Erik Gutshall on Parks and Green Spaces in Arlington

Erik provided the following answers to the Arlington Parks Coalition Questionnaire:

Question 1. Given our County’s continuing dramatic population growth and already crowded parks and recreation resources, do you support an accelerated program of parkland acquisition, and if so, what steps, including any innovative tools, do you advocate to materially expand our parkland and recreation resources?

Specifically, do you support County Board adoption of the recent near unanimous Civic Federation resolution urging adoption of a simple parkland acquisition program, including acquisition of an average of three acres minimum of parkland per year over the next ten years?

Continued growth will increase demand on our parks, open space and natural resources. I see three primary ways we can acquire and preserve parkland, and also mitigate intensified use of our parks: 1) direct land acquisition according to a set of clear priorities; 2) create an “Open Space Fund”; 3) work to preserve, maintain and improve our open space – using what we have more effectively.

  1. I absolutely do support direct County acquisition of new land for parks. I support the intent of the Civic Federation resolution, to set aspirational goals for park land acquisition. However, given that opportunities for park land acquisition are unpredictable and episodic, the specific objectives of an on-going acquisition program should be clearly laid out in the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) or POPS, now being developed through an important public process. The new plan must include a land acquisition policy, one that was called for in the 2005 PSMP but never achieved. I know that many members of the Arlington Parks Coalition dedicated their time and effort to a citizen-led initiative to create a parkland and open space acquisition policy earlier this decade. I appreciate those efforts, and will work to ensure that POPS includes an aggressive land acquisition strategy. The park land acquisition program should be regularly publicly reviewed for needs, and subject to a biennial examination of necessary resource allocations through the CIP process. 
    Finally, I support an aggressive aspirational goal in the PSMP for a major expansion of green space in Arlington to eventually complete a green loop in Arlington that builds on the existing multi-purpose trails, creating a contiguous wildlife corridor circumnavigating the County and ideally within a 15 minute walk of every resident.
     
  2. Arlington should create a Countywide “Open Space Fund”. Here we could build upon the tool used in Crystal City, which is building up funding for the envisioned “Central Park.” As a Planning Commissioner, I voted for the Parks and Recreation Commission's (PRC) recommendation to create such a fund. (See PRC letter of March 31, 2016.) I support the PRC suggestion that the Open Space Fund would function like Arlington’s Tree Canopy Fund. Where our sector plans call for open space, and should a developer propose more density and less open space than the plan calls for, the County would require the developer to pay cash or provide a comparable open space in relatively close proximity. I strongly believe that parks and open space are fundamental to our quality of life and are key community benefits. As a County Board member, I would protect the open space we have as well as that called for in our plans.
     
  3.  We must take care of the parks and recreational amenities we already have. It is imperative that we make sure that intensity of use does not degrade a park or open space.There are ways to do this, and we have done it. Rocky Run Park, near Courthouse, is a good example of this approach. Rocky Run Park was an older park, with an aging playground, and areas to play basketball and soccer. Through significant community involvement, careful planning and creative design, a highly functional park with a wide range of uses was created in a densely populated urban corridor. There is something for everyone: trees, playgrounds, picnic tables, sports areas. The park is now a central focal point of the community and brings together people of all ages and interests. 
    Finally, I support the firm goal of no net loss of open space. While additional open spaces will be needed to keep pace with the growing population, we need to staunch the loss of existing land and ensure that we continue to have a base of publicly available, useable open space that serves both residents and workers.

Question 2. Between 1995 and 2008, funding for parkland acquisition per two-year park bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. But over the six years between 2008 and 2014, land acquisition bond funding totaled only $3.0 million. Even with an additional $5.47 million for parkland acquisition through additional budget allocations, the total funds available for parkland acquisition during this six year period was only $8.47 million. Given the compelling need for additional parkland and the dramatic increase in the cost of land in Arlington, do you support including at least $8 million in parkland acquisition monies in the two-year, November 2016 Park Bond measure?

Please describe any new and innovative funding mechanisms that you advocate to materially expand our parkland and recreation resources.

