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Board Stays Up Late to Approve New Boeing HQ

by ARLnow.com | October 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm | 5,472 views | 39 Comments

It was 12:50 a.m. by the time the Arlington County Board adjourned last night, having spent three hours debating a proposal for aerospace and defense giant Boeing to build a new regional headquarters complex near Crystal City.

After a lengthy back-and-forth discussion, the Board voted unanimously to approve the project, which won high marks for its economic benefits to the county but which was strongly opposed by the county’s own citizen-led transportation and planning commissions.

Opponents of the Boeing plan argued that allowing six-story, single-tenant office buildings on the 4.7 acre property — located between Crystal City and the county’s new Long Bridge Park — ran counter to Arlington’s original “smart growth” goal for a mixed-use office, residential and retail development there.

The Boeing complex, which the company will own instead of lease, won’t provide the kind of active streetscape befitting a property so close to a multi-million dollar county park and recreation center, opponents said. Instead, the property will be largely closed off to the public; buildings will be set back from the sidewalk with no ground floor retail and no public-use parking spaces (which could have been utilized during special events at the park). Transportation Commission Chair Bill Gearhart called the complex, which will have 555 underground parking spaces, “auto-oriented” as opposed to transit-oriented. The Planning Commission called the architecture of the proposed buildings “mediocre.”

“If this project is approved, the County would be setting a precedent that it is okay to shred everything in order to keep a company that is not working, living or playing well with its neighbors,” the Planning Commission wrote.

But Boeing supporters — including county staff, Arlington Economic Development, and the Crystal City Business Improvement District — argued that the hundreds of jobs and millions in annual tax revenue that will be generated by the new Boeing complex represents significant a benefit to the county that more than justifies the shift in land use goals required to approve the project.

“I think tonight presents us a unique opportunity in recruiting and retaining a major employer,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. “At a time of increased economic uncertainty, this level of commitment to a major employer is critical to the county’s future economic sustainability, especially in Crystal City, where the future impacts of BRAC are yet to be seen.”

In pushing for the proposal’s approval, however, even Donnellan admitted that it “was not without controversy.”

“I acknowlege that my recommending steers slightly away from some of our urban planning ideals,” she said. “But I believe we’re facing a set of extraordinary circumstances.”

Supporters made the case that the plan for mixed-use development on the proposed site — two run-down square blocks of abandoned industrial buildings and a shuttered, deteriorating hotel — was unrealistic in the near-term. Waiting years for market conditions to be right for a high-density mixed-use development, some said, could jeopardize the county’s plan to build an aquatics center as part of the second phase of the Long Bridge Park project. As part of the agreed-to Boeing proposal, financially-challenged developer Monument Realty will engage in a land swap with the county that will allow the aquatics center to be built.

Despite some security concerns, Boeing also agreed to allow public access the complex’s lawn area.

A Boeing manager who spoke last night touted the company’s financial support of numerous local charities in Arlington (Boeing has existing offices in Crystal City and Rosslyn, which will be consolidated into the new complex). Other arguments in favor of the new headquarters included the company’s agreement to contribute to Arlington’s affordable housing, public art and traffic mitigation funds; the elimination of the current industrial “blight” between Long Bridge Park and Crystal City; the addition of greenery and a Capital Bikeshare station to the site; and the opinion of some that the site — which sits on the Reagan National Airport flight path, along railroad tracks, and within earshot of Long Bridge Park’s lighted athletic fields — might be too noisy for potential residents.

During the late night discussion, County Board members described in length their displeasure with many aspects of the plan, and spoke approvingly of the findings of the planning and transportation commissions. In the end, however, they sided with county staff and voted to allow the Boeing project to move forward.

“This is important enough that we’re going to make some sacrifices that we’re never going to feel entirely good about,” said County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, adding that approval of the Boeing site plan should not be construed as the Board setting a new precedence.

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “The Board voted in favor of the Boeing plan because this solidifies the presence of a major corporate entity in Arlington and brings us an important step closer to building the planned Aquatics Center.”

The Boeing complex — which is to serve as the company’s East Coast headquarters — will have up to 453,000 square feet of office space and is expected to achieve LEED Gold environmental certification. Boeing is planning to move in by the end of 2014, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The investment “affirms our commitment to Arlington and Northern Virginia,” said Boeing project manager Richard Arscott, following the board’s unanimous vote.

