Thursday, February 16, 2012

Katz suggests vision and consistent regulation

Steve Sockwell, Chair, Arlington County Planning Commission, and Peter Katz, Arlington County Planning Director, addressed Wednesday night's Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association (RAFOM) meeting.

Sockwell outlined the organization and functions of the Arlington County Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission was established in 1956 to meet the requirements of Virginia state law.  The Planning Commission reports directly to the Arlington County Board.  It consists of unpaid citizen volunteers who meet 1-2 times per month.  It has three major standing committees:
  1. Long Range Planning Committee
  2. Site Plan Review Committee
  3. Zoning Ordinance Committee
The Long Range Planning Committee is currently working on the update for the Rosslyn Sector Plan.  The Site Plan Review Committee is currently doing a site plan review for the Rosslyn Gateway project (Lee Hwy., N. Moore St., 19th St. N. and Fort Myer Dr.; JBG Companies).  A site plan is currently being prepared for the Rosslyn Plaza project (between Kent St. and 19th St; Vornado/Charles E. Smith). The Zoning Ordinance Committee is currently considering sign ordinances.

Peter Katz, who became Arlington County's Planning Director in October, 2011, is a national authority on new urbanism and smart growth.  He offered some ancient wisdom as a good guide for contemporary urban development:
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.
He described this wisdom as highlighting the importance of both vision and clear, consistent regulation in urban development. For Arlington historically, a key planning vision was to have the metro run from Rosslyn to Ballston and to organize urban density around the metro stations. With respect to clear, consistent regulation, Katz wants to limit unwarranted discretion in decisions for individual projects.  Extensive project-by-project negotiations don't serve to promote most effectively a general development vision.  See the video below for Katz's full prepared presentation.

The question and answer period addressed key issues in Rosslyn's development.  Katz noted that Rosslyn's small block sizes don't promote building service access through small interior alleys and hence limit people-centered street activity. Sockwell pointed to the difficulty of making improvements around federal and state highways and parks.  He noted the importance of Rosslyn for bicycle and pedestrians arteries.  Further development of bike and pedestrian traffic could enhance the vibrancy of downtown Rosslyn.  Better access to the Potomac River would also highlight Rosslyn's distinctive geographic position.  Federal lands make improvements in river access difficult.  However, a potential pedestrian skywalk connecting downtown Rosslyn to the Roosevelt Island walkway and a boathouse in Rosslyn could do much to accent Rosslyn's riverside location.  Considerable planning effort is going into the Key Bridge gateway to Rosslyn.

Other topics of discussion included the lack of transparency in community benefits bargaining.  The total value of community benefit deals are not available during the Planning Commission's site plan review.  Katz noted that some Canadian cities, e.g. Vancouver, use community benefit bargaining with much success.  He looks forward to understanding the process further.  Katz also mentioned that he will push for onstreet parking and that a wise urban planner once told him that great street trees are 90% of great urban design. He noted that liberal regulation for late-night entertainment within a highly confined area can contribute greatly to neighborhood vibrancy.

Katz urged residents to watch the video, Arlington's Path to Smart Growth. He also recommended reading Jane Jacobs book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Other issues discussed at the RAFOM meeting:
  • The RAFOM Board selected Jim Villars as a new RAFOM Board member.
  • The RAFOM holiday party for low-income neighbors this past December was highly successful.
  • RAFOM Board members are opposing the new Capital Bikeshare station that is being installed in the N. Meade St. Park.  That park was renovated through extensive neighborhood effort, but the neighborhood leaders of that renovation, and the neighborhood in general, was not consulted about the installation of the Bikeshare station.  RAFOM Board members, however, have not openly consulted the neighborhood about the Bikeshare station.  The RAFOM Board should not speak for the neighborhood about the Bikeshare station without some open neighborhood discussion of it.  The Ode Street Tribune has received no comments indicating neighborhood concern about the station since the Tribune posted about it over a week ago.  At this point, concerned residents favoring or opposing the Bikeshare station probably should contact Arlington County officials directly to register their views.
  • A meeting with Arlington County planning officials about the Meade St. Bridge renovation will occur on Thursday, Mar. 1, at 5:30pm in the Prospect House meeting room.
  • Early Saturday morning construction noise at the Sedona & Slate construction site has been a problem. Construction at that site may kill trees in Belvedere Park.  If those trees die, they will be replaced.  In addition, 18 new trees will be planted in the park.
The next RAFOM meeting will be at 7pm on March 13.  It will feature the candidates in the upcoming special election for the open Arlington County Board seat.

No comments: