Covered in this FAQ
Plan Langston Boulevard
WHY DOES ARLINGTON COUNTY WANT A SYSTEMATIC PLAN AND POTENTIAL GLUP CHANGES FOR HOW LANGSTON BOULEVARD COULD BE DEVELOPED?
Langston Boulevard is an established yet aging corridor. Some of the commercial and residential buildings date to the 1960s and earlier and are challenging and expensive to renovate. Arlington County wants to use redevelopment opportunities along Langston Boulevard to help fulfill some of its goals such as affordable housing, while maximizing revenue to the County. The County’s project is called Plan Langston Boulevard (PLB)
WHAT DOES "LANGSTON BOULEVARD REDEVELOPMENT" IN THE COUNTY'S PLANS INCLUDE?
Studies sponsored by Arlington County (2015) have used “all land within ¼ mile of the center line of Lee Highway [now Langston Boulevard] to the north and south” for planning purposes In its scope of work in 2017, the County Board approved planning for Langston Boulevard itself and an area ¼ mile on either side of the roadway. However, decisions have not yet been made about which lots actually might be included.
WON’T LANGSTON BOULEVARD GET “DEVELOPED” ANYWAY, EVEN WITHOUT THE COUNTY’S PROCESS REGARDING GLUP AND ZONING CHANGES?
Development already is underway on Langston Boulevard - Bob and Edith’s Diner, the Children’s School, the Avalon building and Cube Smart are just a few examples. Commercial property owners have certain property rights and can proceed with so-called “by-right” development. But development is piecemeal because there is no overall plan that would encourage such things as buffering and landscaping between commercial and residential areas. Without an overall plan, there is little incentive to involve neighbors in how a project will look or operate. Of course the devil’s in the details, which is one reason citizens must pay attention every step of the way to ensure the best decisions.
Langston Boulevard Alliance
WHAT IS THE LANGSTON BOULEVARD ALLIANCE (LBA)? I HAVE HEARD IT’S BIG PROPERTY OWNERS AND DEVELOPERS WHO HAVE A VESTED INTEREST IN DECISIONS TURNING OUT THEIR WAY.
PLB process, the Langston Boulevard Alliance (LBA), a citizen-based, non-profit organization, was actively engaging with residents and businesses to create a vision and Guiding Principles for what Langston Boulevard should provide and look like. More recently, LBA has been closely analyzing the County’s proposals for different land uses along Langston Boulevard.
A volunteer LBA Board includes residents, civic leaders and business owners. On any LBA Board vote that financially might directly affect a Board member, that individual is required by Board bylaws to recuse himself. LBA was founded in 2013 to promote positive change on Langston Boulevard (then Lee Hwy.) as it redevelops. It became a formal non-profit in 2016. The organization grew out of breakfast meetings among more than a dozen leaders of civic associations along the corridor.
LBA has led the way in communication with citizens and businesses about Langston Boulevard’s future. LBA has actively assessed the County’s proposals on Plan Langston Boulevard, including communication and outreach to residents through walking tours, meeting with civic associations and individuals, businesses, and numerous electronic interactions and newsletters. LBA has received funding from Arlington County, enabling public engagement, community events and support for small businesses.
HOW IS LBA ADDRESSING OBSTACLES TO REDEVELOPING LANGSTON BOULEVARD?
Langston Boulevard is a busy roadway with significant traffic, trucks, noise and movement along five miles. It is a complex planning task because it contains such a mix of commercial buildings, apartments, condos, retail and individual homes. Some parcels of land provide opportunity, but elsewhere, redevelopment is challenging because of the shallow depth and small size of parcels. Assembling several parcels for one redevelopment is often difficult because they have different owners or owners have different levels of interest.
Commercial areas that front Lee Highway often abut residential areas in back, so those residential property owners and civic associations have concerns about the effects of any changes, particularly taller buildings, additional traffic, more cut-through traffic or anything that could negatively affect a neighborhood’s residential feel.
Most people do not take the time to become expert in zoning and land use requirements. By default, that expertise becomes the province of developers, attorneys, staff, special interest groups and activists. Educating and involving the community about the implications of potential land use changes is vital, which is why LBA and its communication is so important to a successful outcome for our community.