“Boeing looks forward to continuing corporate citizenship well into the future,” he said.

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  • Charles

    “…but which was strongly opposed by the county’s own citizen-led transportation and planning commissions.”
    Well, there’s stupidity in a nutshell. COUNTY BOARD SPREADS LEGS FOR DEVELOPER. Lovely.

    Aren’t elections coming up? Is Walter tired of his job?

    • Michael H.

      The county staff was in favor of the project.

      There are two smaller apartment buildings adjacent to the Boeing site already. I don’t understand why there have to be residential units on every single block.

      I don’t think that’s the best location for retail either. Most people in Pentagon City and Crystal City are not going to walk over to that block for shopping. There are more convenient locations near the Metro stations. The retail would not be able to compete with the Pentagon City mall, Pentagon Center or Pentagon Row. The site is a few blocks from the Crystal City Metro. Most of the workers in Crystal City would not have the time to head up to that site during their lunch breaks.

      It’s better to have retail closer to the Metro station and more easily accessible to the majority of the workers and residents in Crystal City. I don’t see this as a big loss.

      On the other hand, the deal means that the County will be able to move ahead with the planned Phase II of Long Bridge Park. That will provide a huge benefit for residents of Crystal City and Arlington in general.

      I think this is a good deal overall for the residents of Crystal City and Arlington.

      • Tim

        I agree, people are not going to want to hang out in that area very much. It’s right next to the US1/I395 interchange, about two blocks from a heavily-used rail line, and right under the flight path for planes landing at National. Anyone who walks or bikes to the park will be passing through lots of retail in CC or Pentagon City. People who work in the area are already close to all of the retail on Crystal Drive and in the Underground, and the same for people who live in the apartments next to the park. And anyone who drives to the park is probably just going to drive right back out when they’re done, although I hope there will be some sort of concession stands in the park itself that will be open during games, and maybe all of the time in the evenings and on weekends.

        Having said all of that, I think it would be nice if Boeing could find a way to let people use at least part of their parking garage in the evenings and on weekends, because it doesn’t look like there is going to be a lot of parking in the area.

      • Bob A

        I concur completely with Michael H. This is a location that is great for high density office, but not for foot traffic/retail/residential. Boeing showed flexibility and worked with staff to reach accomodation. These type of developments allow Arlington to pay for the Schools, Libraries, Police, Fire and other amenities that make this County such a great place to live (and without our property taxes going through the roof).
        If you want no development or big office buildings, move to the country.

    • Josh S

      Charles, just how comfortable are you in that armchair?

      Have you ever climbed out of it and actually had to make a hard decision?

  • Sebastian Slater

    This is the type of building seen in Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun. While I don’t like it, any one of them would have been happy to have the tax base of such a business. In the end, the board sold out for money. Not surprising.

    • AllenB

      You say sold out; I say acted in the best interest of the county.

  • MC

    This was a bad decision: the citizens were right, the County government wrong. You can tell is is going to be an isolated bubble development when Boeing talks about creating a “campus” in the middle of a urban area, with a major new public park right next door. Northrup wanted the same kind os special treatment in Ballston (no retail, “secure” parking not available to non-employees), but were denied. Now others will come to expect variances to planning guidelines.

    • Rick

      Pull up the plot of land in question and try and tell me it’s in the middle of anything

    • Josh S

      Seriously, you can’t see the differences between Ballston and middle of nowhere north Crystal City?

      Yes, it’s going to be an isolated development. But an attempt at mixed-use would have been isolated as well and doomed the retail to struggle and fail, in the meantime resulting in substantially lower tax revenue for the county.

  • Charlie

    Economics rule.

  • Rick

    Nothing about that land will ever be transit-oriented. Transportation commission getting hung up on that shows that there’s little brain activity being used in their decisions. It can’t play well with the neighbors if there are no neighbors. They could have carved out 2000 sq feet for a coffee shop or a deli but who would want to do business there? Anyone willing to wreck that motel and the surrounding properties should be getting breaks from the county.

    And who would want to live or play up there? Overlooking roaches run, train tracks, and the airport? If the county is going to have special events at the park on a regular basis they should build more parking.

    • Chris Slatt

      I’m on the Transportation Commission and I was in on the unanimous vote against this monstrosity. Here are several reasons:

      - They insisted on putting the garage entrance on 6th St, putting all the traffic right on the edge of the property that abuts the park.
      - They insisted on putting the bike share station in the worst possible location, making it as inconvenient as possible for any employees to actually use CaBi to get from the Metro Station to the development.
      - We’re actively trying to break up big “super blocks” to increase the street grid connectivity in the area. The original site plan for this parcel called for adding a section of 8th Street back in through the middle of the parcel. This version eliminates that.
      - This is one of the few parcels of land near the new park – it’s pretty isolated transporation-wise. Because of that, we have very few opportunities to create reasons for people to go up there. Housing or retail would provide those incentives. This development squanders one of those few precious opportunities. People will come, work, and go home…it’s the mistake that was made with Rosslyn on a smaller scale. Because of this, that LONG stretch of block (from 10th St all the way to 6th St is going to feel empty and isolated to anyone trying walk up it or bike up it on their way to the park – and empty and isolated for most folks feels like unsafe. I’m afraid it’s going to really set us back in attemps to encourage walking and biking to the park.

      That said, I understand that everything has to get weighed against other factors and this is a big economic opportunity in a shaky economic time and it’s a piece of land that is challenging to work with because of the flight path restrictions. I’m glad the board at least took their time considering it.

      • Rick

        Having no reason to go down there, I’m relying on google maps to nagivate down there. Does crystal drive continue NE along the train tracks now? If it does, the street grid argument makes sense, but a grid with two parallel, vertical streets isnt much of a grid. It’s an opportunity for the county to spend more $$ on stop signs, traffic lights that are incorrectly timed, speed humps, and everything else annoying about owning a vehicle in Arlington. What is the significance of the grid if it doesn’t connect to the rest of crystal/pentagon city?

        And unsafe? Really? Compared to what’s there now I’d run laps around that building at 2am with my wallet in my hand. The walk/bike ride from the metro to the park would be the same length regardless

        Why wasn’t the north tract lofts designed as a working, living, playing environment? I don’t see any retail listed for it. A marvelous market, dry cleaner, a bank, SOMETHING!

        • Josh S

          And if you read some of the reviews of North Tract Lofts, a lot of people complain about how noisy it is up there. I just don’t think it’s a good location for residential and very marginal for retail.

      • long bridge far away

        This is still the flyover land, as is Long Bridge park. Dunno who is going to use the park or wander on foot from deeper in Crystal City to the park. Much ado about nothing with respect to architecture and streetscape.

      • AR

        Chris, thanks for serving on the commission. I’m sure it is a thankless job at times.

        However, I think the benefits of this outweigh the downsides. Additionally, I am dubious that there is much demand for residential development on that plot of land. Maybe well into the future, but not right now. After all, who wants to get squeezed into a peninsula between major air traffic, rail traffic and highway traffic routes?

        The super block thing also seems like a bit of a red-herring. Consider that all the blocks surrounding the Pentagon City Metro are longer than this block. Putting a corporate campus on this property won’t make the walk shorter, but it will make it more appealing than the current ramshackle setup.

        The board made the right decision by not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

        • Chris Slatt

          I think if there hadn’t been an existing, clearly superior site plan in place for the parcel, it wouldn’t have been such a tough sell. The Boeing development is clearly superior to the current blight, but clearly inferior to the plan that had previously been approved.

          As a Transportation Commissioner, I need to look at the plan primarily from a transportation standpoint and trust that the board will get input on the other facets (land use, economic development, etc) from the Planning Commission, Staff, etc.

          From a transportation standpoint, I still hold that the site plan is clearly garbage, but I can certainly concede that it’s worth putting up with a lot to have a major employer like Boeing BUYING (not just leasing) space in Arlington.

      • Josh S

        But Chris, the park is out of the way no matter how you slice it. But it sounds like it is going to offer services / facilities that are in short supply in the county so it’s going to get use. Perhaps a mixed-use development on this site would have increased foot and bike traffic to the park marginally. But at what cost? Potential lost jobs. Potential lost tax revenue. As you point out, that was a tough sale to the Board in this economic climate.

  • Dss10

    Who sold Boeing the land for the building??? I can’t understand why they would build a 6 story building when crystal city has plenty of room with all barced personnel that have moved out. I remember a couple of summers ago there were so many vacancies that they were trying to get artists to use the vacant floors as painting studios. What really bothers me though is that Boeing will have the tax payers pay for this new building through indirect rates charged to the government (tax payer).

