Arlington’s streetcar project was killed more than 18 months ago, but the controversy lives on, as Columbia Pike residents said the county’s new transit development plan “does not even come close” to providing the premium bus service promised at that time.
After attempting to answer the complaints, the County Board, in its last meeting before its summer break, voted 5 to 0 to pass the major update to its bus system.
The systemwide transit plan calls for more off-peak and weekend service to activity centers throughout the county, such as retail and recreational destinations. It reduces waits for buses in most places during rush hours and increases capacity on many routes.
The premium transit network for Columbia Pike, the most heavily used bus route in the state of Virginia, anticipates no need for transfers between Fairfax County’s Skyline area to Pentagon City and Crystal City; high-quality transit stations with off-bus fare collection and boarding surfaces suitable for the disabled; and signal priority minimizing red lights on the route. The plan calls for the introduction of that network in 2018.
But in a letter to the board, the presidents of the Columbia Pike neighborhood association said that even with plans for more frequent service, bus wait times will still be too long. The county must rely on Metro, which provides and operates the major routes, to provide the higher-quality, higher-capacity buses that will reduce waiting, the group noted.
“Overall, the plan is geared towards moving people through the Pike corridor and ignores the needs of the burgeoning Pike community for everyday needs,” the associations’ presidents wrote. “The plan as written is inadequate for the Pike today; it falls far short of the needs of the Pike of the future.”
Those sentiments were echoed by several speakers Saturday who called the plan “premium in name only.”
In voting to pass the plan, the board directed the county manager to return in the second quarter of 2017 with plans to speed up the adoption of larger buses and shorten bus wait times.
The board also delayed a decision until September over whether to allow a major developer to demolish an existing fire station along Wilson Boulevard and erect a temporary station nearby.
The developer, Penzance, had proposed temporarily putting the firehouse on a planned athletic field for the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford school, which will take over the site of the existing Wilson School after reconstruction. Penzance officials said moving the fire station will allow them to accelerate construction of two mixed-used residential buildings along Wilson Boulevard A permanent fire station will be housed on the ground floor of one of those buildings.
But angry and upset parents of students and neighborhood residents raised strong objections, accusing the board of rushing the deal through only two weeks after it was publicly announced in a news release. The densely populated western Rosslyn area has few public parks, and the private development and reconstruction of the school already will almost eliminate one of them.
“As you allow developers to build more and more, our open green space is diminishing, and play space will be missing for three to six years,” said resident Laura Hoye.
County Manager Mark Schwartz said last-minute negotiations with Penzance on Friday opened the possibility of putting the temporary fire station at Rhodeside Green Park rather than behind the school. Board members ordered him to hold meetings with neighbors, the parks commission and others, and to also consider other sites for a temporary fire station before their Sept. 25 board meeting.
In exchange for allowing the temporary fire station, Penzance will provide 100 permanent parking spaces for the schools, saving the school district $5 million for its underground parking garage.
“We sometimes have to work quickly,” said County Board chair Libby Garvey (D). “Government’s got to be able to move quickly at times for the public good.”
A 22-story, 577-unit residential building in what is quickly becoming Arlington’s newest high-rise district won approval Saturday from the County Board.
Metropolitan Park, the sixth phase and latest project from Vornado Residential, will begin construction next year. Almost 2,300 apartments already are available or underway in previous phases of the project, and as many as 900 more could be added in the future.
Metropolitan Park consists of 10 buildings on 16 acres that was previously home to warehouses and parking lots.
The project adds three new public open spaces, adding about two acres of green space to the area. Nearly 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space will also be rented. It joins a major commercial project called PenPlace, which was approved three years ago.