Reflections on This Year’s APA National Capital Area Chapter Annual Conference

September 20, 2019

The 2019 American Planning Association’s (APA) National Capital Area Chapter Annual Conference was held on September 13thin Silver Spring, Maryland. Some key themes for the event included breaking barriers to housing production, the legal impact of Comprehensive Plans and the vision in progress for an area our firm holds a vested interest in, Eisenhower East. Liz Nicholson, Project Director, attended Friday’s conference and gives us some of her takeaways from the presentations and discussion.

Representatives from the law firm of Cozen O’Connor presented a thoughtful dialog on the ongoing and controversial D.C. Comprehensive Plan update. They spoke about the recent pattern of litigation over the City’s approval of the zoning tool of Planned Unit Developments, or PUD’s. A discussion ensued concerning the delays in these cases as they progress through various levels of legal appeals, contributing to the regional housing and the provision of new affordable units. Another topic of this lecture was the legal intricacy of Comprehensive Plans.  Local Comprehensive Plans have grounding in Federal Law which requires land-use decisions to be “consistent” with the Plan. The legal interpretation of consistency can pose challenges to jurisdictions and higher courts. While comprehensive land use plans are policy documents and not legally binding, interpreting them can certainly have significant legal impacts.

Of particular interest to our firm was a session entitled, “Eisenhower East – the Ecology of a Human-Centric Urban Environment.” With Northpoint’s current involvement in WMATA’s new Virginia Headquarter Office (approved by Alexandria’s City Council in July) and the completion of the core and shell renovation of 2461 Eisenhower Avenue earlier this summer, we have a keen interest in the Eisenhower East Small Area Plan and how it plays out.

The City’s Small Area Plan process has been ongoing over the past year and is slated for approval later this Fall. City staff presented the vision for this area as it has come together during the community process. The goal of the Plan is to create a “human-centric” neighborhood – described by City Urban Planners as a collection of spaces that foster social, authentic gathering places. Lead City Planner, Jose Ayala, described the Plan as having greater flexibility than prior Small Area Plans. He went on to describe that this Plan is guided by height, architectural design guidelines and human-scale streetscape standards rather than the details of square footage calculation or maximum number of units. Staff continues to work through community and landowner issues such as parking and affordable housing, but it is hoped that when adopted, the Plan will transform what is currently an office-centered and under-utilized Metro Station area into a community of vibrant, authentic and social neighborhoods.   

The conference included a good deal more food for thought. Should you be interested in finding out more information on the content of this year’s American Planning Association’s (APA) National Capital Area Chapter Conference, visit

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