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Board Passes Sweeping Plan to Redevelop Crystal City

by ARLnow.com — September 29, 2010 at 7:00 am 7,414 25 Comments

Just before the unanimous vote that would approve a sweeping plan to redevelop Crystal City, county board chairman Jay Fisette paused for reflection. Looking back at the four and a half year process of crafting the plan, Fisette remarked that it “an amazing moment and a startling success.”

Then, with five “ayes,” the board set in motion a 40-year development process that will transform the dated, hodgepodge apartments and office buildings in Crystal City into a gleaming, high-density, pedestrian-friendly urban district.

Initially conceived as a response to Crystal City’s impending loss of thousands of jobs as a result of BRAC, the Crystal City Sector Plan is meant to ensure a bright future for the oft-maligned but economically-crucial neighborhood. On numerous occasions last night, speakers pointed out that Crystal City currently produces the lion’s share of commercial tax revenues for Arlington County.

Among other alterations, the plan calls for the creation of a streetcar line, significant changes to the street grid, and an additional 15 million square feet of mixed use development through 2050.

Although some speakers compared last night’s vote to the 1970s-era growth plan that laid the groundwork for the now-vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor, others spoke of the hardships the Crystal City plan might inflict on surrounding neighborhoods.

Too much density, not enough open space and an increase in traffic through neighborhood streets were the most-repeated charges. Others complained that the plan did not provide enough of a transition from high-rise development to the single-family neighborhood.

Largely, those complaints were addressed by the final version of the plan, which included a traffic monitoring mechanism, a citizen advisory board, and a mandate to study ways to smooth the transition at the edge of development. The Aurora Highlands Civic Association unsuccessfully argued for a delay in the vote so those last-minute changes could be further reviewed by residents.

Several residents worried that increased density will mean a larger population in Crystal City, which in turn would strain infrastructure, like the already-crowded local schools. Another resident suggested that South Arlington may need its own hospital after a large enough increase in population.

But while acknowledging that the plan wasn’t perfect, representatives from Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the largest private landholder in Crystal City, argued for its passage.

“This plan is the epitome of smart growth,” said company vice president Mitch Bonanno. “There is no smarter place for density in the region, no better time for replacement of older buildings given BRAC, and there is no better sponsorship to make it happen than Crystal City property owners and Arlington.”

In the end, the board sided with the forces of change.

“We should feel great about this one,” Fisette said after the vote.

“I’m very proud of this document,” echoed board member Barbara Favola. “It’s a good plan.”

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  • Jason DL

    Next up, Columbia pike and Zimmie’s train set.

  • SoArlRes

    Bring it. Columbia Pike could use the love.

  • Brent Spence

    The Board just doesn’t get it. What makes Crystal City work today is the uniform height limits that are similar to those in DC. All they are doing is handing over increased density rights to property owners, making those properties instantly more valuable. Since the major property owners are in financial trouble they will most likely sell and walk away with a windfall. On top of that, the taxpayers of Arlington are paying for this “planning”. If this is so important to CC, why didn’t the property owners pay for the plan?

    • Judy Landgar

      They may try to sell, but who’s buying in this economic environment? Commercial real estate is dead in the water.

    • Thirsty

      “What maked Crystal City work today…” Crystal City is dreadful. How does it work? It was a mistake of urban planning that came out of the 60s and early 70s “city of the future” trend. That everyone wanted modern, space age. That Americans didn’t want to be outside. That we wanted tunnels and catwalks. A cityscape where people could go from home, to work, to shopping, and back home without stepping outside. The developments were built but the vision was false. People do want to go outside. We do not want to live in tunnels. We are not ready to live in outer space. Crystal City and L’Enfant Plaza are two local examples of this once great vision. Cities across the country made the same mistake. It’s high time for corrections.

      • Michael H.

        Dreadful? Well, I think you need to walk outside yourself. Sure, there are the tunnels and underground stores but there are now many street-level restaurants and stores in the area, the waterpark, the farmer’s market, bike lanes, easy access to the Mt. Vernon Trail, the beach volleyball courts and frequent sporting events in the area. In fact, you could say that Crystal City is one of the leading neighborhoods for running and cycling in the entire D.C. area, with at least 8 5K races every year in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area, the Army Ten-Miler, part of the Marine Corps Marathon and the Air Force Cycling Classic-Crystal Ride. Sure doesn’t sound like people are spending all their time indoors to me. I certainly am not.

        I will admit that the architecture of some of the older buildings is drab. But I’m usually too busy running or cycling to be bothered by that too much. Or enjoying the street-level restaurants, parks and stores.

