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County recognized for Smart Growth

EPA cites Wilson/Clarendon corridor for “Overall Excellence”

While the Washington area has received plenty of attention from the Environmental Protection Agency, not much of it has been favorable.

The EPA has been at the center of a fight to force the region to improve their air quality, a struggle between regional governments and the Sierra Club.

Last week, however, all three came together to recognize something that goes right. Officials for the EPA announced Monday, Nov. 18 that Arlington was one of four jurisdictions to receive the first National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, recognizing Arlington as a model of environmentally-friendly growth.

It comes at an important time, according to Elise Annunziata, Senior Regional Representative of the Sierra Club. “This is great news, and obviously the Sierra Club congratulates Arlington County,” she said.

It’s a recognition that was a long time coming, said Chris Zimmerman, chair of both the county board and the Metro board. “It’s something we’ve been working on for 25 years or so,” he said. Smart growth efforts have improved life throughout Arlington, he said.

EPA JUDGES LOOKED at the performance of cities, counties and state governments around the country in four categories: Community Outreach and Education, Policies and Regulations, Built Projects and Overall Excellence.

Arlington took the honors for Overall Excellence, for the creation of “dense, mixed-use development” and effective mass transit along the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor.

That development corridor, along Wilson and Clarendon boulevards, and the Crystal City corridor both sit atop the orange and blue Metro lines, making up 7 percent of Arlington’s land area, but 46 percent of the tax base, Zimmerman said.

That leaves more land in the rest of the county for uncongested single-family residential areas, more funds for public schools and the lowest tax burden in northern Virginia, he said. The award honors not only the efforts of the current government, but also “the work done by an earlier generation,” Zimmerman said.

Bob Brosnan, the county’s current Planning Director, is a member of both generations. Brosnan has been working as a professional planner in Arlington for 22 years. The award takes on a whole new meaning, he said, when considering how new a term “Smart Growth” really is.

“We set out over 30 years ago to do what everybody now is recognizing as smart growth,” he said. “That’s the best part of the recognition: to realize you’ve been out in front of everybody.”

BEING IN FRONT means setting an example for other governments, Zimmerman said. “It results in a model that perhaps others can learn from.”

EPA officials agree that Arlington’s development strategy can be used in other places; one of the criteria for the award was the ability to replicate the smart growth practices in other places. Annunziata said the Sierra Club also holds up the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor as “a model for smart growth.”

Development strategies are unlikely to change much in the future, according to Brosnan. The key to continued improvement lies in applying the successful strategies to other projects. The next major initiative for the Planning Commission, he said, will be to improve affordable housing, an area where the county has received more criticism than recognition.

Zimmerman said the smart growth principals employed in the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor will apply on a smaller scale to Columbia Pike revitalization efforts.

Other Smart Growth Award winners were the Planning Department of Breckenridge, Colo.; the City County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, Calif.; and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.