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Bluemont Civic Association Mulls Development Plan

by ARLnow.com April 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm 7,851 73 Comments

County Board Member Mary Hynes seemed a bit surprised at last night’s Bluemont Civic Association meeting when she started fielding questions about a development plan for the North Arlington neighborhood.

“It’s not on the county’s radar,” she told anxious residents and businesses owners who had gathered in the library of the Arlington Traditional School.

It turns out that the plan everybody wanted to talk about was not a county plan at all, but a private plan commissioned by the leaders of the civic association. The 32-page document, which includes renderings of an imagined “Bluemont Village Center” along Wilson Boulevard, was created after civic association leaders decided just over a year ago that it would be prudent to begin thinking of the neighborhood’s long-range (10-20 year) future as part of its upcoming neighborhood conservation plan.

The reasoning, as explained by the civic association’s president, was that the Bluemont Safeway (5101 Wilson Blvd) — which seems to be serving fewer and fewer customers lately — may decide to sell its large property. If that were to happen now, the neighborhood wouldn’t have much of a say in the kind of business they sell it to. A plan could help guide the use of the land so that it — and properties around it — could be gradually transformed into an attractive, pedestrian-friendly commercial district.

Without seeing the plan itself, Hynes spoke in generalities.

“These edge properties [along Wilson Boulevard] present some really interesting opportunities to get some neighborhood-serving businesses,” she said, promising: “I will follow up on that.”

Not so fast, said a number of residents and local business owners, concerned about the effects on the neighborhood and on the small businesses whose existing buildings were digitally erased in the renderings.

“The development keeps marching closer and closer and closer,” said one resident, as the rhetoric started heating up.

“Small is beautiful, we like small and we don’t like big,” said another resident. “We don’t want huge corporations coming in.”

“I would strongly oppose this plan,” said yet another.

Some business owners argued that their businesses would be “wiped out” by the planned redevelopment, which would likely result in higher rents. They added that while surveys about the plan were sent to residents, they did not receive proper notification.

Civic association leaders, however, assured critics that the plan was created to gather community input, not to force anything on the neighborhood. But, they argued, being proactive about redevelopment is better than waiting.

“Development happens, things will change,” said a plan supporter. “I want this to be a viable community.”

Despite an informal discussion with developer JBG, civic association reps told the audience that they weren’t working with any specific builders on the plan.

With the meeting running long, discussion of the plan was tabled until May.

  • Bluemontsince1961

    The Safeway is on Wilson between N. Edison and N. Frederick. It’s been in a sorry state for a long time. I believe most of my fellow Bluemont residents would like to see it upgraded and improved, as it is the only grocery store in walking distance for most of us (other than Westover Market).

    • dynaroo

      Yes, the building sucks, and so does the parking lot.

      A few years back, Safeway was talking about putting a gas station in there. That’s why the neighborhood needs to be out in front on planning.

    • Allen Wood

      I shop there frequently, and find the store quite adequate. I wouldn’t mind having it upgraded, though. The problem is, the proposals that have been presented don’t just upgrade the store, they also chase out existing businesses and add multi-story housing units that would increase congestion and noise in the area. The increased congestion is particularly troubling since there is an elementary school less than a block away, so more cars in the area would mean an increased risk to children going to and from school.

      • Thomas

        Not sure if you’re aware, but ATS isn’t a neighborhood school. It’s a lottery school drawing students from thoughout the county. So, there aren’t a whole lot of kids walking to that school.

        Of course, increased vehicular traffic could still pose a risk to children attending the school…I just wanted to point that out.

      • Congestion and noise? Isn’t that one of the quietest, least-congested stretches of Wilson in the entire county?

        • David

          Have you seen the traffic at the intersection of Wilson and George Mason? It gets very congested during rush hour due to 66 being HOV restricted. The Bluemont Trail also cross Wilson at that intersection. It’s horrible traffic wise and has lots of pedestrian and bicycle traffic going through it. Not too mention completely inadequate turn signals. The entire intersection is just a mess.

      • Arlington, Northside

        The Safeway is adequate when compared to a Soviet Grocery Stroe in 1984, but I hope for more in our neighborhood. I hope that Safeway will revive the store and not sell it, but they really do need to do something positive with it.