        • Thirsty

          Hmmm…with all the races, bike lanes, and access to Mt. Vernon trail, it sounds like folks are spending their time trying to get out of Crystal City. For clarification, I give alot of credit to Arlington and businesses in CC for trying to improve the cityscape. But I will not back down from my original post saying the original plan for CC is dreadful. There are pockets here and there that have been greatly improved with street front restaurants and businesses. Regardless of the lipstick on the pig, it is still unpleasant (and certainly confusing for visitors) to walk through the area. By example, from the metro to the south end of CC, Clark and 27th. There is no easy, intuitive route. Yes, a shuttle busses are available but I think a good neighborhood should be more walkable.

          • que_de_que

            How is there no simple way to get down to Crystal Dr. and 27th from the Metro? Walk a block down 18th St., turn right onto Crystal Dr. Walk south and turn left on 27th. That simple.

            And as a CC resident, I can honestly say I love it. For some reason, it’s always the ones who don’t live there who complain about it the most.

          • former cc

            I lived in CC 12 years ago and loved it. I still go to CC for dinner, visit friends, sit in the park, ride my bike thru the area. Some of the coments make me think that they have not been in CC for 0ver 20 years. Wake up…take a walk around CC, it’s getting beter every day.

          • Michael H.

            “with all the races, bike lanes, and acces to the Mt. Vernon trail, it sounds like folks are spending their time trying to get out of Crystal City”

            That’s a pretty ridiculous statement. Have you ever participated in or watched a race? Or walked or run on a local trail?

    • Archidork78

      I for the most part agree with Brent’s comments, except that I’m not sure how low-density makes Crystal City “work.” Traditionally dense cities work, while low-density and urban sprawl does not. For example, look at the failed planning of Brasilia, or any suburban development in the US. Crystal City doesn’t work because it’s cut in half by a highway. To get anywhere, residents usually have to cut across an expanse of highway. This disaster of post-war urban planning is a problem for most American cities – a relic of the Eisenhower administration’s progressive vision of an America, crisscrossed by super highways and interstates. Cities like Boston have dealt with the problem by burying sections of the highway underground, but that came at great cost (literally). I’m all for urban density, if it’s done right – with mixed use development, but it’s not going to fix Crystal City.

  • Phil

    Can’t wait! Currently live in the city of crystals, and this is going to be great!

  • Jason DL

    SoArlRes – 110% ditto. I can’t wait to see CoPi be SupaFly… as long as they keep all the papusa joints and the Salsa club. Ole.

    • SoArlRes

      Hahah! CoPi! LOVE it.

      • Frenchy B

        “CoPi” is just awful. I’ll continue to refer to my neighborhood as the Oh-Four.

        • Katie

          I went to the gym to update my info and saw they had “Alexandria 22204″ in there–I said “waa?” The Oh-Four is mos def Arlington.

  • Michael H.

    I’m undecided about whether this plan is a good thing or not. I don’t like the fact that they are removing the park at the south end of the area, where the beach volleyball courts and walking path are located. And they want to add new buildings to a couple of the open courtyards along Crystal Drive. Those areas give the neighborhood some breathing space and help to limit the visual impact of all the tall buildings. While I could see additional buildings going up and some of the old dowdy buildings getting replaced, I hope they don’t remove the waterpark, the bike lanes and the easy access to nearby bike/run trails. That would be a huge mistake.

    As for the streetcar plan, it doesn’t really excite me. I’m not so sure what it will do. It could slow down traffic on Jeff. Davis Hwy (or Blvd. as they want to call it), which would be a good thing for the neighborhood, but AAA would probably get upset about it. (I’m not the biggest fan of AAA, by the way.) Maybe it has potential but will it actually be used by anyone?

    • Marian Berry

      I’m also unclear on what purpose the streetcar on Crystal Drive is supposed to serve. Seems to me it would be more useful on the JeffDavis.

      • Thes

        The streetcar quite likely would be more useful on Jefferson Davis Highway, but it could never be built there because JDH is a VDOT road, and VDOT is the agency of “no transit” Look at what they’re proposing for 395, for goodness sakes.

        • NoName

          I know. VDOT is trying to build a highway just to stick it to the poor folks and “minorities.”

  • Thirsty

    Well, then that settles it. Based on the defense of Crystal City as-is by current residents, let’s leave it and channel development money to other parts of South Arlington.

  • http://shirlingtonv.blogspot.com/ Googla

    I’m excited about the plans to bring Crystal City up to its potential. There is no place that has the transportation options of Crystal City. Two metro lines and it is … hello? …literally walking distance to National Airport. Less important, but still impressive is that it has a VRE stop and a number of bus routes.

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  • Marc

    Been in Crystal city off and on for several years now and keep coming back. Something about it’s own community in itself and as previously stated the people that live there typically love it. Its just something about it’s charm of a smaller metro within a larger one. No complaints here other than the rediculous drivers that don’t know what “No Turn on Red” means….

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