GLUP and Rezoning
WHAT IS THE GLUP? IF THE COUNTY CHANGES THE GLUP, AND THEN REZONING HAPPENS, WHAT COULD THAT MEAN FOR ME?
GLUP is a shorthand way of saying the General Land Use Plan. The GLUP is policy guidance about residential and commercial development. You can see this broad guidance in a color-coded map and legend that designate general uses and types of development, such as “low density.” “Zoning” is much more specific, such as specific heights and density of buildings, or required setbacks of one building from its neighbors.
Changing the GLUP along Langston Boulevard could create more mixed-use development, such as commercial and residential in the same building. It might allow more flexibility about what types of retail could be allowed. It also could bring more people and more traffic, which is why it is important to give increased attention to livability, transportation and safety improvements, and stormwater control measures in advance.
The County Board can initiate a process for changing the GLUP on its own or by request of a property owner. The GLUP can only be changed by a vote of the County Board. (The GLUP is one of 11 components of Arlington County’s Comprehensive Plan.) Even if the GLUP is changed, it is up to property owners to decide what, if anything, to do with their property. All property owners already can seek a GLUP change even without the Langston Boulevard process.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE GLUP AND “REZONING”?
While the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) is general policy guidance, zoning is more specific. Zoning refers to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance and accompanying map that set out how every property can be built upon and used. The Zoning Ordinance was enacted and amended over decades by votes of the County Board.
Zoning districts determine how a property owner can build on a property (such as height, width, depth, setbacks from nearby properties) and what uses are permitted (residential, commercial, etc.). Sometimes a property owner will want to redevelop a property in a way not permitted under the existing zoning district but otherwise could be allowed under the GLUP. The property owner could go through the process for changing or “rezoning” the property, although this can be time-consuming and costly. The ability to request a rezoning is already available to property owners, even without the Langston Boulevard process.
HOW DO I KNOW HOW MY HOUSE IS ZONED NOW?
You can easily look up your property address on Arlington County’s “property search” feature on its website. (Then under “general information” for a specific property, look under “Zoning.”) The County’s zoning map is also online. Hard copies of the zoning map are available at the Arlington County Public Library.
HOW DOES REZONING HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE?
All Arlington property owners have the ability under the Zoning Ordinance to seek a rezoning of their property (through a change in Land Classification that must be considered by the Planning Commission and approved by the County Board). Here is the typical way it occurs. A property owner will seek to develop his or her property more densely or for different uses than provided under the Zoning Ordinance, and will seek a zoning change. For the County Board to allow additional density, a commercial property owner, for instance, would have to provide various community benefits. The Site Plan process mandates community input, Planning Commission consideration and County Board approval.
IF THE COUNTY CHANGES THE GLUP FOR MY NEIGHBORHOOD, WILL MY REAL ESTATE ASSESSMENT(FOR REAL ESTATE TAXES) GO UP OR DOWN?
The County’s real estate assessment is based on the market value of a piece of real estate and the improvements (buildings) on it, as well as market values in a neighborhood. For the past few years, most properties in Arlington regardless of General Land Use Plan designation or zoning have increased in value, although not necessarily at the same rates. There is no guarantee that property values will continue to increase.
IF THE COUNTY CHANGES ZONING FOR R5 AND R6 RESIDENTIAL TO ALLOW DUPLEXES AND TRIPLEXES, WILL MY ASSESSMENT (FOR REAL ESTATE TAXES) GO UP OR DOWN?
The county’s real estate assessment is based on the market value of a piece of real estate and the improvements (buildings) on it, as well as market values in a neighborhood. Many Arlington neighborhoods zoned R5 and R6 already have duplexes and triplexes that predate the current Zoning Ordinance
I HEAR THE COUNTY STAFF SAYING, “YOUR PROPERTY WOULD NOT BE REZONED UNLESS YOU ASK FOR IT TO BE,” BUT THE COUNTY IS PROPOSING OTHER THINGS THAT COULD LOWER MY PROPERTY VALUES AND THAT WORRIES ME.
Understandably, what’s next door, across the street or in one’s neighborhood can be a plus or minus. It’s sometimes in the eye of the beholder. That’s why LBA keeps reaching out to hear what people think, and to share accurate information. LBA wants positive change along Langston Boulevard and the most well-informed decisions we can achieve, so we encourage you and you neighbors to stay involved.
WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN?
Eminent domain is the legal power of the government (federal, state, local and other) to compel the acquisition of private property for public purposes such as schools, roadways and parks. Under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, any such “taking” must be “for just compensation.” All counties in Virginia derive their powers of eminent domain from the Code of Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia and its entities such as the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), certain private utility companies, and railroads have been granted eminent domain powers under the Code of Virginia.
COULD THE COUNTY USE EMINENT DOMAIN TO TAKE MY HOUSE OR MY NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE FOR A ROAD, PARK, PLAZA, OR STORMWATER DRAIN?
It is within the power of the County Board to do so. The County Board can use eminent domain by voting for a documented public purpose under the Code of Virginia and with allocation of funds. To use eminent domain in a way that would enable a private development would require the County Board to document findings of a public purpose for doing so.
The County sometimes has chosen to avoid using eminent domain to acquire land for public purposes and instead negotiates a voluntary purchase with the property owners.
WHEN HAVE GOVERNING BODIES USED EMINENT DOMAIN IN ARLINGTON AND FOR
As an example, the Commonwealth of Virginia through VDOT has used eminent domain to build the Interstate highways through Arlington and to widen Lee Highway (now Langston Boulevard) from Cherrydale to Veitch Street, as well as to widen other VDOT-owned roads in Arlington. The federal government used eminent domain for Reagan National Airport and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Neighborhoods and Housing
WHAT HAS THE COUNTY PROPOSED FOR MY NEIGHBORHOOD SO FAR?
Arlington County illustrated its proposals with maps of Land Use Scenarios for each of the five broad areas along Langston Boulevard. See what’s proposed for your neighborhood:
More specific proposals should be available in the Preferred Concept Plan, which the County has promised by early 2022.
WILL THE FIVE INTERSECTIONS ON LANGSTON BOULEVARD THAT ARE BEING STUDIED ALL BE
TREATED THE SAME IN TERMS OF REDEVELOPMENT?
Each of the five intersections touches and influences our neighborhoods and LBA believes it is tremendously important to remember all neighborhoods’ uniqueness and needs. Redevelopment should purposefully add to our feeling of neighborhood and not detract from it.
For instance, neighborhoods along Langston Boulevard already are more family-oriented than Arlington as a whole. According to the Existing Conditions report (page 35), the area has an 8% higher share of families with children under 18 than the County as a whole, and a larger average household size than the County as a whole (2.32 vs. 2.09).
In general, the Plan Langston Boulevard scenarios advocate for taller buildings and greater density at the five major intersections. Building heights are intended to taper lower as redevelopment moves closer to neighborhood housing.
Among the five intersections, the County’s Land Use Scenarios show variation in height of buildings, such as greater height (three 15-story buildings) in Area 5 (North Highlands/Lyon Village) than in other areas. For each variation the County proposes, LBA believes the County should spell out a compelling rationale
The five intersections along Langston Boulevard also are places where key bus routes can bring more people to shop, eat, visit and play. As development takes place, LBA wants to ensure many types of workable transit options can optimize our enjoyment of new retail and housing options.
Ensuring a variety of housing types at all income levels is one of LBA’s Guiding Principles, and affordable housing is a priority of the County Board. Where and what kind of affordable housing is built will depend on funding, market conditions and public-private partnerships.
The Plan Langston Boulevard scenarios suggest green space and other public amenities that may be developed over time, but those will depend upon each development project. Once a comprehensive Langston Boulevard plan is in place, a compelling case can be made for significant public investment along the entire corridor —such as the County’s Capital Improvement Plan projects and bond funding for costly stormwater management.
WHY IS THE COUNTY THINKING OF AREA 5 AS THE PLACE FOR SUBSTANTIAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
The County believes that being closer to Metro could help make a case for locating substantial new affordable housing in Area 5, such as three 15-story buildings in North Highlands. (The Courthouse and Clarendon Metro stations are within walking distance of some of the North Highlands neighborhood.) Other neighborhoods along Langston Boulevard, such as Waverly Hills, have affordable housing now, and may have even more affordable housing later, but it would not be in buildings that are as tall as those the County envisions in North Highlands.
