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Board Approves County’s Largest Private Office Building

by ARLnow.com — September 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm 3,573 40 Comments

The Arlington County Board has approved a new 24-story office building in Crystal City — a building that’s being billed as a catalyst for Crystal City’s revitalization.

At 24 stories and 719,704 square feet, the building — 1900 Crystal Drive — will be second only to the Pentagon in Arlington in terms of floor space.

(Alhough 1900 Crystal Drive will be the tallest in Crystal City, the 580,000 square foot, 35-story office building currently under construction at 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn is still expected to be the tallest countywide.)

The building includes 11,290 square feet of ground floor retail space, plus a five-level, 732 space parking garage and nearly 150 bicycle parking spaces. Vehicle parking will be available to the public on weekends, holidays and after 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. Some residents expressed concern about extra vehicular traffic as a result of the building, but it won approval from the county’s Transportation Commission by a vote of 9-0.

Vornado, the developer of 1900 Crystal Drive, agreed to a number of community benefits in exchange for the extra zoning density required for the project. Among the benefits:

  • $3 million contribution to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  • $75,000 contribution to the county’s public art fund
  • $154,000 for Arlington utility fund, $20,000 for multi-space parking meters
  • Various improvements to 18th Street S.
  • $1.4 million for Arlington County Commuter Services and $65 Metro SmartTrip cards for building employees (to encourage transit commuting)
  • $2.76 million for a temporary half-acre park
  • $2.56 million for a four-pipe hydronic heating and cooling system, part of the county’s plan to encourage a district energy system for Crystal City

Though resident concerns about the building were largely assuaged, thanks to the addition of low-reflection glass and a 900 square foot community meeting room, Board member Chris Zimmerman voted against the project. (It passed 4-1.)

Zimmerman said that the community benefits associated with the project were relatively small for a building of its size, but ultimately his ‘no’ vote came down to his view that the building’s site plan does not pave a sure-fire path to the construction of a proposed, adjacent “Center Park.” Instead, the site plan just requires Vornado to work with county staff “to prepare an implementation plan for guiding the achievement of Center Park.”

“It should not be overlooked that there are tremendous concessions being made [to the developer],” Zimmerman said. “For the amount of bonus density being added to this site, the benefits package has been minimized, while the building has been maximized.”

Located at the corner of 20th Street and the future, realigned Clark-Bell Street, the nearly 75,000 square foot Center Park is one of the centerpiece goals of the Crystal City Sector Plan.

1900 Crystal Drive is the first project to utilize the framework outlined in the sector plan, which was approved in 2010. County officials lauded the building as an important, precedent-setting first step in the modernization and revitalization of Crystal City following the loss of numerous military offices as a result of BRAC.

“Looking at the Crystal City community benefits that are being provided, the great value of this building is that it really does commence the redevelopment of Crystal City as recommended by the Crystal City Sector Plan,” a county staffer told the Board. “Hopefully this will encourage other property owners to undergo the same type of redevelopment rather than looking to renovate their buildings.”

The new building will replace an empty, Brutalist-style office building at 1851 S. Bell Street — a building regarded as so unattractive from street-level that audible laughter could be heard when Jay Fisette sarcastically referred to it as “beautiful.” Improvements to the streetscape were considered a significant community benefit of the project.

“We are beginning to see the community’s vision for a more vibrant, walkable and transit-oriented Crystal City take shape,” Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said following the 4-1 vote. “1900 Crystal Drive will be a catalyst for the sort of redevelopment that will reinvigorate the area with quality office space and more retail, and help ensure this area remains one of the region’s premier neighborhoods for decades to come.”

Mitchell Schear, President of Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the largest property owner in Crystal City, said the continued redevelopment of Crystal City will be a “team” effort. He encouraged the county to speed up its plan to build a Crystal City streetcar line that will run from Pentagon City to Crystal Drive to the Alexandria border.

In all, the approval process for 1900 Crystal Drive took about four hours on Saturday.

  • Westover

    How many revitalizations does Crystal City need?

  • KalashniKEV

    Wow… almost $10 million in total shakedown revenue from a scam. Well played!

    • Joehoya

      Scooter guy is obviously going about it the wrong way.

  • Fat Tony

    Wow Arlington County managed to extort close to $10 million from these guys to construct this building! This is why rents are high. Also WTF is a temporary park and why does it cost almost $3 million to build? I would think you can build a permanent one for that much money.

    • K22206

      I thought spending over a million for a dog park (with some human use) was excessive:
      http://www.arlnow.com/2012/07/11/renovations-begin-on-clarendon-dog-park-next-week/

    • Thes

      If the building lasts 30 years, that’s only about $0.50 per square foot per year. Sounds pretty minimal to me.

      • Fat Tony

        It is still extortion. They will also have to pay $65 a month Smart Trip fees per employee for the remainder of the building’s life. As well as maintain the 900 sq foot of community meeting space. This building would bring in more tax revenue through it’s property value alone, as well as new business. That should be the only thing the county should want.

        • speonjosh

          My guess, based on observations of how this normally goes, is that it was, in fact, the developer that wanted extra – height, square footage, etc – and in order to get it (over and above what the zoning regs would normally allow), offered these extras (in negotiation with the County, of course).

          Your use of the term “extortion” reveals a lack of understanding of how this process usually works.

          • Warm Spring Shower

            “Your use of the term “extortion” reveals a lack of understanding of how this process usually works.”

            Just because it is the “usual” process doesn’t change what it is….

          • Thes

            I don’t know the details about this particular site plan, but this is how it has happened in the past:

            Step 1: County Board says buildings in this neighborhood are limited to 10 stories.

            Step 2: Developer 1 says, please, please please, please, please be “pro-business” and make an exception for me to build just 11 stories, please please please!

            Step 3: County Board says, no.

            Step 4: Developer 1 says but please please please please please and also I will build half a park next door! Aren’t you “pro-business”?

            Step 5: County Board says, ok. Fine, if you build the park next door then you can get an extra 1 story.

            Step 6: Developer 2 says: I demand to build 11 stories across the street from them.

            Step 7: County Board says: no.

            Step 8: Developer 2 says; but you let developer 1 build 11 stories!

            Step 9: County Board says: yes, but that was in exchange for them voluntarily offering us half a public park. We don’t see you offering anything like that. But you can have the 10 stories that the law allows.

            Step 10: Developer 2 says: EXTORTIONISTS!!!!

            Step 11: Ok, from now on we’re never making exceptions again. this is ridiculous.

            Step 12: Developer 3: Why won’t you make an exception for me? By the way, I’m willing to offer a new fire station if you let me build 11 stories. You must be anti-business.

            Step 13: County Board: no, we don’t want any more public benefits. We just want 10 story buildings and we’ll raise the tax rate to pay for any more needed fire stations and parks.

          • Ben

            So:

            Step 1: Set artificially low building restrictions
            Step 2: Get developers to pay you extra money to break said law
            Step 3: Profit

          • Scott

            Poor little ‘ol Vornado with their $16B market cap. Silly rabbit, these costs are built in and truly a cost of doing business. If it didn’t make sense for Vornado to agree to those terms, they would not have. Vornado will still make lots, and lot and lots of money on this property. Is poor Vornado also being extorted when in leasing 3 floors to some company they agree to $3M in tenant improvements?

          • Clarendon

            It is extortion in the same way that a pizza maker “extorts” you by making you pay extra for more toppings.

          • WeiQiang

            It’s business and the developer still wins.

          • CW

            Yep…if the customer wouldn’t pay for the product, the company wouldn’t charge so much. If the company couldn’t charge so much, it wouldn’t pay so much in rent. If the company couldn’t pay as much in rent, the landlord couldn’t charge as much in rent. If the landlord couldn’t charge as much, the developer couldn’t pay as much to build the building. And if the developer didn’t agree to pay as much, the County wouldn’t collect as much. See how that works?

