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What’s Next: Planning Pentagon City’s future

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

It is likely the last chance to weigh in on what the future of Pentagon City and the 22202 zip code will look like for the next several decades via the Pentagon City Planning Study. Comments, which can be submitted online, are due Oct. 31.

I had the opportunity to work on the study over the past year and am generally happy with where we ended up. Mostly, I find it exciting that we were able to include a new element to this plan that other area and sector plans have excluded, which is to estimate the number of housing units to be added to the area in order to help guide infrastructure needs.

Estimating new housing units; infrastructure

Additional people in any area will inevitably put pressures on community infrastructure, ranging from transportation to schools to parks to stormwater management. From what I understand, this is the first time a planning study has made estimates on new housing units in the short, medium, and long term based on conservative and liberal expectations. Usually, we only see anticipated units that have already been approved or are currently in the pipeline.

In most studies, transportation “level of service” estimates are included and hotly debated. Other aspects of infrastructure such as school capacity, green space and stormwater are generally left out. This plan not only includes housing estimates but also includes potential sites for a new elementary school that we know will likely be needed in the area.

These housing unit estimates are vital to tracking our infrastructure needs in departments across the county.

Putting housing units near Metro

It is my belief that for long-run economic success and stability, growth must be built on sustainable infrastructure, which is why the estimated number of new housing units is so important. That estimated increase in housing units surrounding Pentagon City Metro is also an important part of that sustainability.

Unless we wish to stagnate our economy, growth is inevitable. It is where and how we chose to grow that is important and why it’s important that we grow densely in areas close to transit corridors. When homes, offices and retail are near transit corridors, it is convenient to walk, bike or take public transit. This makes it easier to incorporate physical activity into daily routes and reduce transit costs and environmental impact.

Incorporation of Biophilia

I will admit that I was immediately skeptical of this concept, and in the most recent draft of the plan, have been won over by the inclusion of biophilia in the study. My skepticism lay in the concept of potentially losing real green space in Pentagon City and in return getting leaves painted on impermeable sidewalks and tree sculptures being erected outside of buildings — this did not end up being the case.

The plan enables at least five and up to 10 new acres of new parks and green space distributed across Pentagon City, plus expansion of Virginia Highlands Park by at least one acre. In the “Green Ribbon” of walkable space, there are specifics on how it will be lined with plantings and more often than not, that is in-ground plantings as opposed to in-pot, meaning help for things like stormwater management and space for dogs to relieve themselves. Although the aesthetic aspect I previously mentioned is incorporated, it is not without real specifics on permeable surfaces.


I am proud of the work product that has been presented, but now it is time for everyone to give comments. This document will shape the 22202 zip code for decades to come and it is important that all voices are heard in that process — not just those of us who spend the most time at these meetings. Participate here.

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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