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Board to Hear Grocery Store-Related Proposal for Crystal City

by ARLnow.com September 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm 4,841 19 Comments

It’s a rather unglamorous item on Saturday’s county board agenda, but behind the mundane particulars of a site plan amendment to turn retail space into office space is an issue near and dear to the hearts of many Crystal City residents: the potential for a neighborhood grocery store.

The firm that operates the underground shops at 2100 Crystal Drive wants to take 5,661 square feet of open retail space and convert it to office and storage use. But that would come at the expense of a vacant 17,919 square foot space that, until 2005, housed a Safeway store. The landlord has been trying to find another grocery tenant, but has been fighting a strong headwind caused by the weak national economy and the imminent departure of 13,000 jobs from the Crystal City area.

Essentially, the request to convert vacant space to an office use is a white flag — an admission that after five years of trying to market the space to grocery stores, leasing agents have come to the conclusion that no one wants to run a 17,919 square foot grocery store in the Crystal City underground at this time. While keeping open the possibility of a smaller, Trader Joe’s-sized market, the landlord is trying to find a way — any way — to productively fill some of the excess space.

But the county board may not allow that to happen. County staff is recommending that the site plan amendment be denied and that the space remain open for a potential grocery store. While acknowledging the difficulty in finding a suitable tenant, staff argues that it’s important to “retain the potential for a use that would activate the public realm and/or have a higher value to the community.”

County staff concludes that the space should be retained for retail or for “civic and culturally-oriented uses.” Besides, staff notes, BRAC will leave plenty of vacant office space for the landlord’s potential 5,661 square foot tenant.

The board is expected to take up the matter on Saturday. Then, on Tuesday, an item with far wider-reaching consequences will be considered: the 40-year Crystal City Sector Plan.

  • Lou

    How much civic or culturally oriented use does the County get out of vacant space? I hope the Board applies some common sense and goes against staff.

    • Judy Landgar

      Like the article said, there already is plenty of vacant office space in CC. If the landlord actually has a tenant (doubtful), there are dozens of other spots they can locate nearby.

      • Lou

        They have a tenant. They’re not doing this just because they’re bored.

        • Judy Landgar

          No, they’re doing it because they are greedy.

          • Lou

            If greed was their motivation, they would just put the tenant in one of the dozens of other locations you referenced.

    • Burger

      Considering there are two other grocery store options that are pretty close and one reason why the landlord is likely having difficulty filling the space. Safeway closed 5 years ago. When did the HT open up in Pentagon City – 6-7 years ago. Not shocking that Safeway was put out of business when compared to the HT.

  • YTK

    What happened to the Safeway that used to be there — it’s GONE?? As a new Yorker I find it REALLY STRANGE that an area with SO MANY residents does not have a local grocery store!!! I thought Arligton County was promoting the use of less fuel — why drive when there is a store you can WALK to!!!!

    • Thes

      YTK you may be interested to know that “Arlington County” does have actually have a clear policy favoring, essentially, as many grocery stores as possible.

      http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/CPHD/planning/docs/pdf/file64319.pdf

      Unfortunately (well, not unfortunately, but realistically), the County government can neither run its own grocery store at this location, nor force a grocery store operator into the location by force. Mostly what the government can do is make agreements with big landlords with lots of tenants to set aside some space in their projects for a grocery store (often the County will grant a landlord extra rentable density to compensate).

      The question is, what happens if the landlord doesn’t offer low enough rental rates for a grocery store to want to come in? Well, then you get the situation we have here, where the space sits vacant because the landlord is hoping to get the County to abandon its commitment to a grocery store and allow the landlord to get a higher-paying tenant. (But of course, the landlord never offers to give up the extra goodies it received from the government in order to help them cover the lower grocery store rents.)

      If the County government buckles, as @Lou wants it to, then there is no grocery store, the landlord is richer, and the neighbors lose. However, if the County government holds firm, the landlord will see that it needs to accept a lower rent from a prospective grocery store (maybe even nearly free) in order to get agreement from a grocery store to move in. Also sometimes it just takes a long time to find the right store.

      • Lou

        I think it’s more a matter of no large grocer wants to be in that s**thole space when there’s not enough parking around for its potential customers. They want to take a small portion of the space and lease it, which will still leave room for a grocer. Staff is refusing to acknowledge the changes to the retail profile in that area, as well as the parking conundrum that they themselves created, which has actually become a hardship on the leasing agency.

        • Judy Landgar

          Why is it so critical that this particular space be converted to office use and “storage” when there are vacancies literally next door?

          • Lou

            It’s almost certain those next door spaces, as shown in the picture above, would require the same amendment process from retail to office. Plus they are smaller than the other space the tenant has looked at.

            Staff would have the same objections, and the board will just tell the people to eat empty space.

            Don’t worry, there is zero chance of the Board approving the request. All the staff’s logic is hung on the recommendations of the draft Crystal City sector plan, which is about to be approved anyway. Staff’s recommendation and the sector plan give the Board all the cover they need to rubber stamp the rejection.

  • Lindsey

    @YTK – There is a grocery store (Harris Teeter) in Pentagon City, and another one just south of the Crystal City on Route 1. For most residents of the area, myself included, one of these is within a 10-15 minute walk.

    That said, I’d love another option, and would be much more likely to walk to the store if it was only 2 minutes away instead of 10.

  • ArlRes

    If I lived in Crystal City I’d drive to any of the options — HT in Pentagon City, HT at S Glebe and US1 or Shoppers in Potomac Yards.

    There is no grocery that can be walked to.

  • roemary

    what about a Wegmans????

  • Jawsome Ya-yeah

    Can we get a frickin’ Whole Foods in the neighborhood already? And how about a good craft beer joint like Churchkey while we’re at it. South Arlington gets no love.

  • @Roemary- YES to Wegmans!!! If the county doesn’t act we will end up with one of Wal-Mart’s new urban concepts called “Marketplace”. It’s too bad Wegmans isn’t pursuing an urban concept store as this would be ideal!

  • que_de_que

    There’s plenty of other spaces that they could convert to office/storage space. I hope they keep trying to find a grocery store – like someone else mentioned on here, while there are other grocery stores nearby, none of them are walking distance. It would be great if I could stop by a Trader Joe’s or an urban-style grocery store after getting off the Metro on my way home.

  • A.R.

    I would love it if they put a grocery store. I miss the Safeway that was there, and I know that most of my limited-mobility elder neighbors miss it as well.
    It would have been great to have, especially when the snow storm happened.

  • Arl_Bill

    The CC Safeway was small/subpar and staffed by some very unmotivated workers. It wasn’t a surprise when it closed, competition will do that (in the real world)..

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