Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Jim Hurysz of Fairlington as saying, “Focus totally on development, not transportation.” Hurysz actually said, “The focus [of a Feb. 29 Pike Transit Initiative meeting] was totally on development, not transportation.” This version has been corrected.
Residents of the Columbia Pike area told the Arlington County Board on Saturday that they are worried a massive, proposed redevelopment would drive up the cost of housing and that a streetcar line may not be the right transportation choice for their corner of the county.
“I’m afraid if my neighborhood is chopped up, its poor residents will be kicked out . . . and million-dollar homes will replace historic properties,” said Sandra Hernandez, a resident of Freedman’s Village along the Pike. “The few remaining elderly and [those] of modest income will not be able to pay their real-estate taxes, and they too will leave.”
The project, years in the making, is intended to ease congestion, revitalize housing and boost economic development along one of the key corridors in the southern part of Arlington. It’s also home to some of the most affordable housing in the county, and residents fear the project will bring gentrification and higher rents that will push them out.
“It’s fair to say there’s been concern on many, many different levels” about the plan, board Chair Mary H. Hynes (D) said. A series of community briefings have been underway and the project’s housing-and-land-use study will come before the board in May or June.
To help address the lack of affordable housing, the board on Saturday approved lending $6 million to the nonprofit AHC Inc. to buy a Shell gas station at 5511 Columbia Pike and replace it and surrounding land with a six-story, 83-unit affordable apartment complex. Most of the money will come from federal Community Development Block Grant funds as well as the county’s fund for housing initiatives.
The Columbia Pike project also proposes the construction of a streetcar line from Skyline Plaza in Fairfax County to the Pentagon in the north. It’s a controversial proposal and has become a standard question voters pose to candidates who are running in the March 27 special election for an open seat on the board.
The cost of building a streetcar line jumped in the most recent estimate by $100 million to about $250 million, and a recent study by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority showed that a route using extra-long buses could carry about the same number of people at about the same speed for about $200 million less to build. Opponents have seized on that report to urge the county to rethink its proposal.
Jim Hurysz, a Fairlington resident who frequently criticizes Arlington government, said Saturday that a streetcar project should be shelved. “Arlington needs new public infrastructure, and its existing public infrastructure adequately maintained — schools, streets, water-distribution networks and street lighting,” Hurysz said. “The focus [of a Feb. 29 Pike Transit Initiative meeting] was totally on development, not transportation,” he said.