    • Ren

      Boeing has a sweetheart deal here. Right across from a nice park with 555 parking spaces reserved for Boeing people. I hope they don’t go supercheap on the building and it at least is nice to look at from afar.

      Still trying to figure out that quote at the end:

      “Boeing looks forward to continuing corporate citizenship well into the future,”

  • LVGuy

    This was a lose-lose situation for the county anyway.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    Perfection is the enemy of the good. This space has been wasted for years; its good to see it put to much better use. The flaw in the Transportation Commission’s reasoning is they think the Boeing employees will shutter themselves in the building while they work. With a nice park next door and walking distance to eating, there will be plenty of outdoor activity.

    As far as the car-centric argument goes, I’d imagine Boeing will set up a shuttle bus from the CC metro. Furthermore they are planning a CaBi station; this will benefit Boeing employees who’ll move in nearby and either bike or walk to work.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Nice to see the county board consider reality instead of focusing on creating an urban playground for young urbanites. This sets a good precedent for future employers and makes up for losing Northurp Grumman to FC.

    • KalashniKEV

      +1000

      Somebody gets it.

    • Josh S

      Actually, reality includes “urban playgrounds,” even if others might use different terminology to describe what you are attempting to ridicule. And that reality is no less valid than the reality that includes boring and deadening campus-type developments that this building will be.

      As I’ve noted elsewhere, I am actually in favor of this development. But I do object to your notion that somehow this is reality and other development patterns are not. I mean, jeez, take your head out of the sand and look around – large parts of the rest of the world do not look like Fairfax county. And they’re not just tourist destinations.

      • KalashniKEV

        LOL @ “boring and deadening.”

        Let’s all be “vibrant” and build more ArtisFAILs.

  • OX4

    I suspect there was a lot of pressure from Richmond to agree to whatever Boeing wants. McDonnell drools over defense contractors.

  • TJLinBallston

    Most cities in America right now would do just about anything for the Boeing regional HQ so criticism from sheltered Arlington yuppies can easily be ignored. While Boeing’s buildings could be more architecturally interesting, the proposed campus sure looks better than the slummy structures currently there and the addition to the tax base is welcome. That area has always been an eyesore and a wasteland and the County Board was wise to seal the deal.

  • Garden City

    The Board made a good decision. Boeing was going to go somewhere, with their payroll and all their employees, so why not here. It’s a good win after missing the Northrop Grumman HQ.

  • When?

    ArlNow, or anyone, now that this has passed whats the schedule moving forward? When does demolition/construction begin and when is the whole project expected to be completed by.

    Personally I am happy the eye sore of a motel and whatever other run down building that is there now will be gone!

  • Southeast Ben

    I’ll welcome new jobs to the area (if it truly will bring many), but it seems like Boeing is getting a steal in terms of location. It’s a flight area, but it’s centrally located to all defense orgs. I suspect the NG Headquarters would have been better than the Boeing Regional HQ.

    • Zoning Victim

      It is my understanding from the WTOP story on this deal this morning is they are simply moving employees to this location; so it’s not really bringing “new jobs.” It’s simply transplanting jobs from elsewhere. That said, something needed done there to develop the land into something that will benefit the county without charging it ti the taxpayers, and it’s refreshing to see the AC Board showing some sense of reality by doing something that will actually generate revenue for the county and local businesses.

  • KalashniKEV

    LOL @ “Transit Oriented.”

  • Thurston

    “Residential” would have meant “affordable housing”. We have more than enough of that, thank you very much. I walked by the Clarendon Ballroom last night, and saw they had the nerve to host a fundraiser for these housing do-gooders. Shame.

  • SimplyDusty

    “Waiting years for market conditions to be right for a high-density mixed-use development, some said, could jeopardize the county’s plan to build an aquatics center as part of the second phase of the Long Bridge Park project.”

    Ah, First world problems. Crisis averted!

  • YTK

    “County Board stays up until 12:50 am to approve a NEW PARK– with TREEES in Arlington County” That’ll be the day.

    Sure, we need more concrete and steel and pollution-
    belching commuters’ cars, and more people flushing toilets, polluting the air, and adding more garbage to landfills, in this area.

  • Jane

    But considering the general incompetence of Arlington County employees, the Board did what it could.

  • brian

    should have built nationals park there instead

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