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Board Approves Bergmann’s Redevelopment

by ARLnow.com — December 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm 5,376 58 Comments

The Arlington County Board rebuffed the county’s Planning Commission Saturday afternoon, approving a new apartment development on Lee Highway after a strong showing of public support for the project.

Last month, the Planning Commission voted against the project, which includes a 10-story apartment building and a retail and residential complex that will include a MOM’s Organic Market grocery store. The development will replace the aging Bergmann’s dry cleaning plant, at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Vietch Street, less than half a mile from the Courthouse Metro station. The Planning Commission voted ‘no’ due to concerns about building height and the precedent the project might set for development on Lee Highway.

The Lyon Village Civic Association, which represents residents across Lee Highway from the proposed development, agreed with the Planning Commission. Civic Association President James Lantelme told the Board that the association supports redevelopment of the Bergmann’s site in theory, but couldn’t support a building higher than 6-8 stories.

Lantelme worried that project approval could inspire other developers to propose higher buildings along Lee Highway. He said existing garden apartment buildings and the National Pawnbrokers building at the corner of Lee Highway and Kirkwood Road could be redeveloped in the near future, making the Bergmann’s development “a real live issue right now.”

Lantelme was in the minority at Saturday’s Board meeting, however. More than a dozen residents spoke in favor of the development, 10 stories and all — a fairly rare showing of support at Board meetings where proposals to construct high buildings are usually greeted with a chorus of disapproval from neighbors.

The North Highlands Citizens Association — which represents some 1,800 households and businesses north of Lee Highway, including the Bergmann’s site — voted 70 percent in favor of the project. Residents told the Board that the proposed development, especially the grocery store, is welcome in the neighborhood. Until the recent addition of the now-busy Burger 7 restaurant, the only retail store in North Highlands was a 7-Eleven.

“As a resident in the actual neighborhood, I think the positives would far outweigh the negatives,” said one resident. “High rises are just a fact of modern life in Arlington.”

Another resident voiced support for the development’s 11 on-site affordable housing units, and the fact that the grocery store will include a cafe that could become a neighborhood gathering spot.

“I think this will help us become a more cohesive community,” she said. “I would enjoy shopping there. I would enjoy neighbors living there… I love the building, it’s filled with light. This has an aesthetic appeal and a design that contributes to people getting to know each other.”

Anita Machhar, co-president of the North Highlands Citizens Association, criticized the Planning Commission’s stance that the county should produce a comprehensive development plan for Lee Highway before approving the Bergmann’s project.

“It is unfair to hold our community hostage while it takes years for a master plan to be developed,” she said. “We don’t want a rundown dry cleaner as our community landmark.”

Republican activist Robert Atkins, a frequent critic of the county at Board meetings, also spoke in favor of the development, urging the Planning Commission to “return from their parallel universe, return to planet Earth.”

In the end, the County Board voted 5-0 to approve the development.

“This development will transform an eyesore into neighborhood center,” Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “It embodies the goals of Smart Growth by combining new homes, including affordable units, with the neighborhood’s first grocery store and other ground floor retail, all within walking distance of Courthouse Metro.”

The developer agreed to a number of community benefits as part of the project, including clean-up of environmental contamination from the dry cleaning plant, improvements to nearby McCoy Park, improvements to the nearby Custis Trail, pedestrian safety improvements on Lee Highway and the maintenance of landscaping along I-66, which borders the development.

More information about the community benefits and other details of the project can be found in an Arlington County press release, below.

The Arlington County Board today approved a mixed residential-retail redevelopment of the Bergmann’s dry cleaning plant site that will bring a grocery store to the neighborhood and add affordable housing on-site.

The developer plans to lease much of the ground floor retail space to the County’s first Mom’s Organic Market , a specialty grocery store.

“This development will transform an eyesore into neighborhood center,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “It embodies the goals of Smart Growth by combining new homes, including affordable units, with the neighborhood’s first grocery store and other ground floor retail, all within walking distance of Courthouse Metro.”

