Arlington and VDOT to finally sign Rosslyn Gateway Park agreement, four decades belated

Nearly 40 years later, Rosslyn’s Gateway Park may finally officially become Arlington County’s responsibility.

This weekend, the County Board is set to vote on approving a land use permit between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the county formally allowing Arlington the use of Gateway Park. The agreement also pushes the responsibility of maintaining the park to the county.

Additionally, the permit grants the county the ability to change the park’s name.

An approval would mark the end of a decades-long period where there was no written agreement in place between VDOT and the county in regards to the operation and maintenance of the public park along Langston Blvd.

In 1984, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration agreed to build an urban park between N. Nash Street and Lynn Street as a way to mitigate the impacts of constructing I-66 through Rosslyn.

At that time, an agreement was struck between VDOT and the county which called for the Commonwealth to construct the park and pedestrian bridge, with Arlington reimbursing VDOT for adding benches, bike racks, drinking fountains, and pay phones.

Rosslyn Gateway Park (via Google Maps)

The county and VDOT also committed to signing a 99-year lease that put Arlington in charge of maintaining the park, including the pedestrian bridges, concrete structures, landscaping, facilities, and utilities. The remaining details were to be negotiated and it was expected the lease was going to be brought to the County Board for approval in 1986.

That never happened, according to last month’s county report, and it’s unclear why.

“Despite more than 20 years of on-again, off-again discussions and negotiations, the terms of a 99-year lease were never agreed to and no lease has ever been signed by VDOT and the County,” reads the report.

Despite this, over the last 37 years Arlington has continued to operate and perform routine maintenance at Gateway Park even without a signed, written agreement.

That’s expected to change come this weekend, but in a slightly different form than initially outlined back in the 1980s.

That’s because, in 2015, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring determined that VDOT didn’t have the authority to lease the park to the county. Rather, a land use permit was the only mechanism available to provide Arlington access and use of the public park.

Six years later, that agreement is finally ready to be approved by the County Board.

“We are looking forward to the new permit as it officially codifies the roles and responsibilities of Arlington County and VDOT regarding the maintenance of Gateway Park,” county parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow. “To date, no major issues have arisen regarding maintenance from not having a Land Use Permit in place, however, this agreement improves the County’s comfort in investing public funds in Gateway Park as responsibilities are clearer.”

If approved, the permit would grant the county use of the public park for 50 years, with the option to renew in five-year increments. It would grant the ability to make alterations to anything in the park as long as it doesn’t impact VDOT-owned roads, and also makes Arlington solely responsible for all maintenance and repairs.

Additionally, the permit agreement gives Arlington the right to rename the park if desired, with VDOT’s written approval. There are currently no plans nor discussions to rename the park, Kalish says.

Kalish noted that there’s no master plan yet for the park, but that’s coming — eventually.

“At this time, the County does not have a timeline for developing a Master Plan or concepts for the future of Gateway Park but anticipates it will have more information on any potential planning activity in the new year,” she said.

The Rosslyn Sector Plan that was adopted in 2015 suggests the future removal of some of the larger concrete structures at the park while adding flexibility to its uses.

An example of this flexibility is the outdoor coworking space that debuted last year in the park, complete with desks, chairs, and Wi-Fi. It’s now a permanent feature.

There’s also the fate of Gateway Park’s temporary dog park. The dog park isn’t considered permanent due to it being developed outside of a master plan. But Rosslyn dog lovers need not to worry quite yet.

“The interim dog park won’t be affected by this agreement. The community was aware of the fact that the dog area was interim when they approached us,” said Kalish. “If the County develops a Master Plan for the park, we will include a discussion on the dog park’s future..

“So far, the dog park has been busy and well received,” Kalish added. “There are so many great possibilities for the area.”