I support:

  1. Increasing the amount of CIP funding for land acquisition sufficient to achieve the aspirational goals defined by the update of the Public Spaces Master Plan;
  2. Prioritizing land acquisition in our park bonds consistent with the recommendations of the updated Public Spaces Master Plan;
  3. Continuing to allocate a significant percentage of "close-out" funding to land acquisition;
  4. Encouraging underground parking to replace surface parking at schools or county facilities that also results in a net gain of usable open space;
  5. Continuing to pursue land swaps, as in the case of the Virginia Hospital parcel on Carlin Springs Road or the potential land swap with Arlington Cemetery along Columbia Pike, as an important tool for achieving additional open space that is not dependent on dollars but on the will of the Board to think creatively and work diligently with partners to achieve a win-win for all;
  6. Continuing to explore new ideas like decking over I-66 and improving access to the Potomac River through partnerships with the National Park Service. I do not support purchasing land outside of Arlington County in lieu of ensuring adequate parks and open space within our community. 
  7. Creating an Open Space Fund that could receive required developer contributions as well as contributions from individuals. 
  8. Creatively designing new open spaces to maintain maximum flexibility for potential uses.

I actively support using a broad public process to determine goals for park land acquisition that acknowledge that differences in availability of parks exist among neighborhoods and corridors in the County. The process is important. I believe that the Public Spaces Master Plan update process currently underway will be of great assistance in identifying gaps and community needs as well as setting priorities. Once adopted, it should guide the Board's approach to timing, opportunity and funding allocations. 

Arlington has been lauded for our smart growth planning, yet parks and open space have not been adequately addressed in many of our long-term planning decisions, especially in plans for our urban corridors. Research on the economic and health benefits of parks and open space is voluminous; we know intuitively that great parks help create places that people want to live, work and play. Parks and open space are an investment in our quality of life today and for the future; addressing these pressing needs now will require a great deal of creativity and flexibility. I am committed to this goal.
 

Question 3. The County’s Comprehensive Plan contemplates forty thousand additional housing units over the next 25 years, which will entail even greater demands for County services and for public land use. 

Do you support using County parkland and community centers for housing, for schools, or for other uses, such as parking buses and other County vehicles, in order to meet both current as well as these increasing demands for public land? If your answer is “yes” to any of the foregoing, under what circumstances? What steps would you advocate taking, if any, to avoid such use? 

Unequivocally, I will not support the conversion of County parkland to other uses that results in any net loss of parkland. However, meeting all of the demands on our scarce land will require creative, flexible, and wise solutions, ones that proactively seek opportunities for open space. This could include co-location of uses, land swaps, etc. We could, for example, construct light industrial vehicle storage facilities for buses--and put a playing field on top of it! 

How do you propose our County address the existing as well as this potentially dramatic growing gap between increasing population and our limited public lands and County services? 
Do you support reconsidering the pace and/or amount of future residential development in the County?

With regard to density in general, Arlington is successful because we have managed our growth well. Moving forward, planning for appropriate open space in our developed areas and preserving what we already have in neighborhoods is a high priority for me. 

The more than 200 citizens involved in the 2015 Community Facilities Study created a framework for us all to use as we continue to grapple with our public land need. There are two priority recommendations that must be implemented to expand our open space resources:

  • Recommendation 17: Create a formal, integrated strategic needs assessment and priority setting process for APS and the County including a committee with two County Board Members and two School Board members.
  • Recommendation 18: Implement the proposed Facility Siting Process
     

Right now the two Boards are not working in concert on these critical long term public land decisions. This must be changed. As I understand it, the School Board is supportive of both recommendations, but the County Board and its Chair have not looked favorably on Recommendation 17's call for a new way of doing capital planning. It is most unfortunate that the County Board has not moved more quickly to implement the Study Recommendations. 

As to what the County can do better with current practice regarding private development, we must make sure that as we approve additional density, we get commensurate community benefits for the density. I believe we need to take a fresh look at this fundamental paradigm. As a County Board member, I would work to better define the impact of the additional density on our community and ensure that the increased needs are being met through community benefits provided by developers. Quality of life needs to be a primary consideration in the next generation of smart growth. 

As an example of my philosophy, I pushed hard as a planning commissioner to place a new parking garage underground in Pentagon Centre. This way, the community would have gotten a park, which it wanted, on top of the underground garage. What those neighbors got, under construction now, is a large above-ground parking structure—and a small parcel of "open space" which will be mostly ornamental.

