County Board Expands Ground Story Uses along Columbia Pike

Published on November 13, 2021

The County Board voted 5 to 0 to approve zoning updates that will help realize the vision of Columbia Pike as a walkable “Main Street” by providing greater flexibility for commercial, office, light industrial, and agricultural uses—including animal boarding and craft beverage production—on ground floors along the Pike.

The changes approved at the Saturday, Nov. 13, Board meeting will enhance the variety of businesses serving the Columbia Pike community, attract new customers for area businesses, and increase opportunities for first-time and minority business owners. County staff recommended the changes based on over a year of research, analysis, and engagement with residents, property owners, and the business community.

“Allowing a greater variety of ground floor uses on Columbia Pike is a win-win-win, for community building, economic growth, and racial equity,” said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “I’m proud that we can simultaneously enhance the Columbia Pike corridor and help level the playing field for historically disadvantaged small business owners. I’m also proud of the collaborative process that brought different stakeholders together in support of these changes.”

The zoning amendments will take effect 60 days after Saturday’s approval to allow staff time for relevant training and updates.

The zoning changes will occur through amendments to the Columbia Pike Special Revitalization District Form Based Code (FBC), the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District Form Based Code (N-FBC), and the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance. The changes also allow commercially zoned “legacy sites”—properties that have not yet been redeveloped using these optional development tools—to lease their commercial space to businesses that are now allowed on the ground floors of FBC/N-FBC developments.

Responding to Commercial Market Conditions

The amendments account for current and anticipated commercial market conditions along Columbia Pike. The changes grew out of, and align with, the 2019 Columbia Pike Commercial Market Study and the 2015 Arlington County Retail Plan. They also align with the FBC’s intent to have high pedestrian activity adjacent to public sidewalks, include interesting architectural design, and increase visibility into buildings.

The 2019 Columbia Pike Commercial Market Study documented Columbia Pike’s ongoing transition from an auto-oriented suburban corridor to a walkable urban one. To enhance and sustain the vitality of the corridor’s retail market, the report recommended increased flexibility for uses on ground floors to fill more commercial tenant spaces and build upon the uniqueness of Columbia Pike.

In addition to animal boarding and artisan beverage manufacturing—including breweries, cideries, distilleries, and meaderies—the newly permitted uses encompass artisan workshops, shared commercial kitchens, and contemporary urban agricultural uses. The County Board also eased zoning requirements affecting certain existing uses; offices, museums, art galleries, and studios are now permitted by-right, rather than requiring use permits, which can take more time and lead to higher costs and uncertainty for business and property owners.

A further change gives flexibility to medical and dental offices and daycare uses in the FBC’s window transparency regulations. The existing requirement that a minimum of 80% of window surfaces be transparent—intended to make the pedestrian experience more vibrant and add interest to architectural design—can hamper the ability of medical offices, dental offices, and childcare operators to give their patrons needed privacy.

Public Process

County staff collected feedback through listening sessions, meetings, and hearings with eight community stakeholder groups, the FBC Advisory Working Group, and the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission, as well as an online form. Groups representing both residents and the business community supported the zoning changes – highlighting the desire to cultivate an active and interesting public realm along Columbia Pike.  

Representatives of the NoVA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Committee of the Arlington Chapter of the NAACP also provided input to staff on how co-working office spaces and shared commercial kitchens would benefit their members. These shared spaces could remove or lessen financial obstacles for accountants, attorneys, culinary entrepreneurs, and other minority-owned small business owners.

Learn more about the Ground Story Uses Study.


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