Community leaders in north Arlington are hoping to achieve a new vision for Lee Highway. If vision becomes reality, significant stretches of the largest commercial highway between I-66 and the Potomac River will become a walkable urban main street.

An illustrative concept for part of Lee Highway. Image from Arlington County.

Lee Highway is the main commercial road through north Arlington. Unlike other parts of Arlington, it’s still mostly a car-oriented, suburban-style place. But it’s so close to the region’s core that development pressure is mounting, and rather than let that happen haphazardly, the community wants a plan.

That makes a lot of sense, so the community worked with an internationally recognized consultant team led by Dover Kohl and Partners to provide their perspective on what the vision for Lee Highway should be. They quickly discovered that most Lee Highway residents seem to want the kind of walkable, urban amenities that much of the rest of Arlington enjoys.

Now the draft vision is online, and it clearly reflects that theme. If the vision becomes reality, Lee Highway will see a string of neighborhood centers between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, along with new transportation options, better public spaces, and more.

What’s in the vision

A series of unique neighborhoods will emerge where there are large commercial nodes today. Rather than an extended strip of retail land as exists today, Lee Highway will become a collection of distinct, walkable, mixed use neighborhood centers, surrounding the corners where other major roads intersect Lee Highway.

Each new node will have a carefully planned, unique scale and character. Some will be small village centers, others will be comparatively dense.

Proposed nodes showing higher and lower densities. Image from Arlington.

The biggest neighborhood centers would be where Lee Highway crosses Spout Run Parkway, and at Glebe Road.

The vision assumes bus and bike improvements along Lee Highway, potentially including bus lanes, but it doesn’t include bigger transit investments like a new Metro line.

Thus, even the densest proposed neighborhood centers are less intense than what surrounds Arlington’s Metro stations.

The popular Lee Heights shopping center in Waverly Hills is one place there’s a hint of walkability already. This vision would preserve the best parts of the existing shopping center and add development nearby to make it a strong center.

Illustrative concept for Lee Heights shopping center, before and after. Image from Arlington.

Overall, the vision hopes to transform Lee Highway into more than just a through road, into a place for people and community.

It will preserve and create more affordable housing, help protect existing businesses, and provide new community gathering spaces, complete streets, and better streetscapes. There will be new parks and open spaces, and low-cost, temporary pop up parks and parklets. 

Currently Arlington has a lot of high-rise apartments and detached single-family homes, but not much in the middle. The Lee Highway vision will focus on adding more of those “missing middle” housing types. Rowhouses, stacked flats, and small-scale apartment buildings will dot the corridor and bring new life to areas that are now strictly commercial.

Organizational efforts such as a unified network of Lee Highway businesses will foster the health of existing local businesses, while welcoming the new shops gravitating to the new neighborhood centers. 

Affordable housing will increase. Image from Arlington.

What happens next

You can view the full draft vision online, and provide comments up until March 31.

After that, community groups will look over the comments and make changes this spring, then the Arlington County Board will review it in May.

But even then, this community-based vision is aspirational. It won’t have the force of Arlington County law behind it, at least not yet. Nor are the proposals in the vision ready for construction. For now, it’s food for thought to stir the imagination, and provide the framework for more formal county plans and studies that will come later.

Kellie Brown is an Associate Planner in the Arlington County Planning Division. She has been active in the Lee Highway civic engagement effort and lives in Lyon Park. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.