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What’s Next: Consider infrastructure in development planning

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

Infrastructure needs should be built into Arlington’s Sector plans and the Missing Middle study as part of the long-range planning process.

Currently, our long-range planning documents largely center around building heights and setbacks, building and greenery aesthetics, as well as road and public transportation configuration, design and demand management. Missing from this are other significant aspects of infrastructure including schools, public facilities, parks, public spaces and stormwater. I am defining infrastructure as anything that Arlington has used bonds to fund.

Arlington has five planning studies currently in progress — the Clarendon Sector Plan update, Crystal City Building Heights Study, Missing Middle Housing Study, Plan Langston Boulevard and Pentagon City Planning Study — that will all have significant impacts on infrastructure needs over the next several decades.

To give an example of why this is important: I was a part of the Pentagon City Planning Group and strongly advocated for including a potential range of additional housing units expected in future development. This was so that Arlington Public Schools (APS) could provide student projections and in turn, Planning would be able to include potential sites for a school that we know is needed in the area.

Staff were accommodating to that request, which was appreciated, but it was obvious that this was not a part of the usual planning process. Even with APS and Planning in the working group together, there was no “normal” procedure for the type of request that was made. That lack of coordination can be said for other aspects of infrastructure as well.

Population projections included in the Draft Pentagon City Plan (courtesy of Nicole Merlene)

The following infrastructure planning areas are needed:

Schools: It is obvious that there is a disconnect between Arlington County and APS in school site planning. APS staff has indicated that estimates on the range of new housing units and types are needed to properly use their multiplier equation and estimate future school sizes. Typically, this information isn’t provided in a study, but was for the first time in the Pentagon City Planning. This allowed APS to communicate a potential new school footprint size, and thus, in the last draft we were able to see potential sites for a new school. This was a big win, but is not what is or will be included in all of the other planning studies.

Transportation: Current planning processes do a good job of planning transportation impacts of future development. A “Travel Demand Forecasting Model” produced by the Washington Area Council of Government’s is the basis for demand management, and plans will also prescribe extensive details on street dimensions, medians, bike lanes, public transit specs and traffic calming measures.

This type of planning should continue in the other areas of infrastructure listed, with the same type of specificity and modeling. One item for improvement in this area is that there is not always a marrying of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan to long-range planning. This lack of continuity between infrastructure planning and long-range planning will be a theme among my recommendations.

Stormwater: This doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration in planning studies. Outside of how plantings can help mitigate runoff, the foundational underground utilities and topographic layout of each planning area aren’t included. In the future, it would be helpful for the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to provide input based on the Stormwater Master Plan and how it relates to each planning study.

Parks/Public Spaces: Unlike some other infrastructure needs, public spaces and parks are generally included in planning documents. Unlike transportation though, there isn’t a clear method or goal for coverage for this space use. It would be helpful to work with DES to integrate the Public Spaces Master Plan into each planning study.

Public Facilities: This includes needs such as fire stations, community centers and libraries. When relevant, these items are generally included in the planning process. While there isn’t an immediate need, it is worth at least having a section in each planning document about community facility assets and needs in each area.

Overall, a lot of this work has already been done in other departments and it would be helpful to use that work in long-range planning. The one missing infrastructure aspect — and the most expensive one — is schools. School planning has not been done in forward-looking or comprehensive way, but these long-range plans are an ideal place to start. 

Building additional density in our planning corridors is important, but it does not preclude us from making common-sense plans for infrastructure needs of a growing community. Arlington’s exceptional schools, parks and transportation accessibility are some of the many reasons why people choose to live here. Not having a clear answer to how we will plan for these things as we grow has become a question waiting to be answered.

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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It is the decision of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) to implement the Proposed Action: the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update (Pentagon Master Plan) as the framework to guide future decisions regarding land use and infrastructure at the Pentagon site and Mark Center. The Pentagon Master Plan aims to provide an update to the existing conditions at the Pentagon and Mark Center and presents projects and revisions to land use categorizations that will address the specific needs to reduce the Pentagon’s environmental impacts and advance sustainability, security, and resilience. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review has been completed through preparation of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate environmental impacts arising from implementation of the projects. WHS has concluded that no significant impacts to the human or natural environment will result from implementation of any projects, and recognized negative effects will be reduced by adherence to standard best management practices, applicable permit and consultation conditions, and standard operating procedures. This decision is further documented in the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) signed on March 20, 2024.

This notice announces the availability of the FONSI to implement the 2024 Pentagon Reservation Master Plan Update.

For further information and to request a copy of the Final EA or FONSI, please contact Brian King, Environmental and Sustainability Program Manager, WHS/Facilities Services Directorate/Standards and Compliance Division/Environmental and Sustainability Branch; (703-614-3658 or [email protected]). Please include “Pentagon Master Plan Final EA and FONSI” in the subject line.

Submit your own Announcement here.

The 3rd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference will feature Thomas Silverstein, renowned Fair Housing expert and Associate Director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Come hear the latest news about fair housing enforcement, policy, and programs within Arlington County, Virginia, and across the country! Our expert panelists and guest speakers include fair housing advocates, elected officials, and government officials tasked with advancing housing equity at the local, state, and federal level.

Arlington has made substantial strides in advancing housing equity and improving fair housing policy with the adoption of the Regional Fair Housing Plan in 2023. Come learn what’s next to fight housing discrimination, incorporate equity for marginalized populations in our housing policies and programs, and increase awareness of fair housing rights under state and federal law.

We’ll have updates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing federal rule, a panel discussion of fair housing progress at the General Assembly and across Virginia, and a panel of local experts discussing the progress Arlington has made and what remains to be done.
Please RSVP in advance to ensure you receive your free lunch at the conference. Free and open to the public.

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