A year before completing its purchase of the 6.1-acre Buck property on N. Quincy Street, Arlington County is beginning to explore options for how this and other sites may be used to help meet critical County and Schools facility needs. The County has until November 20, 2017 to exercise an option to purchase the property.
“We rarely have the chance to acquire a piece of property of this size in north Arlington,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “It is even more unusual for most of that property to be zoned for light industrial use. The County and Schools have critical needs for facilities, and we will be working with our community to make some tough decisions in the coming months.”
When the County optioned to purchase the Buck property in May 2015, Schwartz noted, “we said it would be appropriate for many of the needs that the Community Facilities Study identified – including bus and other storage, Schools facilities or other uses. That is why we are beginning the conversation with the County Board, the School Board, and the community now about the future of this property and of other public lands.” The Community Facilities study was a broad public initiative to identify a framework for making facilities decisions.
Options presented at Joint County-APS work session
At an Oct. 1 joint County-Arlington Public Schools work session, staff detailed the facilities needs facing the County and Schools over the next 10 years, including “back of the house” functions such as fire stations, bus maintenance, storage facilities, as well as open space, and presented options for how various pieces of property available to the County might be used to help meet those needs. Staff made no recommendations for any specific function at any of the sites and no decisions have been made.
“The County must build on the work of the Community Facilities process to identify appropriate places to put facilities in order to keep our community safe, to provide essential services and to allow reasonable growth and economic development,” Schwartz said. “Our ability to provide essential services is only as good as the facilities we have to support them. As our population continues to grow, our services will either deteriorate or cost the taxpayer more without adequate support facilities. We have to make sure that fire or police reach your residence in a timely manner, that we clear the snow from your streets and respond effectively to emergencies of all kinds. .”
The Buck property is one piece of the land use puzzle facing the County. Located across the street from Washington-Lee High School, the site, zoned for light industrial and commercial uses, contains two warehouses and two buildings used as offices. The County approved an option agreement with owner Bill Buck and his family’s three limited liability corporations in May 2015, to pay $30 million for the property in installments. The agreement gives the County until November 20, 2017 to exercise its option to purchase.
Staff presented several ideas for temporary and permanent uses of the site at the Oct. 1 work session: including:
- Material staging (temporary)
- Washington-Lee High School overflow parking (temporary)
- Relocated APS bus parking/dispatch/fueling/minor service
- Fire and police reserve vehicle storage
- APS office use
- Office of Emergency Management /Emergency Operations Center permanent facility
The work session was another installment in the County’s ongoing conversation with the community not only about the Buck property, but about all the County’s facility needs and how the County can cost-effectively acquire the land necessary to support growing service needs in the face of a dwindling supply of appropriately zoned land.
Other parcels discussed at work session
The work session also addressed possible uses for the County-owned parcels at 26th St N/Old Dominion Drive and the Virginia Hospital (VHC) property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Rd. The County has the option to obtain the Carlin Springs site as partial compensation for the sale of the Edison site adjacent to the hospital on N. George Mason Drive. Opportunities for possible County uses at these sites also were presented, several of which duplicated the possible uses at the Buck site.
- 26th/OD: Increased salt storage, north side snow services shift change, OEM/EOC, and material staging and storage;
- S Carlin Springs Rd: Police and Fire vehicles/logistics, material staging and storage, OEM/EOC, and police impound lot.
At the end of its presentation, staff listed next steps for the County and APS as identifying APS needs, conducting a robust community process and seeking changes, if necessary, to the County’s General Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
“In each and every discussion we have with the community on the use of public lands, we explore how we can best mitigate the impacts of land use decisions on neighborhoods and respect the adjoining properties, while still meeting the needs of our entire community,” Schwartz said. “That is what we will do as we continue the conversation on facilities.”
Nov. 1 joint work session
The next joint work session of the County and Schools boards on Community Facilities is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1 in the County Board Meeting Room, on the third floor of Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. The two boards will discuss a charter for a new Joint Facilities Advisory Commission and the recommendations of the Community Facilities Study. The new commission would serve as an advisory body appointed jointly by the County Board and the School Board. It would provide input to the boards on capital facilities needs assessment and capital improvement plans for both the County and Schools.
The meeting will be broadcast on the County’s cable channel, Comcast 25 and 74 and Verizon FiOS 39 and 40. It also will be live-streamed on the County website. The two boards will discuss the recommendations of the Community Facilities Study final report, staff responses to those recommendations and input from the community.