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Peter’s Take: Where’s the Financing for New Park Land?

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.

In my June 21 column I recommended that the County Board cancel the aquatics center, freeing up capital for other legally permissible uses such as purchasing new park land:

the Manager’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) contains $0 for acquisition of new park land over the next 10 years even though Arlington’s population is expected to grow by over 30,000 during that period.

Arlington continues to fall behind other jurisdictions and Arlington’s own prior practices in providing access to park land

A comprehensive 2016 report from the Civic Federation Parks and Recreation Committee (“Civ Fed report”) documents how Arlington has continued to fall behind other jurisdictions and Arlington’s own prior practices regarding:

  • ratio of park land to population
  • dollars devoted to new park land acquisition

The Civ Fed report explains (PDF p.5):

As of 2015, Arlington County had 1,784 acres of park land within its borders. Of those 1,784 acres, 949 acres were owned by Arlington County, 700 acres were owned by the National Park Service (most of which is Arlington Cemetery), and 135 acres were owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014 the County’s population had grown by over 43,000 residents, and the park land to population ratio had declined to 7.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

By contrast, Washington, DC, has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and Fairfax County has 28.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

The Civ Fed report also traces the history of Arlington’s declining investment in acquiring new parkland (PDF p.3):

between 1995 and 2008, funding for park land acquisition per two-year bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Since then… there has been a decline… Over the six years between 2008 and 2014, land acquisition bond funding totaled only $3.0 million, but [was] supplemented by a total of $5.47 million in pay-as-you go (PAYGO) annual budget allocations. Yet, the total funds of $8.47 million available for land acquisition during the latter six-year period was still far less than the $8.5 million that was typical for each two-year cycle between 1996 and 2004 (an eight-year period).

County government lacks a financing plan to acquire new park land

The Civ Fed report recommended that Arlington adopt a financing plan to acquire three acres of new park land per year for the next 10 years. My fellow ARLnow.com columnist, Eli Tucker, has documented that the cost of land across Arlington averaged $94 per square foot, equal to over $4 million per acre. That means it could cost an average of over $12 million per year fully to implement the Civ Fed report recommendation.

But, the County Manager’s latest proposed CIP contains zero capital dollars for acquiring new park land between 2019-2028. Therefore, our county government must answer these community questions:

  • How many acres of new parkland is Arlington planning to acquire over the next 10 years using other kinds of funding?
  • What other kinds of funding and how much of it?

Conclusion

Arlington needs a financing plan to acquire new park land. Cancelling the aquatics center is Arlington’s best source of capital funding for this purpose in our tight budget times.

If our county government insists on moving forward with the aquatics center, it needs to engage transparently with our residents regarding its long-term financial plan for new park land acquisition.

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