The County Board took five votes on this project. The board voted:

  • 5 to 0 to amend the General Land Use Plan to designate the two blocks for this planned development “Low” Office-Apartment-Hotel
  • 5 to 0 to rezone the parcels at C-O-1.5, Commercial office Building, Hotel and Apartment Districts
  • 5 to 0 to approve the site plan
  • 5 to 0 to vacate an easement for public utilities and a portion of 20th St. North
  • 5 to 0 to amend the Master Transportation Plan

Developer McCaffrey Interests proposes redeveloping two parcels – one that holds the former dry cleaning plant and another with five single-family homes — on the north side of Lee Highway, between North Veitch Street and Interstate 66, separated by North Uhle Street. The developer earned additional density for agreeing to achieve LEED Gold certification and for providing on-site affordable housing.

The proposed development would provide the first grocery store in the North Highlands Civic Association area, home to more than 3,000 residents.

A total of up to 202 apartments are planned for the two parcels. The east block will feature a 10-story apartment building with 160 rental units. The west block will consist of a two-to-three story building with 13,257-square feet of retail, including a specialty grocery store, apartments above the retail and stacked flats ringing the parking garage.

Community Benefits

The developer has agreed to provide significant community benefits, including:

  • 11 units of on-site affordable housing committed for 30 years
  • $150,000 to the Department of Parks and Recreation for improvements to neighboring McCoy Park
  • Realignment of Custis Trail intersection with Lee Highway
  • Off-site transportation improvements, including widened and landscaped medians and pedestrian refuges (small islands in between the streets for pedestrians to stop at before crossing) in Lee Highway, a contribution of $75,000 towards a new traffic light at Lee Highway and Veitch Street, and improvements to Metro bus stops on Lee Highway and ART bus stops on 21st Street North
  • Transportation Demand Management, including providing pre-loaded SmarTrip cards or subsidized car-sharing membership to residents of the apartments and employees of the retail uses and residential management company
  • Landscaping and perpetual maintenance of VDOT-right-of-way surrounding the 10-story residential building East block.
  • Clean-up of an environmentally contaminated site

Enhancing the neighborhood

The development is just a few blocks (.43 miles) from the Courthouse Metro station, bringing a specialty grocery store within walking distance of thousands of residents. The plans call for the store to also offer a café to serve the surrounding community. The apartment building planned for the eastern parcel will be surrounded by landscaped green space, with a water fountain and secure bicycle storage.

Community outreach

The site is located in the North Highlands Civic Association area. Representatives from North Highlands and the adjacent Lyon Village Citizens Associations participated in three meetings of the County’s Long Range Planning Committee and five meetings of the Planning Commission Site Plan Review Committee . The North Highlands Civic Association voted to recommend approval of the site plan at their November 2012 meeting.

Parking plan

The parking garage provides about 242 parking spaces — more than required. Around 49 parking spaces are reserved on the top level of the parking structure for the market’s customers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Residential parking, “unbundled” from apartment rent, will be in the lower two levels of the garage. “Unbundling” allow tenants the option of paying less if they do not park a car in the garage.

Sustainable Design

As part of the County’s green building initiative, both buildings will be designed to achieve LEED Gold certification , and will commit to the new energy efficiency and energy usage reporting criteria of the recently updated Green Building Density Incentive Policy .

Background

The proposed development is the site of the former Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning plant that has been in operation since the 1950s. The dry cleaning operations have moved out of Arlington and the site now serves only as a dry cleaning pick-up and drop-off. The block to the east is currently developed with five single-family detached homes that were rentals and are currently vacant.

The proposed site plan is consistent with the recommendations of the Special GLUP Study for a mixed-use project that has a placemaking character that can be a center of neighborhood activity for a neighborhood that currently lacks significant retail and an identifiable center.