          • KalashniKEV

            This. It’s still unethical, because they are financing nonsense with shakedown money, but for the people being extorted:
            1) I have to buy you a metro card? You can’t buy your own? OK, everyone gets a $65 metro card every month! (and now gets $32.50 less with every paycheck)
            2) I have to pay for the park next door? Why? These sky-high taxes people are paying here can’t buy them their own park? (OK, the rent just went up!)
            3) …and the biggest chunk of change goes to entitlements for dependent Adults???

            It all just makes things worse for the people who live here…

  • Mary-Austin

    Yay, I think that building actually looks really cool for an office building.

    • Michael H.

      +1

      At least the eternal critics here are no longer going on with their architectural commentary. “The current buildings have too much concrete. The new building has too much glass. Why can’t we have a Frank Gehry building? [Like the Eisenhower Memorial?] Why can’t we have a building like those designed by I.M. Pei? [Like L'Enfant Plaza? Or the National Gallery East Building, whose facade was falling apart before the new renovation project.]

      • WeiQiang

        Now that you mention it … Arlington could use a little swag.

      • Josh S

        Where does one sign up to be one of these eternal critics? I’ve always wanted to live forever.

  • James Moron

    At what point with the county recognize that extortion money from developers should be better utilized. Why not have the developers contribute to road quality, sidewalks, intersections and other things that we’re paying for anyway. The whole “affordable housing” payoff is ridiculous at this point. “Smart Cards” for employees? Really? What the hell is a temporary park?

    Meanwhile, ACPS are overcrowded and the kids have to walk uphill both ways three miles in each direction.

    • Skeptical

      +10

    • Michael H.

      So what do you consider “Various improvements to 18th Street S.” to mean? 18th Street S. is a road, and Vornado will help to pay for improvements to that road.

    • Terry

      I like how you use “James Moron” (presumably a play on Jim Moran’s name – who isn’t on the county board, btw) to berate the county board. You seem smart.

      The county board extorting money must be why Arlington is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live by almost every measure possible.

  • Jane-Dallas

    Who will be the tenants? Crystal City is dead.

  • Mc

    What is a $3 million temporary park? Does it get built over after a certain period of time?

    • Greg

      I would guess it would be built on the site for the building while they await permits and financing and such. Complete waste of money.

      I’d rather Arlington give me back $15 in taxes than build a temporary park that nobody wll use.

      • Swag

        I think it’s to build a park on an adjacent piece of land until the land gets sold and developed.

  • Greg

    $2.75 mil TEMPORARY park!!??
    $75,000 public art fund!?!?
    $3 mil for affordable housing!?!?!

    And Zimmerman, who seems like the ultimate socialist extortionist, voted no because they didn’t promise to build a public park. GTFOH

    • Josh S

      Are you sure Obama isn’t the ultimate socialist extortionist? I’m pretty sure Rush said that Obama was the ultimate socialist extortionist. Or did I miss an episode?

      • WeiQiang

        Perhaps you just stopped taking your oxycodone.

  • Just Me

    We have empty building now, so we want to build more?

    • Steve R

      The bank should put a chill on this. They willl either bend Vornado over a barrel with the terms, or not even deal. This kind of aggressive speculating is part of what caused the last credit crisis. The developers don’t know anything except full speed ahead with other people’s money. The big corporations never stop.

  • Robert Moses

    It is all done for your benefit. It keeps your residential real estate property taxes low and me in a job.

  • Meg

    How about they just buy a few school buses instead?

    • What’s Shakin’

      “How about they just buy a few school buses instead?”

      Way too low on the “Vibrant Meter” to even consider …..

  • Fred Terp

    VIBRANTERP

  • Dr_Klahn

    I love the giant diving board on the roof. If your job becomes unbearable you can just go up and walk the plank.

  • YTK

    Well, I hope that one of the stores in that building is a Giants or Safeway or Teeter.

  • lj

    They need to start building more bussiness away from the city to reduce congestion and the need to improve roads wich cost the tax payers

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