The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, adopted by County Board on July 23, claiming that it will save 4,500 affordable housing units. What the Coalition doesn’t tell you is that there are currently 7,300 affordable units on the Pike right now. So implementation of the plan will mean the loss of about 2,800 affordable units right off the bat.
Of the projected 4,500 affordable units on the Pike, 1,200 will be created by providing developers with on site bonus density. Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) and significant financial incentives from the county will be needed to preserve the rest. According to the County Manager, the subsidy needed to preserve the remaining 3,300 units would approximate $297 million over the 30 year life of the plan.
Obviously the County can’t afford to do this. So it wants to give developers additional bonus density in exchange for conserving existing units in the Fillmore Gardens and Barcroft apartment complexes. Using TDRs, developers would transfer their bonus density from conserved sites to other neighborhoods along the Pike. Specifically the plan proposes the construction of massive residential towers off the Pike near the Army Navy Golf Course. The net result will be an increase in the number of rental units along the Pike from 9,000 today to 23,000 in 2040, 15,000 of which will be market rate.
Whereas 80 percent of the apartments on the Pike are affordable today, only 35 percent will be affordable once the Pike is redeveloped. The massive influx of high income renters into the county and corresponding outflow of low income renters is a phenomenon known as gentrification. A concept that is well documented in planning literature, it is somehow missing from the Coalition’s lexicon. Instead the Coalition has coined a euphemism for gentrification called “Smart Growth”.
I hate sluburbia myself, but I fail to see how it can be ended by recycling the poor out and the yuppies in. What’s needed is a comprehensive national policy to constrain population growth. Until the federal government develops the will to do this, Arlington needs to rethink the meaning of Smart Growth.