Why a planning study for Lee Highway?
Lee Highway is a major east-west corridor through Arlington County. The majority of Lee Highway frontage is developed with low-scale commercial buildings that are oriented toward surface parking areas that are not conducive to walkability or social gatherings. A desire to improve the corridor and guide redevelopment with a clear vision has spurred grassroots community efforts to weigh-in on future change.
This will be the first time that Arlington County has studied Lee Highway comprehensively, unlike other corridors in the County such as the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor, Jefferson-Davis Metro corridor and Columbia Pike.
A community-led Lee Highway Visioning Study was completed in 2016 and laid the groundwork for a new vision. The County will build on the great ideas collected throughout the visioning process and conduct a formal community planning process.
When will the planning study start? How long will it take?
The process is expected to kick-off in 2018.
Currently, staff is finalizing the project’s draft scope, process and schedule to share with the County Board and engage consultant resources to facilitate the effort. This important step will lay the groundwork for the planning study, answering questions such as the extent of the study area, the issues that need to be addressed, the role of the community-led 2016 Lee Highway Visioning Study and what strategies would work best to engage the community. Once these details are finalized the website will be updated and staff will communicate the specific details.
This will be a multi-year effort to effectively manage discussions for the extensive geography, amount of stakeholders and complex issues. At the end of a planning study, it is expected the County Board would adopt a County plan that will provide a long-term vision and be used to guide private and public decisions for the corridor.
What was the ‘2016 Visioning Study’ and how will this process be different?
Beginning in 2012, a grassroots community effort in north Arlington led to conversations about the future of Lee Highway and its surrounding areas. The County partnered with the Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) for a unique, joint effort to explore a vision for the corridor that balanced a broad range of perspectives.
A multi-day design charrette (workshop) was held with the community in November 2015. Interactive sessions were led by a consultant team of land use planners, architects, other design professionals, and economists. Participants weighed-in on nine guiding principles and shared their ideas about what the future might look like along Lee Highway. Outcomes from the charrette, along with public comments, informed the content of the Lee Highway Visioning Study . The LHA presented the final report to the County Board in May 2016.
The Visioning Study is not an adopted policy, but the community visioning process resulted in ideas that provide a framework to build on. The upcoming formal planning process is designed to build on those ideas, validate community support for them and test economic feasibility. The upcoming process will also evaluate the transportation network, open space system and public facilities. The expected outcome of the County’s planning process will be a plan adopted by the County Board that includes the desired vision, goals, objectives, policy recommendations and identification of implementation tools.
What is the Lee Highway Alliance? How can I learn more about it?
The Lee Highway Alliance is a coalition of residents, businesses, and other stakeholders from the communities surrounding Lee Highway. Established in 2012 as an outcome of the Waverly Hills Neighborhood Conservation Plan as the Lee Highway Presidents’ Breakfast (LHPB), these community leaders engaged stakeholders over the course of four years including co-leadership of the milestone multi-day community design charrette (workshop) in November 2015 and Lee Highway Visioning Study report in 2016. Also in 2016, the Lee Highway Alliance incorporated as a 501C3 and includes the membership of eighteen civic associations surrounding Lee Highway as well as myriad businesses, property owners, and stakeholder groups and organizations. For more information, visit the LHA webpage.
Lee Highway is different from our other commercial corridors. How can we be sure the plan is right for Lee Highway?
The Lee Highway planning process will include analysis of the unique characteristics of Lee Highway, such as lot depth, transit infrastructure, commuter needs, and economic and market conditions to identify the opportunities and constraints to change. In addition, a robust civic engagement process is being planned to allow for broad community input from Arlington residents, business owners, property owners, advisory commissions, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders, including VDOT. It is expected that numerous community meetings, focus group discussions, and briefings will be scheduled during the process to share information and collect feedback to inform staff’s recommendations to ensure that the Lee Highway Plan includes the policies and tools needed to realize the vision set forth for the future of the corridor.
What is the proposed study area?
A proposed study area is being considered which includes:
- “Planning Area” boundary: areas within ¼ mile walking distance of the corridor. This area would be used as the primary research area and to develop a vision and recommendations for network-wide elements, such as transportation and open space.
- “Core Study Areas” (areas without previous study): priority areas with the most opportunity for change. This area would be studied to define character areas, evaluate land use scenarios and develop land use and building form recommendations.
- “Residential Edges”: single-family areas that may need to be considered in terms of impacts from adjacent redevelopment and/or to make redevelopment feasible on Lee Highway. Shaded areas include single-family areas approximately 250 feet from Lee Highway and arterial streets.
How does the proposed study area relate to existing plans for Cherrydale and East Falls Church?
In 1994 and 2011, respectively, the County Board adopted the Lee Highway/Cherrydale Revitalization Plan and the East Falls Church Area Plan. Each of these plans establish a vision, goals, and specific recommendations for land use, streetscape, transportation, open space, and other planning elements and have been used to guide redevelopment projects.
As part of the pre-planning process, staff has considered which areas along Lee Highway need to be prioritized and studied now, and how. Given that the Cherrydale and East Falls Church areas have adopted plans and policies to guide those areas, the project will focus on the other commercial and multi-family areas along Lee Highway first, where no adopted plans are in place. With this approach, Cherrydale and East Falls Church would remain in the broader Planning Area, to develop a cohesive vision and recommendations for network-wide elements, such as transportation and open space. If new issues arise in those areas, staff would document them and consider how they might be addressed in the future as part of a subsequent planning process.