        • dynaroo

          In most towns in America in 1984 it would have also been just fine. Only in Arlington in 2011 is this a crappy store, because people are so privileged.

    • Mkt Common

      When I lived in Bluemont 20 years ago that Safeway was crappy and rundown. It doesn’t look like it’s gotten any better!

  • PhilL

    Any idea about who actually created that report for the Association?

    • NOVApologist

      Perhaps – “Jane S. Kim, a county design engineer and graduate student at Virginia Tech, who is working with Bluemont residents as part of her graduate project to produce a design framework for a unified Bluemont Village Center.”

      • jane s. kim

        Nope, not me. I finished my graduate project last year and submitted this report: http://bit.ly/kkI7kI.

        I have not spoken with any Bluemont residents since last May.

        • PhilL

          Is your link correct? Because it is the same report linked in the article above.

          • jane s. kim

            my bad. here’s the correct link: http://bit.ly/lDkQV4

          • PhilL

            OK, that looks like a much more thoughtful study than those renderings above. They don’t look like something that anyone from VPISU would put out, but someone put some time into them. I smell developer freebies.

          • jan

            excellent, Jane

        • dynaroo

          Wow, Jane, you found that post fast.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      I’m not sure who created it, but I recall a survey that the Civic Association sent to all Bluemont residents. The survey is located at:

      http://www.bluemontcivic.org/index.php/content/archive

      scroll down to the “2010 Neighborhood Conservation Survey”, there is both a .PDF and an .XLS file that gives further details.

  • MC 703

    There’s that damn Avalanche again!

    • othersideoftheriver

      Yeah, but without the creepy jogging lady.

  • Josh

    First they get rid of Taco Bell from Courthouse now McD’s is going! Wendy’s gotta be next

    • dynaroo

      If you look carefully at the “imagined future” for that lot, the new building still has McDonald’s in it.

      • Rick

        yeah but it lacks a drive thru. the whole point of going to that mcdonalds is having your food go down a conveyor belt above the store

        • dynaroo

          Maybe there is an underground drive-through to go with the underground garage.

          And have you ever noticed that it’s actually faster to just park and go in sometimes?

  • ArlForester

    I think those plans seem a little too grand for that area. There’s no way the people who own the McD’s property down to the Two Chefs strip would sell their land or that mixed use would even be approved.

    The Safeway needs to be knocked down and a new one built. That is the best option for that plot.

  • novasteve

    Wow, more room for burger and cupcake places!I love that safeway for the reason it is never busy there. I don’t like have to play dodge cart with other customers who are so oblivious to everyone else.

  • OX4

    Why can’t we get a renovated Safeway like the ‘burbs get? I was just in that Safeway and it smells like mildew. Absolutely disgusting. The Rosslyn Safeway is filthy, too.

    • SB

      Just go past that Safeway to the one near Target. I tried that Safeway once and realized never to go again. The one by Target is shiny and new and definitely worth driving a little further down Wilson for.

      • PhilL

        Safeway has definitely shown a preference to renovate in-place rather than close. People thought the tiny Lee-Harrison one would close years ago with the new competition but they threw some money into a renovation and it did OK.

      • OX4

        Oh yea, I forgot about that one. They closed for a few months during renovation and definitely made a change for the better.

        • Dan

          Actually they never closed during either of the two renovations that it has had done.
          It never has made up much of the ground that it lost to the Harris Teeter that opened across the street where the old Super Fresh had been.

          • PhilL

            Where the old A&P had been.

          • ArlForester

            The A&P was where Harris Teeter is now.

          • PhilL

            I know. I just think it’s funny that a lot of people say that Safeway store is not very good or too small, and yet it has outlasted all others at that intersection.

  • Brock

    The study was done by Ryan Arnold, a recent architecture grad from U Michigan with roots in Bluemont, who presented it at the meeting. He said it was just for his own portfolio.

