Join Club

Peter’s Take: Revise “Community Benefits” for Discretionary Development

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

When a developer requests a zoning change to increase allowable density, Arlington County has a set of rules under which the County can approve of such a request contingent on the developer’s willingness to agree to one or more conditions.

The County maintains a list of these “community benefits” conditions, noting in part that they are intended to:

  • “Ameliorate a project’s impacts on surrounding property, as well as any additional height and/or density or other bonuses that may be approved or modifications to Zoning Ordinance standards proposed by a developer, or”
  • “Are in exchange for bonuses and other benefits approved as part of the project.”

The County’s current community benefits conditions have failed to adequately address some developmental impacts

Rapidly increasing student enrollment rates and increasingly crowded parks are two important impacts of many discretionary development projects, particularly those involving new large multi-unit residential buildings. But, the County has:

  • failed entirely to request cash or in-kind schools’ contribution conditions
  • asked only occasionally for contribution conditions relating to park land and open space

Other Virginia jurisdictions routinely quantify impacts on schools and parks, and those jurisdictions impose conditions to ameliorate such impacts in appropriate circumstances.

Impact on schools of incremental enrollment

In Falls Church, voluntary school capital contributions have been a staple of past agreements with developers of mixed-use projects.

The Fairfax fiscal impact model has explicitly considered school impacts since 2003.

Fairfax determines a per-student generation factor by housing type, and estimates how many students are anticipated from the particular mix of housing units in each proposed development. Fairfax then computes a per-student cost for each project, which when multiplied times the number of students anticipated from the project, yields the total incremental enrollment cost that forms the basis for negotiations with the developer.

Important updates to the Fairfax model (effective July 1, 2016) are discussed below.

Impact on schools and parks of incremental usage

Under the updated Fairfax development impact model, benefits for incremental school or park usage negotiated with a developer do not have to be limited to creation or refurbishment of a school or park within the boundaries of the site of the proposed project — so long as those benefits are reasonable in amount and address impacts that are specifically attributable to the residential use component of the project.

Parks include playgrounds and other recreational facilities. Such off-site benefits must provide a direct and material benefit to residents of the proposed project. Both on-site and off-site benefits for schools or parks can include cash.


Neither the Dillon Rule, nor any Virginia state law, nor any Arlington ordinance expressly prohibit Arlington County from requesting a reasonable cash or in-kind contribution from a developer as a condition to address these kinds of schools and parks impacts.

Nevertheless, the Arlington County attorney insists that Arlington is not legally authorized to condition discretionary development projects to address such impacts. However, our County Attorney is unwilling to provide a detailed public explanation so that independent legal experts can examine his reasoning.

Our County Attorney’s refusal to provide such an explanation is unreasonable. If his opinion is correct, Arlington could seek legal changes in Richmond to enable us to do what other Virginia jurisdictions already do. If his opinion is wrong, Arlington should adjust its rules to enable reasonable schools and parks conditions in appropriate discretionary development projects.

File photo

Recent Stories

Good Wednesday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 7696 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…

Arlington is poised to take a proverbial weed whacker to commercial properties with overgrown lawns and all properties with obstructive vegetation. Last month, a proposal to change the ordinance pertaining…

Adoptable Pet of the Week: Koda

Meet the beautiful Koda, a glass half full kinda dog who searching for his forever home.

It appears as if Courthouse’s newest date night spot won’t be open for Valentine’s Day. The opening for the hotly anticipated Taco Bell Cantina at 2039 Wilson Blvd has been…

Let the Arlingtones surprise your friend or sweetie this Valentine’s Day with a barbershop quartet singing love songs in four part a cappella harmony! Choose from a small selection of songs in our repertoire to surprise your special someone.

$75 for two songs delivered to a place of your choice by a live, in-person quartet. Includes a classy tin of chocolates, fresh red rose and personalized card. Small mileage surcharge for >5 miles outside Arlington VA.

$30 Facetime/Skype valentine- two songs delivered ‘live’ via Facetime or Skype at an agreed-on time.

$20 virtual valentine- two pre-recorded quartet songs delivered via email with a personalized message.

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Have you noticed a striking sculpture at Monroe Street and Wilson Boulevard? It’s the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington’s newest installation, Make Your Mark, by Arlington artist, Adam Henry. This sculpture celebrates MoCA Arlington’s rebranding and brings the museum’s energy outdoors.

On February 11, come inside when the museum’s galleries reopen with two new exhibitions: Rebecca Rivas Rogers: Grey View and Crisis of Image.

Grey View, in the Wyatt Resident Artist Gallery, is an homage to “gray” and a snapshot of the artist’s process. Consisting of photographs, collage, and a site-specific installation, this show is an outgrowth of Rivas-Rogers’ visual investigations into places you see on your way to somewhere else.

On the main level, Crisis of Image features artists who seek equity in today’s saturated visual world by developing new methods related to the production of images.

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Valentine Pop-Up at George Mason University

Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village

Standup Comedy Showcase Starring Matt Ruby (Comedy Central)

Dead Horse Comedy Productions brings together top comedians from the DMV and beyond for a live standup comedy show!

Matt Ruby, Headliner

Matt Ruby is a comedian, writer, and filmmaker from New York City. His comedy has been filmed by


Subscribe to our mailing list