Shifting Boundaries

Shifting Boundaries

Navy Annex land exchange includes straightening Columbia Pike.

— A land exchange between Arlington County and Arlington National Cemetery could lead to a new historic memorial in Arlington. After nearly 15 years of negotiations, through several different County Boards and Arlington Cemetery management, on Aug. 14, Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz announced that all parties had agreed to a plan to adjust the border between Arlington County and Arlington National Cemetery.

The Navy Annex building was torn down in 2013, but the portion of the cemetery in that area has colloquially retained its name. Currently, the area is broken into three parcels: a 20-acre piece, a 12-acre piece, and a 4-acre piece. They’re divided by a bend in the Columbia Pike that cuts through the center of area. With the new agreement, however, the bend in Columbia Pike will be straightened out, uniting the cemetery into one continuous 38-acre plot.

Jennifer Lynch, public affairs officer at Arlington National Cemetery, said that the current divided status of the area makes much of the property unsuitable for internment. Bringing that land into one continuous property, Lynch said, will help allow Arlington Cemetery to extend its burials until 2050.

“We want to work with all parties so that everyone gets what they want,” said Lynch. “We need the most burial space we can with appropriate land use.”

Brian Stout, federal liaison for the Arlington County Manager’s office, said the exchange also fits in with the county’s plans for Columbia Pike.

“We are making significant investments in the Columbia Pike corridor,” said Stout. “We have a streetscape and roadway improvement plan in that area. Being a geographically small county, we are trying to maximize use of public land.”

The exchange gives Arlington County a 7.3 acre parcel south of Columbia Pike. It’s a small parcel compared to the cemetery’s 38-parcel plot, but it comes with a lot of history. The site was originally the location of Freedman’s Village, a self-sufficient community of 1,100 former-slaves built in 1862. The town overcame adversity and assaults from white neighbors to become a thriving town before it was torn down in 1900 to make way for a development. Today, all that remains of the town are a few simple graves and a plaque.

“The park service has an exhibit at the Arlington House [on the village], but we’ve been looking for some way to acknowledge and celebrate that history,” said Stout.

According to Stout, once Freedman’s Village was torn down, many of the former residents travelled down Columbia Pike and re-settled. No plans for the site have been approved, and Stout says every concept would still need to go through the full planning process. The Freedman’s Village memorial is one of several ideas being considered, alongside an Arlington Heritage Center that tells the history of the county.

Some questions remain about federal funding. In the CIP budget, Stout says Arlington County already set aside $10 million in construction funds to realign Columbia Pike. Other costs, like tearing down the existing roadway and an interchange modification, are paid by federal funds to Arlington Cemetery and the U.S. Army. The $30 million interchange modification, Stout noted, is approved in a House bill but not the Senate appropriations bill, and will have to be settled when the House gets back into session.