Excerpts from Letters to the County Board

Excerpts from Letters to the County Board
Over 30 neighbors sent letters opposing up-zoning LV. One letter was signed by 34 households. One letter supported up-zoning. Here are a few of the thoughtful comments. Additional posts based on the letters may be aded in the near future. Hopefully the impressive thought that went into writing these letters will have the desired effect.

Arlington County Must Have A Better Vision
We urge you to step back and give serious consideration to what Scenario A and B present. Send the designers back with a clear message and vision for Lee Hwy. Be creative and smart, create a revitalized Lee Hwy that its residents can enjoy and that serves the needs of the community. Revitalize by cleaning up and bettering Lee Hwy by using the space that is there. Do not create new housing problems by destroying single-family homes in Lyon Village and elsewhere and forcing us out. Arlington County must have a better vision that accommodates its residents. We all want a better community – but we want to stay in Arlington, and we want to stay in our homes.

You cannot revitalize a community by creating more problems. We need creative scenarios that are well-informed – based on data and not just designs that may have worked elsewhere or may benefit wealthy business owners or out-of-town investors.

Many of the objectives of the plan are nice to haves, but when compared with losing our neighborhood, really become non-priorities. Would I like storm water management, I guess — it hasn’t really been an issue. But in trade for my block being bulldozed? No thanks!

Among many of the issues which trouble me about this proposal, is the failure to clearly articulate the reason “why” you would propose changes that will significantly impact my neighborhood, quite possibly undermine property values, increase traffic flows and completely change the character of the unique community Lyon Village is today. The only obvious beneficiaries of this plan are the developers, many of whom, I suspect, are not resident in Lyon Village, have no regard for the beautiful community we are, and are solely motivated by economic gains. I get that, but it seems your responsibility, as our elected representatives, is to solicit the views, opinions and feelings of those most directly affected before a decision is made to move forward.

I am shocked that the Lee Highway Group and County staff would propose such changes to the land use plan and allowed zoning for the express purpose of encouraging investors and developers to demolish all the buildings in this part of a historic district

The Process Seems Flawed
I kept hearing and seeing statements along the line of this is just a plan and nothing will change unless the property owner decides to. That is a very deceiving statement since in reality this is not just a plan. It is an allowance for developers to come in and destroy the character of this neighborhood given opportunities arise. The statement that this is up to each individual property owner’s decision, at best, displays a lack of clear understanding and, at worse, intends to mislead. This is something that impacts the entire community, not just each property owner. No one can stop a neighbor who is retiring and selling his home to a developer who would pay at a premium. In turn the developer, who is now “the property-owner”, can knock that single-family home down to build a new taller building in accord to the county’s approved plan. The people who live around there will have no decision in that since as you stated that it’s the property owner’s decision.

It would be duplicitous of Arlington County to allow “developers” to build high density structures within Lyon Village when for years they have told “individuals” building single family homes to limit lot coverage and install planter boxes to reduce run-off. Is Arlington for a green environment or more “green” for developers?

It seems like the process is a bit broken if neighborhoods aren’t represented to make decisions and prioritize goals for their locales. Even in the survey provided, there was no mechanism for determining whether folks for/against the proposals were even Arlington residents or members of Lee Highway communities.

Certainly, we are not interested in having investors come in and force us to sell our homes in the name of revitalization. We need the County and its officials to support us – not take a position against us and our Lyon Village community, and other communities in Arlington. The Arlington Board and our County Government is supposed to represent us, members of the community, not private equity firms or corporate shareholders. Please hear our voices and stand up for us!

All of this happened in the dead of COVID and no communication was made to the residents of our neighborhood until very recently. I would have expected full transparency including direct communication (in the form of a letter) to each and everyone who lives in the neighborhood to inform us of the desire to make changes and to get us involved from the onset. We all received such a letter recently regarding work being done to our water line, which would have a temporary impact, but nothing was sent regarding these extreme and permanent changes proposed by the Lee Highway plan.

PLH (and other county studies) should be lead by a neutral person who can assure that all voices are heard and get equal participation. I do not think current project heads meet this criterion. County representatives seem very well versed in the needs of developers. They seem very uninformed about the needs of the community residents. There is no one to represent the interests of the residents. County representatives seemed puzzled and unable to answer or even understand questions about residents’ concerns. They keep trying to explain to residents why they are wrong.

Quite frankly, it has the appearance of a foregone conclusion that this will go forward irrespective of our views, and we’ve been presented with two choices, in terms of the plan. If this wasn’t the case a “zero” option, e.g. either leaving Lee Highway as it is, or severely restricting development to the Lee Highway frontage zones only would have been given equal weight in the proposal. Adding a second layer of multi-storey/multi family structures abutting my street and everyone else along 18th Street seems entirely unwarranted and begs the question: “Why would you do this?”

