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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.