WHY DIDN’T THE COUNTY PROPOSE SPECIFIC CHANGES FOR EAST FALLS CHURCH (AREA 1)?
In 2011, the County Board approved results of a systematic planning effort in the East Falls Church neighborhood that designated which areas would have which types of development. So for Plan Langston Boulevard, County planners did not include Area 1 in as much detail as the other areas. LBA, however, has urged County staff to develop a process to re-look at certain elements of planning East Falls Church that could resonate with other Langston Boulevard decisions.
EARLIER I HEARD A LOT ABOUT “MISSING MIDDLE” HOUSING. WHAT HAPPENED?
“Missing Middle” relates to types of housing such as duplexes, triplexes and smaller scale low-rise residential buildings that are not single-family homes. The theory was that allowing such uses would enable more people to live in Arlington, and the County envisioned such housing in its Land Use Scenarios.
LBA, however, felt that the County was still in the process of doing the legwork on Missing Middle and residents could not yet give meaningful feedback on these forms of housing, their impact or location. LBA was concerned that the timing of the County’s work on Missing Middle did not synch with the Plan Langston Boulevard work. Therefore in August 2021, the LBA Board unanimously approved a position asking the County to detach Missing Middle from the County’s Plan Langston Boulevard proposals:
“While LBA’s Guiding Principles support providing a diversity of housing in type and sizes, the Missing Middle Study will ultimately provide the analysis of the forms, requirements, and regulation of two-family and/or low- scale multifamily residential. Because of this, we believe it is in the best interests of the community to conduct additional community outreach through that study. In the meantime, any properties considered for Missing Middle should be removed from the PLB. However, LBA recommends block-by-block study of the transition areas of single-family lots backing up to commercially zoned lots that might be critical to the realization of PLB. These areas should be analyzed for their purpose within a redevelopment, building form, height, green buffer, and community benefit potential.”
Impact of Changes on Langston Boulevard
HOW WILL THE COUNTY DETERMINE IF LANGSTON BOULEVARD CAN HANDLE THE TRAFFIC THAT MORE APARTMENTS, HOUSES AND PEOPLE WILL GENERATE? WHAT MIGHT GIVE ME CONFIDENCE THAT WORSE TRAFFIC AND SAFETY PROBLEMS WOULD NOT RESULT?
The County is planning to conduct a transportation analysis and will evaluate how the proposed land uses could improve traffic patterns and problems. This will build on the County’s earlier Existing Conditions report. The analysis should be available before the County Board adopts Plan Langston Boulevard (PLB).
Langston Boulevard is owned by VDOT, so changes to the road itself must be approved by VDOT. Still, PLB could kickstart public and private funding that could provide improved, safer streets. This might include designing streets for lower speeds that make everyone safer. For instance, you’re twice as likely to be killed by a driver going 30 mph as one going 20 mph. Already, LBA has supported Vision Zero, a County effort aimed at creating streets that are safer for walking and biking.
Over 25 years, we have seen that mixed-use, walkable places served by frequent and reliable transit reduce dependence on driving. Traffic counts have dropped in Arlington on busy corridors like Wilson Blvd. with its many Metro stations. LBA will continue to press the County to provide the transit service and safe streets that our residents need
HOW IS THE COUNTY ASSESSING PROPOSED GLUP AND ZONING CHANGES IN TERMS OF GREATER SAFETY AND TRAFFIC CONCERNS, AND INCREASED COSTS FOR THINGS SUCH AS SCHOOLS AND STORMWATER MITIGATION?
Arlington County is analyzing the potential impact through transportation and stormwater studies that should outline large-scale projects that would be needed. Plan Langston Boulevard (PLB) should begin to help solve problems like aging, inadequate stormwater infrastructure; large swaths of impervious parking lots; and accident-prone intersections, the most dangerous of which is the intersection of Langston Boulevard and Kirkwood/Spout Run (page 84 of Existing Conditions report).
