- Arlington is trying to figure out what to do with Gateway Park. (Photo: TBD Staff)
A planning process for the future of Rosslyn's largest open space has been underway for several months now, but Arlington County Board members are now saying they want to take a closer look at Gateway Park.
The park is an anomaly in tightly packed Rosslyn. It spans more than 3 acres of open space, but sits in the middle of six-lane Lee Highway, bounded by North Lynn Street and bisected by Fort Myer Drive. It includes a great lawn (where Rosslyn's summer film series is held), but also a labyrinthine system of concrete stairs and tunnels. Many have lamented the fact that it's under utilized, but given its odd location, it's no wonder.
Board members have in the past week raised several issues they hope to see considered in the planning study, and one official even called into question the fact that a real estate developer, JBG Properties, is currently funding the planning study for the park.
JBG has been paying for the study while at the same time formulating a redevelopment plan for its Rosslyn Gateway buildings, which sit at the corner of North Fort Myer Drive and Lee Highway.
"I don't know that I'm comfortable with the idea that an interested party is the one funding a study of our park," board member Chris Zimmerman said at a Nov. 4 meeting.
The company is preparing to submit a site plan to the county for those properties, and contributing to the redevelopment of the park would be part of the community benefit it provides in exchange for increased development. We reached out to JBG on the park study but haven't yet heard back.
"I won’t know how to evaluate what I hear from staff," Zimmerman added. "It's already a pretty close relationship, and I'm concerned that will undermine the credibility of the staff with the community."
JBG's decision to fund the planning study is not part of the community benefit it would be required to provide under a site plan, however, county planners assured the board at the meeting.
"Staff thinking is that with strong county involvement, who funds the study isn't so much a problem," Bob Brosnan, the county's director of planning, tells TBD. "We still have control of the outcome."
From board chairman Jay Fisette's perspective, the board just wants to be sure that the scope of the park's master plan is "consistent with what the board's guiding principles are," he says. "We did not weigh in at the front end and frame it, and we have to make sure we're clear on that."
One factor he would like to see the study consider is how to integrate the park with North Moore Street. "For example, I have an interest in exploring North Moore Street to become more of a festival street, a pedestrian street, and opening up into a revamped Gateway Park," Fisette says. "So it's a matter of ensuring that the particular planning they’re doing allows for that should it go forward."
At a meeting in September, planners and consultants had narrowed the field of potential park designs from six down to two. Now, they're at work on one final design to bring to stakeholders.
The tweaking the county board is requesting could result in some delay in the planning process for the park, although Brosnan couldn't say how much of a delay. County staff still need to get together to look at the path forward, he says.
Neighbors likely won't be too concerned, says North Rosslyn Civic Association President Jennifer Zeien, given that there has never actually been a time frame laid out for when the park would be revamped.
While the civic association has expressed interest in the various proposals, including removal of the bridges connecting various parts of the park and the addition of an eatery or beer garden, the most important thing is that it remain open space, Zeien emphasizes. "The community firmly believes Gateway Park should remain a park," she says. "I think there’s a benefit to having visual green space. It makes it feel a lot less enclosed."