Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word in Arlington

Working Group Plan for 4MRV heads to county.

It has been a long and winding road to get to the proposed policy plan and framework for Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV). The valley is one of Arlington's last unplanned areas. It is an area of diverse interests including Jennie Dean Park, industrial businesses, arts groups, the largest dog park, Four Mile Run and the Nauck neighborhood which is an African-American community predating the Civil War. It is located between Nauck and Shirlington.

The plan was laid out at the Arlington Committee of 100 informational meeting on May 9 with various interests presenting their points of view. Chikwe Njoku, project coordinator and division chief with Arlington Department of Community Planning and Housing & Development, gave a presentation on the proposed framework for development of 4MRV. He laid out key themes including public access to the run, development of the arts district, reflection of industrial character, and maintaining cultural heritage of Nauck.

Key challenges include the level of development, two-block arts/industrial area, presence of existing businesses, parks and bikes/pedestrian safety, environmental stewardship, Shirlington Dog Park and the configuration of Jennie Dean Park. John Vihstadt, County Board representative to the 4MRV Working Group, said, "The process has been a bit bumpy. There were a lot of interests who naturally feel strongly that their uses be protected."

The competing interests were reflected in the discussions that followed, with a key bone of contention being the future of Jennie Dean Park.

Option 1 for the park is recommended by the Shirlington Community who live outside the study area but they point out Jennie Dean Park is on the border line with Shirlington. Edith Wilson, president of the Shirlington Civic Association, says they have no parks or playgrounds and that all the residents live in multifamily housing with no yards of their own. "We depend on it." She adds that Option 1 does not require the uncertain purchase of the current WETA building.

She says they support Option 1 because the playground is closer and more accessible to Shirlington residents who come over the footbridge and also the design is less awkward. She says Arlington parks are for everyone, and the community needs of all the neighborhoods surrounding the valley master plan area should be considered.

However, the Nauck community prefers Option 2 that places the adult ballpark on the other side of the park with the accompanying lights and noise that would be objectionable to Nauck residents. They live just across the street on South Four Mile Run. Option 2 depends on county purchase of the WETA building but includes more green space and less disruption for Nauck residents.

Njoku’s presentation was followed by short discussions by Arlingtonians with various interests in the community.

Mike Katrivanos is the owner of a brewery in Arlington. He painted a positive picture for business: "The outlook in the valley is good. You always hear about vacancy rates but office vacancy rates in the valley are single digit, and average turnover is low. A business is usually there 10-20 years. The valley is a little bit of a different animal. I am a Nauck resident and it is a pleasure to walk to work." He says he cherishes the sense of camaraderie and the vibe in the valley."

Edith Wilson, representing Shirlington, points out the process didn't begin in 2016. It was always stricken from the county's list because there was something more exciting." She said finally Shirlington and Nauck said: "Time's up. We need a plan that is fundable." Wilson added that Shirlington supports Option 1 for Jennie Dean Park because “it can be built the soonest and is the fairest. This should be a park for the community. We should honor the past but prepare for the future."

Jeff Zeeman says the arts are already present in 4MRV. “It is a center for arts, bursting at the seams with dancing and singing but they desperately need space. It isn’t friendly for pedestrians or attractive. We want funky, too. Arlington doesn’t have funky. Our vision is that arts and industry compliment not supplant each other. We want it to be an exciting place in Arlington, a creative mecca.”

Caroline Haynes, representing the parks, says people take their parks very seriously and the discussions have been very complicated with split votes on the proposals. “There is a separate committee on parks. We will see more on that. It is time to get going on this and no one will get everything they want."

Portia Clark representing Nauck, the historically African-American part of Arlington, said, "There are elements that align with our vision but there is no plan for economic development and it is silent on the future of property. There is little mention of the needs of Nauck in the plan. While there are two options for Jennie Dean Park, neither completely reflects our goals. Number 2 option is better because it places the ballpark with the noise and lights on the other side of the park and makes the green space more accessible. We welcome change but not at the expense of our values. We will not stand for making Nauck invisible."

Shirley Brothwell, representing sports, asked the question: "Where does Jennie Dean Park fit with the others that are there? There are future uses we don't even know about. The population is growing with lots of kids. Sports is popular in Arlington.” She says that the objective is to see Jennie Dean Park replaced and that Option 1 is better using available dollars. “But we recognize Nauck's point of view.”

After the presentation questions and answers flew around the room:

  • Which of the options for Jennie Dean Park has more environmental?
  • What are the issues with purchase of the current WETA building?
  • There was no mention whatsoever of affordable housing; why is that?
  • You tried to squeeze it all in. Don't we need more land to do all the things we need to do?
  • Don't you agree Nauck has been there longer and should have greater weight?

The final question summed up the framework. "Do you think your concerns were adequately addressed? Ten seconds each."

  • Business: Did the best they could under the circumstances. Business was told they could stay but lost a lane.
  • Shirlington: Having a new park is a plus but get rid of buses.
  • Sports: Mixed bag. Don't know what the replacement will look like and no expansion.
  • Nauck: Loss unless we get option 2.
  • Parks: Mixed bag.
  • Arts community: We get it but not enough land.

As Caroline Haynes said in her presentation on parks. "No one gets 100 percent of what they want. Compromise is not a dirty word in Arlington.”

The County Board is scheduled to consider the adoption of the Policy Framework later in May. Vihstadt said, "This was complicated because we did an area plan and park plan together. It involved the community planning, housing, transportation, economic development all involved at the same time. The county has silos. It has forced the county to talk to each other in a holistic fashion. I think the framework is the first concrete step and I could imagine that between 2019-21 we could see the design, construction and building. We have to make some difficult budget choices but I am confident we will do Jennie Dean justice. I think ultimately this process will be considered a success."

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