Over the past decade, Langston Boulevard has not benefitted from any large, transformative transportation projects because an overall plan for the corridor does not yet exist. Langston Boulevard has largely been ignored during Capital Improvement Plan processes because it has no overall plan. The County’s PLB effort should act as a catalyst for major public investment, such as bond funding for costly stormwater treatment systems, and for private investment to help improve streetscapes and transportation. Redevelopment could and should greatly improve Arlington’s response to environmental challenges made worse by climate change. The stormwater treatment systems would need to be identified first, before funding and detailed planning for meaningful redevelopment.
HOW DOES ARLINGTON COUNTY FORECAST THE NUMBER OF NEW PEOPLE AND JOBS THAT A DEVELOPMENT WILL BRING?
Arlington’s forecasting is informed by Arlington’s General Land Use Plan (GLUP) and uses two primary sources:
County pipeline data on recently completed development projects, projects under construction, and approved projects. The types of developments—such as large or small apartments, or the square footage of commercial buildings—factor into these projections.
Development assumptions derived from parcels with anticipated growth from approved sector plans and small-area plans.
Arlington’s population and forecasting process, managed by CPHD (Community Planning, Housing and Development Dept.), forecasts population, number of households, housing units and employment. Arlington Public Schools (APS) does the forecasting for schools.
HOW DOES ARLINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS (APS) FORECAST THE NUMBER OF NEW STUDENTS THAT DEVELOPMENT WILL BRING? I AM CONCERNED THERE WON’T BE SPACE FOR ADDITIONAL STUDENTS FROM THESE NEW CONDO AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS.
The County will provide its population forecasts to APS based on Plan Langston Boulevard’s residential and population assumptions. APS will use those projections to help plan for student seats through the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan or through the rebalancing of seats across existing locations. While some schools are crowded now, others may be more or less so over time. Looking at residential development and student population projections over the long term is more constructive than a current look alone.
I’M WORRIED LANGSTON BOULEVARD WILL WIND UP LIKE BALLSTON OR CLARENDON. HOW CAN WE KEEP THAT FROM HAPPENING?
Langston Boulevard likely will not look like either Clarendon or Ballston. There are no Metro stops directly on Langston Boulevard except for East Falls Church. The lots along Langston Boulevard are generally more shallow than in Ballston (so less room to build extremely dense developments such as the many 15+-story buildings there).
It is true that the County’s proposals do include taller buildings than currently exist on Langston Boulevard, such as 7 stories in some places and 15 stories in others. When tall buildings are included in a development, some of the livability depends on the building’s scale and what is around it. Is the building set back so it is not looming over people as they walk and visit? Are the streets designed so people see trees and sky and not just hear traffic? Have traffic and safety concerns been effectively solved? LBA will be asking such questions about any dense development proposals.
WILL THE COUNTY ASSESS THE IMPACT OF CHANGES IN A PRELIMINARY WAY BEFORE THE COUNTY BOARD APPROVES ANY CHANGES IN THE GLUP FOR LANGSTON BOULEVARD?
LBA will press the County to use its upcoming Preferred Concept Plan to test the proposed land uses, particularly height and density. Factors such as the average mix of apartments, type of units, parking ratio, and proximity to Metro go into the models. LBA believes that results about impact must be known before the County Board discusses the Langston Boulevard plan.
I USE SOME OF THE SMALL BUSINESSES ON LANGSTON BOULEVARD. I WONDER ABOUT POSSIBLE NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON THEM, SUCH AS HIGHER RENTS, IF THE COUNTY’S PROPOSED REDEVELOPMENT IDEAS GO THROUGH.
LBA understands our community’s concerns about not wanting new development to force out current successful businesses. LBA has supported them by promoting “Shop Lee (Langston), Shop Local” and numerous events featuring small business. Still, shallow lots and the lack of available ground floor spaces already have limited the ability to add new businesses or expand current ones along Langston Boulevard. And small businesses are facing increasing costs in products, employees, and rent.
As LBA has worked with the businesses along Langston Boulevard, we learned that some longtime “legacy” businesses own their land, and some owners are ready to retire and are looking for the best offer. Some owners were concerned about lack of parking, or needed more customers or a larger space. Others worried about changes in trends, such as customers now looking for childcare, cooking classes or where to charge their electric car.
Over the next 30 years, careful development could bring fresh opportunities by increasing customers, providing residents with more choices, and providing more ground floor leasable space with adequate parking.