Placemaking involves providing a vibrant space that meets the needs and desires of a community by providing for a mix of uses, a range of affordability, improved connectivity accommodating the full range of transportation options and gathering spaces.

  • dd

    See? This is why developers throw grocery stores into their projects.

    • dd

      “Enhancing the neighborhood” = “Enticing the neighborhood”

      • dd

        Look at the quotes–the store even got the neighbors to swallow the affordable housing component, which NIMBYs always despise (“property values!”).

        • drax

          Yes, once again, anyone who has a different opinion from yours is gullible or stupid.

          • Captain_Obvious

            That actually is possible…

        • CW

          Because in this case the alternative is a bunch of condemned houses and a dry cleaning business that is also being used (possibly against zoning/permits) as a staging area for some car dealership. Yes, I would rather live next to a few poor people (gasp) in brand new apartments than an industrial site and boarded up houses that look like they are out of Detroit.

          • drax

            But you’ve been “enticed” CW.

          • CW

            It is true, I have technically been enticed.

          • 6 Mile & Livernois

            SweeTee, if those houses were in Deetriot they would have been tourched a looong time ago.

          • Duh

            You do realize that those houses decrepit because the developer bought them, and then sat on the land and let them fall into disrepair, right? They weren’t in that condition when the developer bought them.

        • nemesis

          I actually attended the Planning Commission Hearing in November. From what I learned there, the developer got 30 of 41 members of that civic association, most of whom live on the NE side of I-66, to swallow everything including the 10 + stories because they wanted to shop and didn’t like to see the boarded up houses as they drove past them over the bridge to home. They also won’t have to endure any of the traffic/parking problems because the site is not actually in those member’s neighborhood, i.e., on their side of I-66, where most of the higher priced owner occupied housing is. Apparently, that civic association treats the SW side of I-66 as the wrong side of the tracks where it’s fine to build anything so long as it’s a convenience to them. It also seems that the civic association wasn’t bothered enough about the decaying boarded up buildings on the wrong side of the tracks to do anything about it during the 10-12 years they’ve been that way. They sounded as if they were on the developer’s staff.

          The other 11 members live on the wrong side of the tracks, i.e., SW side of I-66, where most of the apartments and condos are. They and most on that side liked the building with the grocery but not the height of the tower and wanted improvements to the intersection and signals for pedestrian and traffic safety and a contribution to improve the park across the street. And, from reading this article, the developer is now providing those items.

      • highriser

        Bergmann’s strategy of boarding up those houses and letting his laundry building go to hell to get support from neighbors for development up zoning proposals is the oldest trick in the books but it worked on this neighborhood. Where was their civic association while these houses were rotting for years? Why didn’t they take action through the county to get them torn down? Why didn’t they do anything when Bergmann’s pulled the facade off the back of their building to make it look shabbier?

  • Road Diet

    Very cool to see that the parking is unbundled. This building will be a 10 minute walk from Court House metro, so lots of people will live there without having to own a car.

  • chipotle_addict

    “The Planning Commission voted ‘no’ due to concerns about building height and the precedent the project might set for development on Lee Highway.”

    I’m glad this building got approved, because it might set a precedent for development on Lee Highway. Density is good, not bad.

    • Not No Dense

      “Density is good, not bad.”

      Depends on your point of view.

      • Taylor

        City planners believe that all density is good – and if you disagree, then you’re just an unenlightened suburbanite who needs to be educated about what best for yourself.

        • drax

          Please quote a single city planner who has said that.

          • Taylor

            Well, Andres Duany for one. I’ve heard him talk twice, and both times he mentioned how cities should be planned by “experts” (like himself, of course) because ordinary people really don’t know what’s best for them. I also remember the Columbia Pike consultants making similar comments when confronted with people who weren’t enamored with their brilliance. City Planners in general seem to take a very dismissive attitude towards people who don’t care to see their neighborhoods built up with high-rises.

