Jay Fisette

Jay Fisette speaks to members of the Arlington County Democratic Committee about the late Ellen Bozman on Dec. 6, 2017.

It took 80-odd pages of charts, graphs and staff analysis to get there, but Arlington officials think they have found a way to make the architecture along Columbia Pike less uniform, less similar – in a word, less blah.

Arlington County Board members on Dec. 16 approved amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance that revamps existing regulations for Pike properties that are built under the Form-Based Code, a 15-year-old process that aims to speed the development timeline but has had the unintended consequence of rendering architectural creativity persona-non-grata on the Pike.

Don’t take our word for it; consider the comments of County Board Chairman Jay Fisette at the meeting. Fisette acknowledged that the projects sprouting up along the length of Columbia Pike are “a little bit uninteresting” – and suggested the new rules could provide for more creative spark.

“We think they’re going to move us in that direction,” Fisette said as the revisions were adopted without dissent.

The Form-Based Code development model has been in place since 2003, focused on the core of Columbia Pike as it runs through Arlington. A similar but separate code section, for areas adjoining the core, has been in on the books since 2013.

All told, 17 projects have been approved under the ordinances, which are optional for developers to use. The goal is to streamline the development time frame by having developers adhere to agreed-upon standards up front, rather than endure contentious battles – perhaps “discussions” is a better term – between landowners, the county-government staff and neighbors that can take months, sometimes years, to iron out.

The action taken Dec. 16 does not represent a wholesale change to the existing ordinances. By loosening rules about cohesion in facades and materials, the plan is to “create more visual interest” than the “level of sameness” often found in earlier projects, said staff planner Matt Mattauszek.

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