    This Safeway is small, and it doesn’t even have a pharmacy or a bakery. And within an easy drive, you have a slew of much nicer, larger supermarkets, including the Teeter on Glebe, the Giant on Wash Blvd., the Safeway on 50 and the Target next to it (which also sells groceries), the Safeway and HT at Lee-Harrison–not to mention T. Joe’s and Whole Foods. Or the BJ’s up the street.

    The plans look nice, and that part of Wilson could definitely use better sidewalks and something to slow the traffic down. But new residences would definitely bring more cars, because not everyone will take Metro, esp. with the overcrowding and delays on the Orange Crush.

    There are also a ton of great small businesses right there, who would probably be driven out by the higher rents that would come.

    • ac

      http://www.bluemontcivic.org/index.php/bca_news/bca_meetings_at_a_glance2/

      Last General Meeting, 1/19
      At the January meeting, Ryan Arnold, a recent University of Michigan architecture school graduate, presented his architectural drawings of the Bluemont Village Center concept to guide the redevelopment of the Wilson Boulevard commercial corridor. Working with Judah dal Cais, Arnold expanded upon urban design student Jane Kim’s initial concepts that were prepared based on resident feedback gathered at last year’s Village Center forum and Neighborhood Conservation (NC) survey.
      Arnold’s suggested proposal includes mixed-use buildings (retail establishments on the ground level with apartments above) for the existing Safeway, Two Chefs, Super Pollo, and McDonald’s sites. A parking garage might be situated on the Federal Lock & Safe site. These designs are meant to be included in BCA’s revised NC Plan, and the ultimate goal of this vision is to attract a developer that will transform the Bluemont commercial sector into a walkable focal point for the neighborhood and a source of pride for the community.
      Arnold and dal Cais subsequently met with representatives of developer JBG. Their discussions focused primarily on redevelopment of the Safeway site, To review Arnold’s presentation and the results of the NC survey, please visit http://www.bluemontcivic.org.

    • Suzanne Smith Sundburg

      Safeway in Bluemont has a wonderful pharmacy. Yabbi and Arlie are the best, most helpful pharmacists I’ve ever had.

      When I moved to Bluemont almost 16 years ago, my realtor (who also lived in the neighborhood) remarked that whereas the Safeway wasn’t the newest or the biggest grocery store in the area, she bet that I’d end up shopping there because the staff was so nice. She was right. I visit the store frequently and know most of the staff by name, which gives it a personal, almost small-town feeling. To me, that’s worth a lot more than fighting the scrum at Whole Paycheck!

      • Sue

        I agree completely. I love that store, and the pharmacy and most of the staff are great. On most days I’d rather shop there than a big, shiny new store. Unless it was Wegmans….:)

      • dynaroo

        Ditto. The pharmacists there are the best ever.

        • KalashniKEV

          I go to the local street pharmacist on Columbia Pike, he’s the best in S. Arlington!

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Isn’t it obvious what this is? BCA saw what happened in EFC, where the board stacked a committee and jammed what they wanted down the neighborhood’s throats over the objections of the folks that won’t get anything but are most directly affected. This gets them out in front so no one can say they asked for what the county will impose on them.

    • Chris

      FWIW, I’m an East Falls Church area neighbor (in Highland Park/Overlee Knolls) and nothing was jammed down my throat. Development is going to happen. Having a plan – imperfect as it may be – is better than having no plan.

  • novasteve

    Safeway by Target and Target aren’t in Arlington. I wish Arlington had some bigger grocery stores. Harris Teeter seems to be the only within 80% size of a normal grocery store. It’s horrible how terrible the selection of Giant is compared to a store in Montgomery County. I grew up by Shady Grove metro and that giant there is twice the size, easily of the giants in Arlington. And that’s without even having beer and wine sections since Moco has their draconian alcohol rules.

  • Bluemont Res

    I would love to see the Safeway upgraded like the one on 50. But the rest…no so much. My family and neighbors love eating at Two Chefs. They have been there for quite a while and I would hate to see them close due to higher rent. The McDonalds is a gathering place for the neighbors in the morning as well. There is no need for a major redesign of this area. This are especially doesn’t need another mixed-use builing like the corner of Wilson and Glebe.