          • Confused

            Actually Duany is an architect by training, I believe, and he has designed private developments – AFAIK he has never held a govt. job. Also given what his projects look like, I doubt he believes that ALL density is good. His projects mostly are not that dense.

            As for Col Pike, given that the zoning the county settled on is 6 story buildings, it doesn’t sound like they want all density there either. And of course thats along one of the busiest bus routes in the region, and its close to the Pentagon, so its not really an example of density in all places anywhere (and IIUC the Col Pike plan preserves low density a few blocks away from the Pike itself).

          • drax

            Fair enough, but I was thinking more about Arlington.

            And I don’t like generalizations (in general).

          • captain_subtle

            Density has been promoted in urban planning a long time before Duany was doing it. He is more interested in mixed use development and walk-ability from what I read. The new LEED guidelines also give out a lot of points for promoting density, as a sustainable solution to minimizing sprawl. The county actually gives “bonus density” over the zoned maximum if you can nail a LEED Gold rated building. So not only urban planners see density as a good thing. The county sees it as a means to reduce sprawl and avoid a housing shortage as more and more jobs are created in places like DC and Rosslyn.

            200 people can show up and walk around all over the place and it’s not a big deal. But when 200 people come and all stack behind already horrendous traffic, it’s another story.

      • Road Diet

        From a tax-revenue point of view, high density has been a blessing for Arlington since the 1950′s.

    • CW

      I also don’t understand who thought that was a precedent. Potomac Towers is 10 stories. I guess they were using the word “on” in the most literal sense. Yes it is one block off of Lee Highway, but its parking lot backs right up to the Bergmann’s site.

      • NoVapologist

        The argument I heard put forth [I take no position on the merits of said argument] is that the zoning all along Lee Hwy is the same as the Bergmann’s site and that rezoning it to allow a 10-story structure opens the door for similar rezoning all the way up Lee Hwy.

        • CW

          I guess it is fair to consider right on Lee Hwy vs a 1 block setback to be different things. The Bergmann’s site is such an outlier, though – literally. It’s bounded completely by other (major) roads except for that little bit where Veitch curves around, and so it’s just its own little world.

          • highriser

            That site just across the bridge over I-66 between 21st St N and Lee Highway/I-66 is in its own little world too with nearly identical site and location attributes. All it lacks is boarded up houses which can easily be remedied.

      • Sparky

        Potomac Towers, built in 1961 on over 7 acres, could not be built today because zoning ordinances were changed in the 1970s to prohibit tall building along Lee Highway. The Waverly Civic Association, in their letter to the Board objecting to the 10 + story height, said, “Since the inception of the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor on 12/7/1974,  with amendments  in  the  1980’s, the County continuously told neighborhoods that the tall buildings of the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor were based on the positive  linkage  with  mass  transit  and  that  density  would  not  ‘creep’ into adjacent residential areas, i.e., heights would taper down, nor would the Metro Corridor definition be redefined to expand the width of the corridor. The current Development Goals of the GLUP are to concentrate high-density residential, commercial and office within the Metro Corridor. ” For the Bergmann’s development, the Board up zoned 5 small single-family home lots (R-5) and commercial property (C-2) where Bergmann’s is currently. The Board has now broken that promise to neighborhoods and set a new precedent for 10 + story buildings along Lee Highway. Additional developments would need to go through the approval process but the County would now be hard pressed to legally deny a proposal just because it is 10 + stories.

    • Ivy

      I agree…..density is very good!

    • Say it Ain’t So

      You don’t drive do you addict?

  • gunname

    The residents of this neighborhood do not approve, and we will RISE UP to fight this travesty of democracy!

    • Dr Seuss

      I live right around the corner and I like it. Counter protest!

      • Southeast Ben

        I’m with Dr. Seuss. I live in Palisades and am for the retail (grocery store, maybe a coffee shop, etc) and feel anything is better than those terrible vacant buildings. I would like a smaller apartment/condo building than 10 stories. I def am against any low-income housing opportunities.