For me this was a planning failure driven by the notion that if we don’t give developers everything they want, they will go elsewhere. I don’t believe this. We need to insist on what is fair and right for Arlington’s public spaces. The open space in a site plan or sector plan is meant to mitigate the impact of density. It is an important component of creating a great place -- which, by the way, is also in the developers' interest. 

Finally, as our older corridors continue to evolve, we must redouble our efforts to find creative solutions to maximize our limited resources and create new public spaces. For these corridors to successfully evolve, we will need new tools and strategies that support our community goals for neighborhood preservation, affordability, and sustainability in areas of the County that have been overlooked by our smart growth policies. I stand ready to engage with all stakeholders to ensure that we create a balanced approach in the "new neighborhoods" that includes great public spaces for people to hang out and recreate.

Question 4. Virginia Hospital Center Property on Carlin Springs Road
Would you support setting aside a portion (or all) of the Virginia Hospital Center property on Carlin Springs road for parks/recreation use if the County decides to acquire it?

 

Acces to nature is essential for our health and welfare and a significant determinant of quality of life and is, therefore, is a priority for me.
I support a vigorous, transparent, and citizen-driven process to evaluate this question. This is a very rare large parcel and is located adjacent to Long Branch Nature Center. It also close to the globally rare magnolia bog in Barcroft Park. The planning process should be conducted using the recommendations in the Community Facilities Study, completed just last year. These recommendations include: 1) make best use–and reuse-- of facilities we have; 2) encourage shared use of facilities; 3) build up, under and over – not out; 4) create “new” land; 5) collaborate with other jurisdictions for shared uses; 6) establish a land acquisition fund.
If the County does decide to do this swap after the community process, it seems to me that given the topography of the site, a significant portion of it would be best suited to be kept in its natural state, including the fantastic sledding hill.

That also means that the County has to follow through at this location on its commitment to:

  1. Protect our natural areas as laid out in the Board-adopted Natural Resources Management Plan. As a Board member, I will work to reaffirm that commitment and ensure these areas continue to be protected and managed so that the critical green infrastructure they provide will continue to serve our community well into the future.
  2. Coordinate the maintenance and management of multi-purpose trails. It will be a high priority for me to make sure coordination occurs among the County’s Department of arks and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Services, Transportation Division, the National Park Service and NOVA Parks (formerly Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority).
  3. Appropriately fund maintenance and upkeep of all recreational assets at this location as well as around the county.

Question 5. Rosslyn Neighborhood
Given the very high level of redevelopment and densification, and the continuing loss of accessible green space in Rosslyn, including the recent loss of a portion of Rosslyn Highlands Park to a private developer, what steps do you support to meet the current as well as increasing demand of people living in Rosslyn for play space/green space?

 

Serving on Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) was a disappointment. The outcome resulted in a loss of much-needed, urban open space. As a member of the County Board, I will prioritize park planning and acquisition through our public processes. Our open space must be a priority, not an afterthought. 

 

I support transparency and the actions of previous County Boards were not transparent on this site. A backroom deal was made with a developer, with no public notice or input. I find this unacceptable. Citizens deserve to know what has been previously negotiated with developers and I pledge to support the 72-hour rule for public notice of all Board generated proposals.

 

The Rosslyn Sector Plan outlines a comprehensive vision for outstanding, urban open spaces and park amenities. However, achieving this vision will require collaboration with our partners. We need to work with the Rosslyn Business Improvement District to identify open space priorities for residents and landowners --and identify ways to achieve these priorities in a fiscally responsible manner. From the boathouse, to the 18th Street Corridor, to potential trails or decking over I-66, to an improved Gateway Park, we can achieve these objectives with collaboration and innovative funding mechanisms. 

 

In the Clarendon Sector Plan update, I advocated with others in my neighborhood for quality open space on the south side of Clarendon for the planned density along 10th Street N and Washington Blvd. Staff eventually added to the plan a future park at the current site of Fire State #4 on 10th St. N. However, I know that a green rectangle on a map does not become a park without a serious commitment from the Board. Given the recent hot-potato approach to fire station siting elsewhere in the county, I would make it my priority that when the nearby sites eventually redevelop, a new fire station and park would be an essential community benefit