In 2005, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommended transferring thousands of defense jobs out of Crystal City. Accordingly, in 2006, the Arlington County Board established a task force to “create a vision for the future development of Crystal City.” They produced, and in December 2008 the County Board adopted, a vision and framework.
Adjacent to Crystal City are two residential communities: Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands. These neighborhoods comprise a relatively small area bordered by Interstate 395 on the north and west sides, Crystal City on the east, and Four Mile Run and Alexandria on the south. Both the Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations serve the area, which shares many facilities with Crystal City. Thus, although Jefferson Davis Highway creates a major physical barrier between the Aurora Highlands neighborhood and Crystal City, the two areas are closely linked.
View Arlington Ridge / Aurora Highlands in a larger map
On May 14th, the Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA) hosted a meeting to update residents on the plan. The notice of this meeting appeared to frame the redevelopment project as placing the neighborhoods at grave risk. The notice expressed concerns relating to increasing density and the associated impacts on traffic, parking, transit, and other neighborhood services, as well as increasing building heights.
The crowd—as many as 100 over the course of the evening—was noticeably skeptical as Anthony Fusarelli, the County’s project staff made his presentation, and Richard Best discussed transit. The mood became downright ugly, though, by the end of the evening. Feelings of past betrayal amongst the long-time residents of the Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands neighborhoods were vivid as audience members frequently referenced the Pentagon City planning process with contempt. There is clearly history between neighborhood residents and the County Board that does not engender trust.
I came to the meeting as a soon-to-be new resident with no baggage and an interest in “new urbanism.” I liked what I had seen of the Crystal City vision plan on paper, and I was surprised by the strong concerns voiced by many of the resdients who attended the meeting. Nonetheless, I was equally surprised that Mr. Fusarelli and Mr. Best were not better prepared to sell the benefits of a redeveloped Crystal City to the people that live closest. They did a great job of explaining the nuts and bolts of the plan, and Mr. Fusarelli was very responsive to questions, but the County’s leadership has not equipped them with the tools necessary to explain the potential benefits to the neighboring communities.
In an open letter, the President of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA) wrote to County Board members,
There is no acknowledgement of the compounding impact of the new density coming from Crystal City and Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, nor transient traffic increases that will pass through on Route 1 and Glebe and around us on 395. All this traffic will attempt to cut through our large neighborhood area. And the Crystal City Plan doesn’t seem to acknowledge the true impacts to our neighborhood area. ...
Where is the comprehensive plan that talks about growth east of 395 as a whole, not these artificial boundaries that only exist on paper. ... [The presentation] just stoked our fears more about what else we will lose (ex: library and community center). This is now yet another set of senior staff saying publicly what they feel the long term view is, which seems to diminish our neighborhood.
While one may not agree with the overall tenor of these comments, they raise a good point about viewing projects like this from the perspective of the wider community rather than within specific neighborhood boundaries. Unfortunately, many residents of the Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge neighborhoods are approaching this process from the same, limited perspective the AHCA President was criticizing. They don’t appear to see Crystal City as part of “their” community, and they view the redevelopment of Crystal City as something that will negatively affect “their” neighborhood. There appears to be great difficulty with defining the term “community” for the purpose of determining costs, benefits and appropriate representation when discussing specific area plans such as the Crystal City Vision Plan.
The proposed redevelopment of Crystal City brings with it great possibilities. Crystal City is not presently an inviting place and it is disconnected from its neighbors. It is one of the primary economic generators in Arlington County and has the potential to be a great urban place, so close to central Washington. Yet it remains a relic of a failed model for urban development. Revisioning Crystal City brings an opportunity to enhance the surrounding areas by developing a multi-modal, traditional above-ground, pedestrian-friendly community with new services and amenities available to all of south Arlington.
Rather than fighting Crystal City’s redevelopment, neighboring residents should fight to ensure that Crystal City’s redevelopment offers something for everyone, including the surrounding neighborhoods. Rather than assume it will take resources away from the existing community, they must work to ensure that it provides new resources as it also provides new sources of revenue for the County.
The Long Range Planning Committee of the County Planning Commission will discuss the first three chapters of the Crystal City Vision Plan on June 9, 7:30 in the Navy League Building, 2300 Wilson Blvd, 1st floor conference room. Many nearby residents will attend, and if you live in the area or are interested in the Crystal City redevelopment process, so should you. More details of the plan, and the meeting announcement, are at plancrystalcity.com.