      • drax

        Everyone sleep in your bathtubs tonight, there might be stray bullets.

        • Southeast Ben

          I’ll sleep just fine…it’s just the additional breakins which will likely come with it in our quiet neighborhood.

          • drax

            Those organic shoppers are a bunch of hooligans.

          • Traffic

            Probably teenage rich kids looking for stuff to exchange for drugs.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    We can call it the “we don’t need no stinking jobs” building. And let’s wait and see if an actually grocery get’s put in , lots of the projects start with “plans” that get “changed” to a more developer friendly option once the developer gets a hold of the hostage.

  • ItsTOOOOOfar

    “Residents told the Board that the proposed development, especially the grocery store, is welcome in the neighborhood.Until the recent addition of the now-busy Burger 7 restaurant, the only retail store in North Highlands was a 7-Eleven.”

    Because its TOOOO far to go the 5 mins to get to Whole Foods in Clarendon or the Giants on Lee Highway or Roslyn???? Jeeeez.

    • CW

      There are thousands of residents of single and multi-family homes in that area for whom that will now be the closest store. I think they will have a pretty good captive audience.

    • drax

      “Residents told the Board that the proposed development, especially the grocery store, is welcome in the neighborhood.”

      Unless you also live nearby, their reasons are not really your concern.

    • Bard

      Having lived in Palisade Gardens for 8 years, it kind of is. The only walkable grocery option was the Safeway on Wilson, and even that was a hike. It will be really nice for the residents along Veitch and thereabouts to have some convenient retail options. Definitely far better than the eyesore that was Bergmanns

    • m

      The Giants started in New York, then moved to San Francisco. Now they are in Roslyn or on Lee Highway? Jeeeez.

  • Elliot Ness

    It is more likely that Hines, Fisette, and Zimmie (both votes) are being paid by the developer. Don’t worry, the payment is for general advice (WINK, WINK) not this particular vote.

    • darsasx

      I read it more as “Board Member$ endor$e Developer’$ Plan$, Providing Ma$$ive Kickback$” – read with the Gilbert Gottfried voice of Sidney Bernstein from Beverly Hills Cop II:
      “Wait a second, I’ve got an idea. Is there something that I have in this office that I could hand to you, and that would make you kind of forget that you’re holding those, uh, little pink tickets there?”

  • NoVapologist

    Is Mom’s a real grocery store or just a boutique place with quinoa, brown rice flour, and non-animal tested elderberry body lotion?

    • nom de guerre

      MOM’s only carries amaranth, teff and sustainable dingleberry body lotion.

  • HenryBennet XIII

    Has the plan comm lost touch w the citizens?
    Or lost touch in general?

    • Virginia Squared

      The impression I’ve gotten from various Planning Commission meetings is that the committee is a politically-insulated middleman, TOO aware that its recommendation to the Board could potentially make or break a multi-million dollar development project. While there are usually some legitimate concerns raised (like what justifies a deviation from the minimum parking ratio), most of the members’ talking time (and there is a lot of it) is spent on vague/abstract ideas without suggestions for improvement (like “maintaining a sense of community”), or seriously subjective and minor items about architecture.

      I get that someone (not the Board) has to go back and forth with the developer to get certain benefits when a project exceeds the zoning/development guidelines, but I’m not surprised that the Board doesn’t blindly follow the Commission’s recommendations. If they did, developers would have to spend too much time and money to change the plans to every Commission member’s liking to actually build anything.

    • brown before green

      In general, as a matter of fact. And they’re rather proud.

      you’re welcome.

  • C McC D

    Chris Zimmerman wants you to know that ACECOMM is in no way bidding on this. But he just did start an unpaid internship with Moms Organic, but only in Montreal…..

  • ClarenCourt Neighbor

    This is great news for the neighborhood! Can’t wait until they get to work on it…the sooner the better!!

