Arlington should subsidize the arts before entertaining proposals to create an arts district in the 4MRV area.

Conclusion

Given the current draft Framework’s nebulous state, more work needs to be done to clarify the plan. Residents have a right to know exactly what is and is not being proposed, and to give County Board members meaningful feedback. Only then will Board members be able to make an informed decision as to the likely costs, impacts and desirability of the Framework’s outcomes.

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