  • Paul Ducharme

    I glanced at the perspective drawings accompanying the report. In my pre – retirement life in the design field I have seen renderings of urban planning and architectural / commercial interior where the perspective drawings exaggerates the spaciousness of roadways and the assertiveness of buildings. The result is an unreal view of the final product.
    Also I was struck by the massive volume of the Safeway with its attached residential units. The total effect is a structure so out of scale with the existing neighborhood as to be an alien intruder. Is this a re-hash of the previous misguided attempt to develop our neighborhood out of existence?

  • Chris

    Sounds like the meeting was poorly planned and the proposal – as rough and preliminary and first steps as it may be – was introduced to the community carelessly. I wasn’t at the meeting, but that’s what this write-up suggets.

  • Bluemont residents would have been aware of the survey, plan and agenda for the meeting if they read the newsletter which is distributed to each house by the civic association. The Safeway is an eyesore on the outside and reminds me of the old Soviet Safeway back in my DC days on the inside. It is a useless, waste of space. We frequent some of the stores in the area on a semi-regular basis (Two Chefs, Super Pollo), but other than Puppatella, there is really nothing worth saving in that strip along Wilson Blvd. A redesign would make the area more livable and desirable place to live thereby increasing everyone’s property values.

    • novasteve

      No. No more of those “liveable” cookie cutter communities. The problem with that safeway, like every grocery store in arlington, is that they are small, and thus have a small selection.

      • Del Ray is a great example of livable — locally-owned business — butcher, restaurants, custard shop — plus a farmers market. Space is no excuse for that Safeway as illustrated by the nearby Harris Teeter.

      • OX4

        The problem with the Safeways in Arlington are filth, rotten vegetables, poor selection, and odd employees.

      • Skeptical

        I’m personally fond of the Trader Joes chain — yeah, it’s kind of corny and you can’t get everything — but they are small, and that’s not the real problem. Safeway — the Bluemont one is on a frequent route of mine — tries to stock too damn many kinds of things. It’s a pharmacy! It’s a salad bar! It’s a florist! It sells paperback Christian books! And most of the stuff on the shelves consists of things that no one with a sense of self preservation would eat.

        If they would just sell groceries and household basics (meaning skip the spray starch and handy hardware), and make sure the groceries were good, I’d go back in there.

    • PhilL

      It sounds like the people at the meeting were very aware of the survey, etc. It was the board member who seemed surprised by the response.

  • Shane

    Get rid of Two Chefs. Get someone like Front Page to build another outlet there. Get merchants who are at least local chains, and will blow off County taxes to make sure the Bluemont outlet gets off the ground.

    Also, let’s not do the “affordable housing” thing YET again, OKAY? People not being able to afford to live in Arlington, having to move out, is a GOOD thing. Do you really want some gardener’s kid wasting the teacher’s time in your kid’s classroom? Uh, that would be a “no”. Build luxury condos, kick out Two Chefs and the aspiring teachers or police officers, and get some people who can hit Front Page or Cheesecake Factory for grub on a nightly basis. People who can make Bluemont a beacon for the Arlington we know it can be.

    • NotChrisZimmerman

      I hope you’re not serious.

    • dynaroo

      The more Front Pages we get, the more Two Chefs looks good. I wouldn’t want to live in a town full of nothing but Front Pages or Two Chefs.

  • General Zod

    That Safeway has saved me on several occasions late on a few Thanksgivings & Christmases. Since no one goes there it’s the perfect supermarket to find last minute items that are usually wiped out at Whole Foods, Teeter or Giant in the “cooler” parts of town.

  • Thomas Carlyle

    Good point about that Safeway. Similarly, I really like restaurants that no one goes to–they’re quiet and you don’t need a reservation. The trouble is, the restaurants I like keep closing.

  • John

    Here’s my modest proposal for the current Safeway site. How about more open space and less density for once.

    The rendering shows a new, partially underground Safeway on the site of the current parking lot. A green roof functions as public open space and provides thermal mass to reduce energy costs.

    • Rick

      or we could just bury it and be done with it

      • Mark

        It would be a great sledding site in the winter if we just buried the whole store!

        • Andrew

          Like the BCA Facebook group and post all these ideas there too. It would be great to see a discussion…

    • jan

      I like it.

