Arlington is often held up as a leading example of how to make the most of a small amount of land. Between the vibrant transit-oriented development of the Orange Line corridor, the rapidly growing Columbia Pike strip and numerous residential neighborhoods scattered throughout its 26 square miles, booming Arlington — the smallest self-governing county in the United States — continues to make the most of the land that it has.
The county now has a unique opportunity: the option to purchase from a local developer a large parcel of land in North Arlington. This six-acre plot, situated between two schools and a park, adjacent to a residential area and walking distance from three Metro stations, provides a rare opportunity for Arlington to create a world-class space and satisfy needs stemming from the county’s fast-growing population. Instead, Arlington appears to be on the verge of taking the path of least resistance and putting a bus garage and repair facility on this choice piece of land. This represents shortsighted thinking that would be detrimental to the neighborhood and Arlington at large.
The size and central location of this land scream out for a mixed-use project that could benefit Arlington and the area as a whole. For example, crowding issues in Arlington’s schools are well documented; a new neighborhood elementary school would go a long way toward alleviating that problem and provide valuable mentorship opportunities for students at Washington-Lee High School across the street. The school grounds could even be combined with nearby Hayes Park and provide additional green space and/or playing fields for the public.
For all its many amenities, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is sorely lacking in Little League baseball or softball fields and quality juvenile soccer fields. An athletic complex, such as those found at Gunston Middle School and Barcroft Park in South Arlington, would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Or perhaps, in a nod to the nearby presence of the David M. Brown Planetarium and Arlington Science Focus School, the county could partner with a private entity to establish a children’s learning center or museum, perhaps even luring the National Children’s Museum, which has been homeless since 2015.
Finally, if Arlington wanted to think really big, as it has in the past, development of this land could be combined by decking Interstate 66. That would reconnect the neighborhoods of Ballston-Virginia Square and Cherrydale, which were split by the construction of the highway 35 years ago, and increase access to nearby Cherry Valley Park and the popular Custis Trail. Similar so-called “cap parks” have been successful in cities such as Dallas, Boston and Seattle, and this is precisely the type of project to which Arlington should aspire — indeed, Arlington’s own Gateway Park in Rosslyn is an early example of this kind of endeavor. After all, Arlington has been recently investigating selling “air rights” over I-66; this area presents an excellent opportunity for development above the highway.
The possibilities are virtually endless, and the county should think outside the box. This property provides an opportunity for something great and unique for the area, and Arlington should seize this chance. This is not a NIMBY issue. My family chose to live in this part of Arlington because we love the urban residential life and happily accept the trade-offs that come with it. But before taking the path of least resistance and plopping a bus garage into a residential neighborhood, Arlington should carefully consider its options and “think big.” We can and should do better.