  • Arlingtonian

    Increased density brings in tax revenue, but it increases the need for services. Increased density always creates higher taxes. That’s why its cheaper to live in the boonies than in urban areas.

    Increased density in urban centers does not stop or slow sprawl in the outer suburbs. Each jurisdiction wants to increase its own density. The outer suburbs will rezone their properties to attract development regardless of what Arlington does. In fact, the increased density in Arlington attracts commuters from less expensive outer suburbs and actually serves to increase sprawl and traffic congestion throughout Northern Virginia.

    • moredensityplease

      Good points, but I think the increased property values are what creates the higher taxes. Population density is also different than “job density”. Rosslyn, the Courthouse area, and DC have a lot of job density. Much of that can be supported by adjacent housing density that would help reduce the traffic loads and possibly some of the people using Metro. For example, if the new development next to the Rosslyn station is supposed to provide around 1000 new jobs, then wouldn’t it be ideal for a decent percentage of those people to live within a 15 minute walk radius? I don’t think density is so bad, especially when I consider that this Rosslyn example alone would otherwise cause a lot of these 1000 example people to live in more automobile-centric areas OR stack up in even more of Arlington’s (and DC’s and Alexandria’s) lower-density townhouse developments. When a 1-family townhouse is rented out to 3 renters (often with 3 cars), a lot more ripples go through our urban ponds than what would have otherwise been caused by a few more tall buildings.
      By the way, a 7-story building is “tall” just like an 11-story building. Has anyone walked around Rosslyn before and said “Wow, these buildings should all be just 3 or 4 stories lower…”?

  • iiandyiiii

    Looking forward to it! Finally, a grocery store we can walk to besides the god-awful Safeway.

  • karzai

    Thank goodness the Board approved this. This will bring vibrancy to what is now a rundown, underutilized eyesore of a little enclave. Very welcome indeed..

  • Sparky

    With the precedent set, the next major high rise/mixed use development in North Highlands may be the area between Lee Highway/I-66 and 21st St. N (a major arterial) from N Smythe St to N Troy St. This site has the same location attributes as the Bergmann’s site. At 162,000 sq ft., it’s twice the size and suitable for at least 2 high rises the size of the one to be built on the Bergmann’s site. The county will net at least $4 million (based on what McCaffery paid for vacating 20th St N) from a developer by vacating the adjacent stubs of N Smythe and N Troy and the block of 20th Rd near the Custis Trail. Those streets aren’t needed for the street grid when that site is developed. The developer would need to provide access to the Custis Trail from 21St St N and would have the same opportunities for improving the trail as there were at the Bergmann’s site. A real grocery, cafes and other retail on the ground floor could front the 21st N side to serve the needs of both N Highlands and Rosslyn residents. Scott St to N 21st St would provide easy access for Rosslyn shoppers. The intersection and lights at N Veitch will already have been improved to accommodate access to the development from the west as a result of the Bergmann’s site development. Those 1940s duplexes are tiny, about the size of a one bedroom apartment, and not the best use of property in such a prime location. The developer might offer a discount on condos to them as an incentive to sell.

  • nemesis

    No need to offer discounts. Just buy a few units and board them up; the rest will soon sell. Board those up too as you go. The N Highlands Civic Assn will approve whatever you want to replace them.

  • highriser

    Uncanny how that site is situated exactly like Bergmann’s. It’s even got some vacant county and V-Dot property the developer could spruce up to enhance his development. I’d include the apartment building on the east end and add a third high-rise. I’d also put in the biggest grocery I could fit, perhaps a Wegman’s, of at least 80,000 sq. ft. Groceries are excluded from density calculations so if your apartments average 900 sq. ft., that means you could build an additional 88 apartments. The Board would bend over backwards to approve it due to the additional sales tax it would bring in. That little MOM’s store is really a speciality natural foods store that doesn’t directly compete. Add some affordable housing units and LEED Gold to get the maximum density and you’re right up at ten stories where the views would be magnificent.

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