Managing Amazon-fueled growth
The Richmond Highway corridor is, by design, where our smart growth principles marry mixed-use density in a transit-rich area. It is where we have planned for growth, where we generate revenues to support the range of policies and investments that make Arlington, Arlington.
Yet for the better part of this century, Crystal City and Pentagon City have been in distress. The corridor’s potential to serve as an engine of growth has been stunted by a hemorrhaging of jobs, inadequate connectivity our modern multi-modal sensibilities demands, and aging, functionally obsolete office buildings.
Our community developed ambitious plans for this area. The County, along with private developers, made significant investments in infrastructure and amenities that are creating a new look and better functionality.
What has been missing is the catalyzing investment to restore jobs, to realize our plans and to fill offices; the sort of large-scale investment in new construction that would create a market for the adaptive reuse of buildings.
Now we have a plan for growth to complement our land use plans.
25,000 - up to nearly 39,000 - jobs fit into our existing plans. 4-6 million square feet of planned development allows ample room for Amazon without necessitating displacement of existing businesses.
We know that Amazon will have an impact on housing, transportation and schools. I am confident that we can manage those impacts.
I believe that the impact on housing in our community will be limited, because most of Amazon’s employees will either already live here, or will choose to live elsewhere in our region. And, we know that our region has great absorptive capacity. That said, we must respond when displacement pressures occur, grow the housing supply to meet expected demand, and make housing more affordable for lower and middle income families.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is devoting significant resources to fund our transportation objectives. By increasing access to rail and extending premium bus transit, we can move many more people without increasing congestion. Additionally, it will be easier for people to use active transportation (e.g. walking and biking) throughout the area including via a new bridge to the airport. The investments that are being funded by the Commonwealth will help Metro—which has significant capacity to carry many more riders to Pentagon City and Crystal City. Amazon will be a partner in encouraging transit, and that will be good for our community and the region.
We don't expect that Amazon will lead to large numbers of students in our schools overall, but may increase enrollment in areas close to the Richmond Highway corridor requiring new, creative approaches to solve capacity challenges.
While much of our engagement has focused on addressing potential negative impacts, it’s important to understand why incentives for HQ2 are worth it.
The relatively modest incentives the County is providing were offered to create the conditions for all Arlingtonians to thrive. Net revenues from this project will ease the pressure of tight budgets, where insufficient resources leave worthwhile efforts inadequately addressed.
New revenues generated by this project will help us combat displacement. We will begin soon to explore new tools to preserve housing that moderate-income earners can afford, and to encourage the creation of housing to meet the needs of our diverse community.
Temporary jobs, I expect, will employ high-road strategies to provide safe, dignified, family-sustaining work, and the permanent workforce will provide pathways for experts in tech, and a host of other corporate functions. Our educated workforce may find these jobs an opportunity for career advancement and security, and we must prepare as many Arlingtonians as are interested to land those jobs.
With all these workers comes demand for restaurants, retail and services that can provide new opportunities for the entrepreneurial among us.
The Commonwealth is investing up to $750 million in Amazon. It is not unreasonable that Arlington contribute as well. Yet, I’m proud that our incentive identifies a direct area of potential growth in revenue generated by Amazon, and agrees to pay the company a modest increment of that growth, only if it materializes, and only if Amazon builds the specified square footage and fills it with workers.
And, I should note that the incentive when calculated as a cost per square foot occupied is - by far - the most cost-effective incentive we have ever negotiated, and the return on investment, at nearly 14:1, is nearly 3 times better than the average of previous deals.
Toward a more inclusive Arlington
Earlier this year, we launched “Housing Arlington” – an umbrella initiative to create more housing affordable to lower and middle income households by using land use and financial tools and creating effective partnerships with the non-profit and for-profit sectors and across the region.
Our local efforts will be supported by a regional effort I have helped initiate that commits jurisdictions in the national capital region to working cooperatively to achieve three key housing affordability objectives:
1. Address structural unaffordability by encouraging housing supply that exceeds the demand that comes from population growth;
2. Leverage transit and locate at least 75% of new housing near premium transit so that we don’t increase congestion; and
3. Target 75% of new housing units to be affordable to lower and middle income earners emphasizing strategies that don’t rely on public subsidy.
Enhancing the quality of life for current and future Arlingtonians
Enhancing the quality of life for Arlingtonians, while welcoming others as our region continues to grow, and while being resilient in the face of disruptions caused by changes in our climate requires a comprehensive approach to sustainability.
Arlington still has capacity in our areas planned for growth – the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, the Richmond Highway corridor and Columbia Pike. In these areas, through redevelopment, we are decreasing impervious surfaces, planting to sustain our tree canopy, managing stormwater runoff, achieving high standards for energy efficiency, and encouraging density and a mix of uses that promote walkable/bikeable neighborhoods and the efficiency of transit.
The Lee Highway corridor provides an opportunity, on a smaller scale, to plan for these beneficial outcomes. Additionally, single family home redevelopment has been the most significant contributor to the increase in impervious surfaces in Arlington. We must study if flexibility in our zoning ordinance can accommodate the diversity of housing needs in our community while occupying footprints that makes us more environmentally resilient.
On September 21, 2019, Arlington adopted an update to our Community Energy Plan with the ambitious, yet achievable, goals of powering County facilities with renewable energy by 2025, our entire county by 2035 and becoming a carbon-neutral community by 2050! This plan is bold, because nothing less than a bold response from every community across this nation and across the globe is essential to address the dire threat posed to our planet by climate change. Arlington’s updated Community Energy Plan is based on the latest climate science and views energy decisions through the lenses of energy security, economic competitiveness, environmental commitment and equity. It will maintain Arlington County’s position as a leader in America on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In recent years, Arlingtonians have withstood extreme weather events like massive snowfall, a derecho and recurrent flooding. As we expect these unusual events to become more common, Arlington must pursue infrastructure investments, encourage building standards and provide our community with needed educational resources to become more resilient.