A 148-page document holds the plans for the future of Arlington County’s Pentagon City, the site of Amazon’s future east coast headquarters, and residents have continued to weigh in on how the plan will transform their community.
The county released the second draft of the Pentagon City Planning Study in October after releasing the initial version of the plan in July.
Arlington County has led a community planning process to establish long-term goals and obtain feedback on the various plans included in the study.
Yet some residents and neighborhood associations have expressed concerns about the plan and whether the engagement process has incorporated a variety of voices from the community.
40-year-old plan revamped
A vision for Pentagon City has not been updated since the 1976 Pentagon City Phased Development Site Plan.
Pentagon City Planning Coordinator Matt Mattauszek said Amazon served as a catalyst for the study, setting off a number of questions, challenges and opportunities for property owners and residents in the area.
The planning effort began in the middle of 2020 with stakeholder interviews, a community kickoff and the establishment of focus groups composed of residents and property owners, according to Mattauszek.
“We would meet on a monthly basis with them to bounce ideas off, get their input, and they were really, I think, our conduits to the larger, broader community,” he said.
Mattauszek described a “robust public engagement process” from September 2020 to July 2021. Residents participated in public meetings, reviewed project materials online and could even subscribe to receive project updates in their inbox.
Highlights of the study include plans for open space opportunities, pedestrian pathways, six redevelopment projects, diverse housing options and transportation choices that make driving unnecessary.
The corner of 12th Street and Fern Street will have new protected bike lanes and a pedestrian-oriented streetscape along 12th Street, according to the draft plan. (Rachel Looker / The Wash, rendering by Arlington County)
Consulting company Good Clancy assisted the county with the study and feedback process.
Good Clancy Planner Kathleen Onufer, who has been working on the Pentagon City study, said the company worked with Arlington County to respond to every question that was asked by residents.
These efforts included finding more opportunities to get new individuals involved without having to read all 148 pages of the study or be an expert in county planning to have an opinion, she said.
“That’s one of the goals of the forum is to try and make sure we’re still asking some of those broader questions to create space for folks who may be new to the process,” Onufer said.
Planning commission: Community needs a voice
Former Planning Commissioner Jane Siegel, who serves as the co-chair of the Long Range Planning Committee for the Pentagon City Phased Development Site Plan, said it’s the job of the planning commission to provide the community with a say in development studies.
“We have ensured over a year the opportunity for voices to come into the process,” she said.
Siegel said they held focus group meetings, workshops and obtained outreach from the county related to the study to ensure the broadest number of Arlington residents could participate in developing the study’s six guiding principles.
“What you will be hearing over the next couple months are the voices of consensus… but you will also hear dissenting voices,” she said. “They are in the minority, that doesn’t mean that their voices are less important. But with public policy, you cannot make everybody happy.”
Planning Commissioner Jim Lantelme, who also serves as co-chair for the Pentagon City Phased Development Site Plan Long Range Planning Committee, said he is pleased with the results of the study and feels the community outreach came to a reasonable consensus.
“We do have people that are already coming out who are saying everything was done in the dark and behind closed doors, which is hard to do when you have five sessions… plus other meetings,” he said.
The plan calls for the corner of South Hayes Street and 12th Street to serve as an access point for rail and bus transit outside the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. The plan includes public gathering space in a new public square. (Rachel Looker / The Wash, rendering by Arlington County)
Civic Associations provide feedback
Three civic associations comprise Pentagon City: Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge and Crystal City.
Arlington Ridge Civic Association President Kateri Garcia said the association held a special member meeting to talk about the latest draft of the study.
She said members’ biggest concerns were about the significant increase to the density proposed for River House, a large housing complex in the area.
“We’re not entirely clear on why that occurred,” she said.
Members also expressed concerns over the implications increased density would have on the rest of the community and services such as schools, community centers, the library and parks, as well as the infrastructure for transportation, power and emergency services.
Garcia said members liked the idea of the transportation improvements, bike lanes and the Green Ribbon, which connects new and existing public spaces while improving park and recreation functions.
“I think there’s a lot of really great things and I think there’s a lot of great value that all this development can bring to our community, but it really needs to be thought out in a way that it’s done well,” she said.
Aurora Highlands Civic Association Representative Ben D’Avanzo, who has been reviewing the study for the association, said there are a variety of opinions in the association about the plan.
The civic association provided comments on the first draft of the study, but D’Avanzo said they did not see many significant changes between the first and the second draft.
“The level of flexibility in it means it’s very hard to understand beyond where new buildings will go and generally what their height is going to be,” he said. “It’s hard to have a sense of what the future of the neighborhood will actually look like because of that flexibility.”
Alyssa Marlow has lived in Pentagon City for over 10 years and owns a condo on Arlington Ridge Road.
Marlow said there are a lot of aspects about the Pentagon City Planning Study that she likes, but said she thinks the planning commission failed to look specifically at the infrastructure needed to support new developments and increased density.
“It doesn’t seem to me like they’ve consulted emergency management staff to understand, do the firehouses have the ability to support that much density?” she said.
Nicole Merlene is a lifelong Arlington County resident and is involved in the Pentagon City working group representing renters.
Merlene said she was happy the second draft of the study included how many new units and green spaces will be added to the area, which was lacking in the first draft.
“This is the first time ever that a planning study will include estimates on population impacts on the area which is just huge for every aspect of planning,” she said.
Merlene said the county is currently not equipped to target certain communities in their engagement process, specifically those who live in apartments or condos, and individuals who have children in the school system and don’t have the extra time to review the study.
“They do not make the feedback loop easy for those people and there is not a lot of proactive outreach,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon a resident to know that it’s happening.”
Pentagon City Resident Emily Atkinson said she had concerns over the plan reducing the amount of green spaces around her neighborhood.
“That’s part of what makes this area so nice,” she said.
She said she is concerned the plan will squeeze buildings between existing buildings and eliminate trees and green space.
She currently rents a condo and was considering purchasing it, but now has changed her plans.
“Knowing that the view from my balcony and my windows is going to change from being trees to solid buildings and I’m assuming also block my view of the Jefferson Memorial. That’s not appealing to me,” she said.
Planning Commission prepares for next steps
The second version of the draft had an online engagement window that closed on Oct. 31. It provided a three-week period for individuals to provide comments about the study.
Planning Coordinator Mattauszek said he is anticipating close to 100 comments by the end of the engagement window.
Mattauszek said they will continue to have briefings through November and December before looking to approach the county board for final adoptions of the plan.
“Along the way, there’ll be additional opportunities for feedback and we do hope that in December, when we take that next major step, there will be a third new version of the plan developed that incorporates a lot of what we heard this month,” he said.