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Peter’s Take: How Should Arlington Optimize Uses at the Trades Center?

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.

As ARLnow.com reported in March, the Arlington County government is considering “long standing space issues” at the Trades Center.

The Trades Center is an approximately 38-acre complex located at the intersection of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Taylor Street. Arlington County owns approximately 32 acres of the site and approximately 6 acres are owned by APS.

The Trades Center complex consists of multiple buildings and utility structures used for various so called “back office” Arlington County government operations. The County departments that use the site include DES, DPR, ACPD, and ACFD. APS occupies space for bus storage and other facilities and operations.

A current aerial view of the Trades Center site is here.

As the County told ARLnow:

[T]he “siting of operations and offices developed when space was abundant. Now, room for growth is limited given the developed surrounding area, while service levels have increased in size and complexity”…

The Trades Center optimization study

To address its pressing space issues, the County just launched what it describes as a “Trades Center Optimization Study” designed to analyze existing programs and current and future programmatic needs.

The study is supposed to benchmark the County’s current programs and practices against those of similar municipalities. The study is intended to:

  • develop a concept plan to optimize business functions and operations on the site
  • present three alternative concept site plans
  • develop a cost estimate for the chosen site plan, with phasing of identified priorities over a 5 to 15-year period

The County says that the study will engage internal and external stakeholders and utilize feedback from stakeholders to inform recommendations.

Study consultant

The County has retained Stantec, a major consulting firm, to advise it about aspects of the study. According to a draft of the scope of work, Stantec will provide recommendations on a wide range of matters, including:

  • meet all current and future (next 15-30 years) programmatic requirements
  • incorporate co-location and “building up not out” principles
  • focus on core functions that must reside at the Trades Center
  • consider only the current footprint
  • mitigate impacts on neighbors to the extent possible

Promising things about the study

The County deserves credit for including these promising concepts in the study design:

  • long-range planning horizon (15-30 years)
  • request to present a minimum of 3 concept plans rather than just one
  • early introduction of costs into the equation

This study presents a welcome opportunity for the County to improve on its prior practices regarding long range planning and civic engagement.

Challenging things about the study

The Trades Center study will be undertaken against the background of Arlington’s official plans for substantial population growth and development.

Arlington County government is planning for its population to grow from 226,400 in 2019 to 287,600 by 2040. APS is planning for its student enrollment to grow 24%, or 6,600 students, by 2028.

These County departments and APS cannot be allowed simply to refer to these expected growth statistics as the only justification needed to expand operations at the Trades Center or other sites. To the contrary, each also needs to explain in full and transparent detail exactly how and why these growth statistics translate into specific quantitative requirements for operations that must be conducted on this site.

How about the steadily growing number of APS school buses parked on this site?

  • how many today out of total?
  • how many planned for 2028 out of total?
  • should high school students ride ART buses instead?

The optimization study also presents an opportunity to decide whether some operations currently performed by the County should be terminated. The site should be able to accommodate changes in services the County provides and how it provides them.

Civic engagement

Every Arlington resident is an “external stakeholder” in this study’s success.

Every critical assumption made by any County Department, APS, or the consultant must be transparently disclosed and explained.

All residents must be provided sufficient advance notice and opportunities to comment on all these critical assumptions before they are finally adopted.

Conclusion

This study is promising. Its potential can only be realized by appropriate civic engagement.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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