Arlington, VA

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

We have an obvious north-south divide in Arlington County. One state highway uniquely crosses the entire county from north to south — Glebe Road, Route 120.

Traditionally, Arlington has planned along horizontal corridors including Route 50, Columbia Pike, Lee Highway, and Washington/Wilson Boulevard. This is likely because these major road arteries were designed to transport people from the suburbs of Virginia to Washington D.C. These arteries also happen to be in central Arlington and literally divide Arlington between north and south.

Driving along Glebe Road you might notice narrow sidewalks with cars zooming by, and occasional townhomes or duplexes on both the north and south side of the highway. These characteristics are very similar to Lee Highway, which we have already begun a planning process for.

It is a known statistic that north Arlington is more wealthy than south Arlington. American Community Survey data shows that our three lowest per capita income census tracts (excluding Fort Meyer) are between $25,000-40,000, all below Route 50; our three highest per capita income census tracts are $104,000-115,500, all above Route 50.

Planning is a scary topic to broach. This is because it might “change the nature of the neighborhood”. I would note a few things.

Paul Holland and Sandra Chesrown have done a great job leading the Plan Lee Highway process by actively involving neighborhoods in their plan with a block by block approach. This type of engagement in the planning process has largely put at ease early fears by those living along the planning corridor because neighborhoods with varied ideas of what their neighborhood should look like are listened to.

“Planning” also does not necessarily mean massive apartment buildings are coming to your neighborhood. Even in our Metro corridors, we retain single-family households in Ashton Heights and Lyon Park just blocks from Metro stations and Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manner neighborhoods that back right up to Meridian Pint and Patrick Henry Apartments along Wilson Boulevard. Planning in non-Metro corridors often means permitting light density such as townhouses or duplexes on the arterial road and not often does it permeate further into single-family household neighborhoods.

Heavier housing density makes more sense in areas of S. Glebe Road with proximity to I-395, and sections of N. Glebe Road that are close to I-66. Light housing density already exists on N. Glebe north of Lee Highway by way of townhomes such as The Birches, Cathedral View Townhomes, Carriage Hill, and others that most would agree these existing varied household types do not change the “nature” of the neighborhood.

According to the just-released 2020 Arlington Profile, single-family houses on average are assessed at $949,500, single-family townhomes at $805,000, condominium townhouses at $683,900, and condominiums at $421,400. It is also worth noting that Housing Arlington data shows that Arlington’s teardown-rebuild single-family households had an average sale price of $1.7 million. The difference between someone that has the financial means to purchase a $1.7 million home and a $683,900 townhome is vast.

To state the obvious and reiterate what I have already stated, there is high demand for single-family households in both north and south Arlington. Planning Glebe Road would not change that. It would provide, directly along the arterial road, a chance for families in the middle class to access to the north Arlington school system via additional housing diversity, while improving walkability along north and south Glebe Road, and might finally start to create equity between north and south Arlington.

If we want to address issues of geographic equity such as diversity in our schools, I would encourage us to consider planning our north-south arterial corridors and not just those running from east to west. The most obvious first step to do so would be studying Glebe Road.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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