I’ve gone through several documents and reports on this. One major issue that has kept coming up in my mind is where are the real input from the actual residents who actually live in the community that you are planning to make change to. For example, “The Neighborhood Inspiration Report”, I’m at a loss of whose inspirations these are because clearly the report was put together without my, my neighbors’, or any of my Arlingtonian friends’ inspirations. I don’t mean just people in Lyon Village, but in other Arlington neighborhoods as well. This looks like a report that professional urban planners put together after going to a class/lesson/seminar and learnt about what’s new in regard to community planning. In this case, this is a community planning without a real community’s participation. All I can tell is that this proposal appears to be what the county thinks is good and right for the county disregard to what the actually residents’.

This proposal is clearly only serving the interests of the developers and investors (who stand to profit heavily), at the great expense of families like ours who waited years to be able to live in this neighborhood.

How did a Revitalization project for Lee Hwy end up with two Scenarios involving our beloved Lyon Village and the tear down of our and many other single-family homes in Lyon Village?

Mr. Vignes reported that this Project was the result of a “grass-roots effort” to revitalize Lee Hwy. With reasonable certainty we can attest that no one in Lyon Village would have supported the tear down of his/her homes in Lyon Village to revitalize Lee Hwy. We also suspect that the national design firm that created Scenarios A and B, and those Arlington officials who are giving the greenlight to these Scenarios, ever spoke to anyone in Lyon Village, visited our neighborhood, or would be willing to forego their own homes in order to revitalize Lee Hwy. The idea is nonsensical. Demolition of single-family homes in Lyon Village is the opposite of revitalization, and moreover, the antithesis of all that Arlington County has always represented.

The survey questions I was able to find gives a set of scenarios as if rezoning is the only possible solution, rather than soliciting feedback on scenarios or objectives that are most important to residents in this area. While the email responses from the county say we aren’t locked into these scenarios, no one would ever know that looking at the way the survey is set-up. The survey really doesn’t solicit new ideas or scenarios.

Families spent most of last year embroiled in providing feedback for the terrible APS boundary changes and have limited bandwidth with two working parents to attend 2-3 hour meetings. I would challenge the county to consider how to better solicit feedback from all residents, especially with family commitments- asking for multiple-hour sessions when families are balancing Covid, child care, and careers is a lot and the county is really missing an opportunity to gather feedback from many groups based on how the sessions are being conducted.

Unnecessary to Change the GULP
The areas along Lee Highway in the Lyon Village neighborhood are already zoned for Edge development under the existing GLUP plan. Why is there any need to rezone a long-standing neighborhood as part of a Lee Highway development project? It’s not clear from the materials what problem is trying to be solved other than satisfying large developers and bringing in more tax revenue through extensive density growth. There are substantial parcels of unused or underused land along the corridor and existing property in the edge development zone that can be leveraged to achieve improvement along Lee Highway. It seems like this will really only benefit developers and greatly disrupt the current charm and character of the existing, tax paying neighborhoods.

I urge you to go back and consider the development of the Lee Highway corridor within the existing General Land Use Plan and plan, with moderate density and heights, making improvements on the margin in the quality of services and life in Arlington. There is so much that can be done within the existing plan.

All of these goals can be achieved without changing the Area 5 General Land Use Plan. There are plenty of underused commercial lots and dated, undersubscribed apartment buildings on the edge of Lee Highway that can be revitalized to provide additional housing options, public spaces, a walkable environment along Lee Highway, and a diverse commercial base. Revitalizing that edge—already allowed in the current General Land Use Plan—will achieve all of your goals. There is no need to rezone the blocks of single-family homes in Lyon Village south of Lee Highway. In fact, these homes and their residents already achieve many of your goals—these homes are walkable with a range of housing types with a diverse mix of tenure and they include residents that ride the bus, take the metro, bike and walk.

Most of PLH’s positive consequesnes would happen even without PLH. There are existing county programs that work on them (sidewalks, curbs, bike lanes, stormwater, etc.). We do not need PLH to achieve any of these benefits.

Inadequate Consideration of Consequences
Most concerning of all about this “planning” is the work that has not been done. The effects of this proposed up-zoning on our schools—which are already heavily overcrowded and constantly being re-zoned to accommodate a growing population—would likely be drastic. This proposal could very well lead to trailers covering the beautiful green space at the new Innovation Elementary School that serves this community.

I have not seen an evaluation and analysis of the goals and the short-term and long-term impacts of the proposal on the quality of life of Arlington residents. Such a fully articulated evaluation of impacts, in my view, should be presented to the Arlington county citizens and residents in order to have an informed discussion and feedback.

