Our Award-Winning Planning Policies Establish Arlington as One of the Region’s Most Desirable Locations to Do Business, Live and Visit
County staff works closely with the community to make decisions and investments that reflect our values. These decisions shape our neighborhoods, commercial districts, streets, parks and public spaces. All projects — from a road improvement to a new high-rise building — involve careful planning. To serve the community’s needs, we strive to balance new development while preserving our residential areas and the environment.
Arlington’s earliest planning efforts date back to 1927, when the first land-use ordinance was adopted. Read about the County’s planning and development history.
Planning decisions are informed by extensive research, professional expertise and community input. Our comprehensive planning process incorporates the essential principles of smart growth and urban design. The results speak for themselves — 12 urban villages, each with its own unique character supported by jobs, housing and recreation, that are all located within a few blocks of public transportation.
Environmental planning helps mitigate the significant impact development has on our natural surroundings. Most buildings and roads were built prior to regulations requiring stormwater be slowed down or treated, so runoff from these areas flows uncontrolled to streams. Additionally, smart energy use also benefits our economy and the health of our environment. Together, the Stormwater Master Plan and the Community Energy Plan provide a road map to land use, building design and construction strategies that reduce the environmental impact.
Parks & Open Space Planning
The Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) mission is to promote wellness and vitality through dynamic programs and attractive public spaces. The department works to achieve this vision, and a long history of customer service satisfaction, through strategic planning and civic engagement.
DPR is responsible for the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP), which is a component of our Comprehensive Plan and a guiding document for the future of public space. DPR draws from the vision laid out in the PSMP to strategically plan for the future. Following that plan, we expand and optimize the County’s open space system through land acquisition, collaborating with developers, building public-private partnerships, and leveraging relationships with organizations that share our commitment to preserving and expanding public space. DPR also plans, designs, and maintains County-owned parks and public spaces. Park master plans and designs are developed through a civic engagement process that takes into account residents’ input as well as the functional requirements needed to sustain DPR’s popular recreation programs.
Private Development Planning
Development in Arlington is guided by a plan-based process. Our framework consists of a set of plans that determine how development will occur at specific sites, in neighborhoods and throughout the County. These plans guide development decisions and align with land-use policies and zoning regulations.
Arlington is divided into special planning areas and districts. The zoning ordinance guides the development of each area in a way that maintains its vision and characteristics. It regulates land uses; lot size and coverage; building height, bulk and siting; parking requirements; and density for each district. Each district allows a certain type of development and some districts may allow special exceptions through the site plan or use permitting process.
Our form based code (FBC) is an innovative, optional zoning tool available for use along the Columbia Pike corridor. Unlike traditional zoning, the FBC relies on prescriptive building form regulations to guide development and redevelopment and doesn’t specify density limits. Proposals may be approved administratively or by special exception use permit, depending on specific criteria for each approval path. Two form based codes are available: The Columbia Pike Form Based Code, adopted in 2003, applies to four commercial centers; the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code, adopted in 2013, applies to the multifamily residential neighborhoods surrounding the centers.
Arlington’s transportation vision is to use multimodal strategies to support strong economic development, healthy neighborhoods, and a sustainable environment and develop a transportation system that moves more people with less traffic. The Master Transportation Plan supports this vision.
Arlington’s planning process relies on extensive community input. Individual residents can have a say on the decisions that affect their neighborhoods and the County as a whole.