What’s next: Include schools in development planning

What’s Next with Nicole is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

This Sunday is the last day to give feedback on “Plan Lee Highway“, A multi-year planning process for the corridor, which has now produced concrete proposals for expansion stages, road improvements, rainwater effects and other significant changes.

My biggest feedback on the Lee Highway Plan and all ongoing area and sector plans is the lack of consideration for our schools. We should include school generation factors in our area and sector planning process.

The Lee Highway plan is one of three ongoing planning processes for entire areas of our county, along with the Pentagon City Planning and the Clarendon Sector Plan. I am currently working on background information at Pentagon City Planning, which has enabled me to investigate the “why” of this situation.

Background on factors of the student generation

An average generation factor is im annual Arlington profile and school facility staff can further refine this generation factor based on neighborhood. For example, an apartment building in Crystal City will generally have slightly more children than an apartment building in Rosslyn.

A market-driven apartment with an elevator produces an average of 0.066 students per unit, while a single-family house produces 0.489 students. This means that single-family houses generally produce 7.5 times more than a residential unit.

Regarding Plan Lee Highway, I’ll use two examples of how these factors affect the planning process:

While each example either increases or decreases the expected generation of school places, this is at least a known quantity. We have the data to create a Seat Generation Factor, and the planning department should be able to determine the estimated number of units we can expect to see in these study areas over the next few decades.

Thinking about schools in Area / sector plans Rather than a building for buildings in Review process of the site plan

We are reviewing the school impact too late in the planning process.

Right now we are assessing the impact on the school seat every time a new construction project is submitted to the Site Plan Review Commission. That means these new expected seats will be rolled out in a year or two. As a result, we have a seemingly biennial fire department drill on how to rearrange children to accommodate changing school enrollment projections.

If we consider changes to school places in the department / sector plan process, we can anticipate the number of places added decades in advance instead of our usual fire drill situation.

This is also important for reserving limited public facilities and open spaces. in the a memo from 2019 District Manager Schwartz identified a number of potential new school locations that are useful tools for these area / sector planning processes.

In the event that we do not have the land available for new schools in the future, we need to know that too. Do we need to set up a fund to buy land? When? These are the answers that we would only know with this long-term perspective in area and sector planning.

Precedent for an imperfect infrastructure impact estimate

We already have estimated equations for the infrastructure impact in the comprehensive planning process related to traffic. In my role in the Pentagon’s urban planning group, we had 2-3 meetings to calculate the “service level” for roads / public transport and almost a complete meeting on the service level of the bicycle infrastructure. All of these projections are important infrastructure considerations, but they also produce an imperfect result that we can generally accept.

With schools making up nearly half of our operating budget and a significant portion of the commitment to our capital improvement plan, it seems negligent not to include these calculations in the same way that we calculate other infrastructure impacts in our comprehensive plan.


My opinion is not against increased traffic density around major traffic corridors such as the metro and state highways such as the Lee Highway. Promoting growth along the corridors with accessible public transport and shorter commuting times is better for the environment, and a diverse range of housing contributes to different housing costs (see Page 5 in the Arlington Profile 2021 for different housing type costs).

I would find it hypocritical, however, to advocate for this additional density without advocating adequate infrastructure planned to support this additional density and encouraging us to include schools in our comprehensive planning.

Growing up in Arlington County, Nicole Merlene was a civic leader in both politics and politics. She was the economic development officer and tenant / landlord; Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, Pentagon City Planning Study, Rosslyn Transportation Study and Vision Zero member; Arlington County Civic Federation and a board member of the Rosslyn Civic Association. In 2019, she sought the Democratic nomination for the 31st District of the Virginia State Senate. Professionally, Nicole works as a specialist in economic development to attract companies to the region. She lives in an apartment with her dog Riley and loves to run and paint.

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