While we are supportive of improving Lee Highway, even just focusing on the properties fronting Lee Highway raises concerns about whether the current infrastructure will be able to support the proposed additional housing density. Our elementary-aged children were attending Arlington Science Focus and are being rezoned to Innovation Elementary School in Fall 2021. Converting the Key School to a neighborhood school was necessary to support current school enrollment. What happens when Lee Highway is redeveloped to include moderate to high-scale multi-family housing? That density alone could overwhelm the current school system. Adding even more density by rezoning the single-family homes south of Lee Highway in Area 5 is not sustainable for the schools and other available infrastructure. The impact on our crucial infrastructure like schools, roads, access to essential services such as daycare, pedestrian safety, traffic flow, and tree canopy cannot support the density proposed in scenarios A and B.

Good neighborhoods are precious and fragile. Residents of areas like Lyon Village are the bedrock of the community. Many of the residents have lived in Arlington for over 30 years. These are the people that make Arlington a true community; they belong to and lead the Civic Association, Neighborhood Civic Associations, Women’s Clubs, Friends of the Library, Church Organizations, Food Assistance, etc. Driving them out of their homes and filling Arlington with many transient residents will not make Arlington a better place to live.

PLH will make the effects of climate change worse: many trees cut down and shifting land from green to gray, thus creating a “heat island.” Exactly the opposite of what the county should be doing as we experience climate change.

Changing the GLUP would effectively “redline” Lyon Village. Residents will lose any incentive to maintain and improve properties destined for destruction. Properties will be hard to sell to anyone other than developers. These properties will become run-down rental properties until they are eventually torn down.

Undervalue Existing Diversity
There is value in keeping a diverse stock of single-family homes in Lyon Village… Such neighborhoods provide community, green space that alleviates storm-water runoff, and safety from heavy traffic. Not everyone wants to, or should be forced to, live in or next to seven-, ten-, or fourteen-story buildings scaled for a big city. Forcing people who want a single-family home with a little yard to live farther away from the metro and other amenities, in service of some ambiguous desire to increase density for density’s sake, does not make good sense from a policy perspective.

I would also like to note that the proposal would merely serve developers and investors while doing tangible harm to residents, as it would encourage developers to raze 2 and 3 story apartments that already provide affordable housing, worsen the storm water issue already causing problems in this area, and increase density and the need for additional schools seats even though there are not enough school seats for the children already residing in Arlington County and aging into middle schools and high schools. It will also cause traffic problems on Lee highway and everyone trying to drive into and out of the city for work. Without a rigorous traffic study or a study on effect of school needs, I find this proposal irresponsible.

Why must the Project tear down our homes to make room for retail, apartments and high rises? Lyon Village has diverse housing options already – small, large, and medium homes, duplexes, and apartments. Lyon Village already is what the Project seeks – a neighborhood that can accommodate residents in all stages of their lives and of varying incomes… We urge officials to consider the extensive amount of new apartment buildings in Rosslyn, Ballston, and Clarendon already—that seem to have plenty of vacancies based on the publicly available listings.

Failure to Account for Uncertainties
We are just exiting a pandemic that will radically change the way the world operates. Occupancy of Arlington commercial space is at a low rate currently, with many companies planning to give up some or all of their available corporate space. Part of the plans that should be considered would be whether there is demand for the existing commercial space or whether it could be converted to residential units.

PLH is based on outdated (pre-pandemic) assumptions of how people will travel, shop, and work. It is unlikely the old commuting patterns they assume will return. It is entirely possible that this added density will not be needed. Already some developers are asking the County to permit them to convert some of their residential units into hotel space because they are unable to rent it.

Due to the proximity to D.C. and the revitalization planned along Lee Highway, the redevelopment will not create affordable housing—or at least not a lot of it and only for a temporary basis. It will displace the long-term families currently living in the impacted zones with more transient residents who are less invested in the community. If all of the single-family homes south of Lee Highway are replaced by moderate to high-scale multi-family housing, the price of single-family homes remaining in Lyon Village will become even less affordable.

Shocking Lack of Knowledge About Arlington
…the part of the Project that involved making Lee Hwy a two-lane road was the most telling example of how little the designers considered the task at hand. Lee Hwy is a major thoroughfare into DC and even within the county itself. As it is now, during rush hour, we cannot get from our house … to Cherrydale, only one mile away, in a reasonable amount of time, without cutting back into the neighborhoods… Going into town on a weekday morning before 9:30, also can take at least 30 minutes just to go … to North Lynn Street because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic… Anyone who is saying that Lee Hwy can survive as a two-lane road has simply not studied its problems.

The commercial space that exists now is heavily under-utilized. There are already existing duplexes and large apartment buildings with vacancy signs, indicating that they could accommodate new residents. And again, there is significant space even for new buildings that will not involve the reach back into Lyon Village. Arlington County should invest in these existing retail and vacant spaces with renovation to achieve its objective of creating diverse housing options for more people, creating more green space, and improving Lee Hwy.