Getting to Know Jim Whittaker
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Getting to Know Jim Whittaker

When did you become executive director of the Columbia Pike

Revitalization Organization?

I just started in July. It has been a fun and educational first three weeks.

What was your position prior to becoming executive director?

I was vice president at SRA International, a 5,000-person information technology services company based here in Northern Virginia. In my role I led a number of large contracts, served as a strategic consultant to a number of federal and local customers, and was involved in marketing and business development.

How long have you been involved with the organization?

My formal involvement with CPRO has just now begun, but I have known about the organization for years, and have always supported its mission. In 2003, while serving as chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce I recruited Tim Lynch, CPRO's executive director at the time, to join the Chamber's Board of Directors.

What do you hope to accomplish as executive director?

I hope to help the community realize its vision for a revitalized Columbia Pike. That means creating a vibrant urban place where people want to live, work and play. It means attracting development that brings new housing, new jobs and new services to the community, while at the same time maintaining what's best about today's Pike. A great deal of time and effort has gone into planning for this future. It's time to make it happen.

Describe the basic goals of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

Our goals are to foster the kind of revitalization that I've described. But we can't make it happen by ourselves. Our job is to bring stakeholders together to help make it happen. And, there are many different interests to balance — the local residents, the business community, property owners, developers and others. So, we serve as a facilitator, and seek solutions that achieve the best outcome for the community at large. We also lead various community-building activities. For example, we bring the presidents of the local neighborhood associations together, we sponsor the farmer's market on Sundays, and our annual Blues Fest is a big hit ...

How long has the organization been in existence?

CPRO was created in 1986 — so we need to plan a 20th anniversary celebration.

The county board is moving forward with plans for a streetcar system along Columbia Pike; do you support this proposal?

Absolutely! Modern streetcars have been a huge success in other cities, with Portland, Ore., being an excellent example. They are efficient mechanisms for moving large numbers of people up and down corridors such as Columbia Pike, and they do so in an environmentally sensitive way. Plus, they contribute to the urban village feel, and can become attractions in their own right.

Can you explain Columbia Pike's innovative form-based code?

The form-based code is a fairly detailed framework for revitalizing the Pike. It basically says what kinds of things you can build, and where you can build them. It was developed through a highly participatory process involving hundreds of people over the course of several years. It represents a vision of what Columbia Pike can be. And since so many details have been worked out in advance, if a planned development follows the code, it can be approved more quickly than through the normal site-plan process.

Some Columbia Pike residents have been discouraged by the lack of progress on form-based code projects, why do you think construction work has started on so few of these projects?

A big issue is the recent and dramatic increase in construction costs. And, the cool-down in the housing market is an issue. So, broad economic forces are a factor making some projects financially infeasible. Plus, I think there are some issues with the form-based code that need to be worked out.

It may suggest some things that were not intended, and in creating the code the planners could not anticipate all potential needs. So, some projects have been held up. My hope is that we can resolve these issues, and start gaining more benefit from all the work and great ideas that are reflected in the code.

What are other key steps the county needs to take to spur development along the Pike?

The county is doing a good job of improving the streetscapes along the Pike, and undergrounding utilities. That work needs to continue, along with pursuing the streetcar initiative. Plus, anything the county can do in the near term to help us get some attractive new developments started will help create the kind of momentum we need to achieve the kinds of revitalization people want.

What do you think the Pike will look like in 10 years?

I think it will be more achitecturally interesting, and more pedestrian-oriented. There will be more shops and cafes, and some nice open, public spaces. It will retain the unique small business and ethnic diversity we like today. It will include new market rate and affordable housing units. It will be somewhat more dense, but in a way that respects the surrounding neighborhoods. It will be the kind of place you want to go to, not just pass-through.

How will the Pike differ from the Rosslyn-Ballston metro corridor?

We are not trying to create another Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. We won't have Metro. Developments on the Pike will not be as big or as tall. It will be a different kind of main street, one that is right for South Arlington. I'm excited to have the opportunity to help make it happen.