What will be addressed in the upcoming planning process?
Staff expects to analyze existing conditions, establish the vision and develop recommendations that are organized around nine key planning elements : land use; housing; transportation and connectivity; parks and open space; building form; height and urban design; historic preservation; cultural resources; art; economic vitality; sustainability; and public facilities.
Will planning for schools be addressed?
Staff expects to evaluate different potential land use scenarios. Part of that evaluation will include analyzing possible impacts to public facilities and schools. This could include what type and how many schools may be needed to accommodate potential population growth. Analysis will help aid discussions with community stakeholders and the County Board’s evaluation of any long-range plan and its recommendations.
How much height is recommended?
The planning process has not started, therefore, new building heights have not been recommended. Today, many commercial buildings along Lee Highway are one to two stories high, however, a predominant zoning district (C-2 Service Commercial) allows building heights up to four stories. Several suggestions for taller building heights for select commercial nodes were included in the Visioning Study. Staff plans to discuss those suggestions early in the planning process to assess community feedback, establish a vision, understand impacts, and assess how the options may help accomplish community goals.
Will the County develop land and construct new development?
No. This process is intended to develop a long-range plan to guide decisions over the next 5-, 10-, 15-, 20- years and beyond, that supports the eleven elements of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which includes the General Land Use Plan, Master Transportation Plan, Public Spaces Master Plan, and Affordable Housing Master Plan.
Through separate processes, the County Board (or School Board) may direct staff to plan for, design, and/or construct new public facilities such as a new fire station or new school along the Lee Highway corridor. The future Lee Highway Plan, anticipated with this planning process, could be used to guide future capital facility projects such as these examples. Private land owners or developers are able to alter or redevelop their property, through separate review processes, and are guided by zoning regulations, the General Land Use Plan and other policies. Ultimately, a future Lee Highway Plan would guide these decisions as well.
Will the County rezone property to allow for new development?
The County does not commonly rezone properties as part of its long-range planning processes, nor does the County rezone private properties without a request from the property owner. The process would culminate with the County Board adopting a plan that could be used to guide future decisions on land use and zoning applications.
Will the County be displacing existing businesses?
No, those are private market decisions between business owners and their respective landlord/property owner. The County encourages existing business owners to participate in the upcoming study and contribute their ideas on the future of Lee Highway, including providing feedback on what is working well for business owners, what can be improved, and ideas for how to achieve those improvements and continue the successes of the Lee Highway corridor.
How can I be involved?
A robust civic engagement process is being planned to allow for broad community input from Arlington residents, business owners, property owners, advisory commissions, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders, including VDOT. It is expected that numerous community meetings, focus group discussions, and briefings will be scheduled during the process to share information and collect feedback to inform staff’s recommendations. The community will be invited to participate and contribute their ideas and feedback in multiple ways throughout the planning process. Sign up for email updates about the process, meetings and engagement opportunities.
I don’t live along Lee Highway. Will I be considered a stakeholder and can I participate in the process?
Yes. You don’t have to live immediately within the proposed study area to participate in the study. Sign up to be added to our distribution list.
I attended one of the November 29 open houses. What are you doing with my feedback?
Staff has compiled feedback received at the two open houses, along with the online survey results, and reviewing the information for common themes, concerns, and suggestions. A summary of the feedback is available here. The feedback is being used to validate the proposed planning approach and identify areas that need to be reconsidered. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared your ideas.
What is the VDOT I-66 project and where can I find out more information?
VDOT is planning to add an eastbound travel lane on I-66 from just east of the Dulles Connector Road (Route 267) to Fairfax Drive/Glebe Road (Exit 71). VDOT is in the planning phase right now, including preparation and review of environmental considerations. Construction of the additional lane is expected to begin in early 2018, with the lane opening to traffic in late 2020. The widening effort (approx. 4-miles) is part of a package of improvements on I-66, which also includes tolling from I-495 to Lee Highway (Route 29) in Rosslyn during peak periods in the peak direction, and other multimodal improvements, including improvements along existing bicycle routes. Tolling is expected to commence while construction of the new I-66 eastbound lane is underway. Visit VDOT’s website for more information.
I see many older homes in my neighborhood being replaced with new homes. How is this permitted/regulated?
Many of the original homes built in Arlington were not built to the maximum size and placement allowed in the Zoning Ordinance and are now being replaced with larger homes. The replacement homes seen more frequently in Arlington’s neighborhoods do not require special approval by the County Board and must comply with laws and regulations including the Zoning Ordinance, Building Code, Chesapeake Bay ordinance, the Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, and County Code provisions.
What if a developer wants to proceed with a new building before the planning process is complete?
The County encourages developers who are interested in development/redevelopment along the Lee Highway corridor to monitor and participate in the upcoming planning process and contribute feedback like other stakeholders will be asked to do. If a developer or property owner chooses to pursue development plans while the planning process is underway, the County will review the application following the appropriate type of process needed for the particular request, including any applications for by-right development. We would encourage developers to delay submitting proposals for any major land use or zoning district changes in areas of the corridor without adopted policy guidance until the planning process is further along or completed. This is suggested in order to ensure that development projects reflect the community’s future vision and that the adopted policies and potential tools are in place to facilitate a clear and efficient review process. However, if a proposal for a site plan, General Land Use Plan amendment, or rezoning is submitted during the planning process, it may take more time for review given that the planning process is underway and adopted policy is not in place.