Deep in the bowels of Courthouse Plaza, Arlington County staff have been toiling for many years to write Arlington’s Land Acquisition and Preservation Policy. Like its real-world counterpart, however, this “LAPP dance” may be just a big tease--unless the community acts soon.
While activists debate the finer points of park policy (such as whether the LAPP should include a goal of keeping a constant people-to-parkland ratio), the important drama is taking place in another part of the same building where the Capital Improvement Program Plan is being discussed. These decisions will impact the capital needs of our community over a ten-year period. Accordingly, the CIP “is one of the most significant planning processes for Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools.” Yet, it remains largely in the shadow of the more well-known annual budget process. But all that changes this time each year when the CIP makes its appearance for public comment. And that is where people might make a difference.
The county manager’s proposed CIP would allocate only $1 million for land acquisition from this year’s park bond. We all know that there is not much land you can buy in Arlington with that amount of capital. In contrast, the county manager projects $3 million in each of the next four biennial bond cycles for land acquisition. Of course, land is as cheap as it has been in years. So, the time to buy land is now, not eight years from now.
It makes sense to allocate at least $3 million to land acquisition in this year’s bond so that a steady flow of constant dollars is available to fund parkland acquisition in Arlington County for years to come. Moreover, this amount can be “stretched” by including the purchase of partial interests in land, such as conservation easements and trail access.
On Tuesday evening, June 26, there will be a public hearing before the Arlington County Board on this year’s Capital Improvement Plan. People can sign up on-line or at the door. If you value Arlington’s parks and open spaces, please consider adding your voice. Otherwise, adoption of the Land Acquisition and Preservation Policy will be all strategy and no action. And that is worse than no plan at all.
Mike Nardolilli serves as President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, President of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. His column "The Arlington Green" runs every week in the Mercury.