  • IntheArea

    I live in the area. First, the power lines on Wilson need to be buried so the sidewalks can be widened and people won’t hit the poles, that is a decade long project alone. Second, we need a middle section on Wilson so we can cross easier. Third, there are so many options for the Safeway, I would like to see a redesign and have some extra shops. The area needs a facelift.

    I like that these plans are being created , I think the civic association is working hard to get people interested and get a dialog going.

    • Brock

      Guess I was wrong about the Safeway having no pharmacy. My bad.

      I live in the area too. I agree it would be great to bury the poles, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen.

      But they could make Wilson slightly narrower, to make more sidewalk space. It’s quite scary walking down the sidewalks along Wilson there. Very little room, and in some places you’re overlapping parking lot driveways, so you have to watch the drivers in the parking lots.

      In fact, I would love it if they removed an entire lane of Wilson. Cars go way too fast there, despite the stupid speed limit radar sign.

      As to density, I wouldn’t mind a LITTLE more if it meant getting some nicer shops. An ice cream place, a coffee shop maybe. But it would be very hard to add density without raising commercial property values so much that the mom & pop places would be forced out by the higher rents or taxes.

      The dirty little not-so secret in Arlington is that adding nice new condos means it’s very hard for any business to make enough money to pay for its space unless it’s a bar (with the huge profit margin on alcohol) or a high-end restaurant. Look at Clarendon. Very few independent, moderately priced restaurants. Deli Dhaba, Moby Dick’s–maybe a few others.

    • Mark

      I completely agree that the power lines along Wilson need to be buried. I also think that they ought to reduce Wilson from 4 lanes to 3, with the 3rd lane alternating direction to accommodate rush hour traffic. That would actually allow the sidewalks to be widened a bit and give some extra space between pedestrians and traffic.

      • Andrew

        I totally agree with getting the power lines along Wilson buried and making the street narrower. Add more trees too, that slows down cars. This also should be done on the one block of George Mason from Wilson towards Carlin Springs Road where the power poles are in the way of pedestrians. Doing this would make the whole neighborhood more walkable — all the way to Ballston.

        Is there some compromise that would make “Bluemont Town Center” still friendly to the mom and pop places? Maybe pull the parking out closer to the street and add space for trees and outdoor seating? Get Safeway to do something to fix the blank wall along Wilson, plant trees in the parking lot? Get McDonalds to put the first “green” McDonalds in Arlington in Bluemont?

        Bluemont Civic Association has a Facebook page which would be a good place to collect comments and discuss — although there are currently very few members.

  • Bender

    How you like that urban sprawl?

    I say, if they say “screw ’em” to those along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Columbia Pike, I say screw them. Build and build and build. Pack them in, hyper-density for all.

  • Thomas Quigley

    I think the renderings are great. I’ve lived in the Ballston area of Arlington since ’98, so I’m not a long-timer, but I’m not a newbie either. There has to be a compromise in here somewhere. For instance, redevelop Wilson Blvd, with the apartments, condos, tree-lined streets and bike lanes, but make concessions to the local residents who like their McDonalds and Two Chefs Pizza. Currently that whole Bluemont strip looks like a bad 1950’s ragtag suburb and is in bad need of an upgrade, especially in a prosperous area like Arlington.

    Definitely redevelop the Safeway, but do know that its current pharmacy is great with Arle and Yabbi as two of the most personable pharmacists I’ve dealt with.

    And by all means keep Pupatella. I don’t know how many Arlingtonians realize how absolutely amazing the pizza is there. It is exactly like you would get in Naples and throughout much of the Campania region of Italy. The crust may not be as crisp as American pizza, but remember we are the imitators. This is the real deal straight from the Old Country. And the fresh “mozzarella di bufala” is a delectable bonus!

    • Mark

      +1

    • Suburban Not Urban

      You can keep your apartments, condos….bike lanes, high rise buildings and late night noise – give me locally owned diverse selection of buisnesses, not mini-RCB.

  • ArlForester

    You know what, people? Everything doesn’t have to look like Ballston or Clarendon. Having a few nice businesses in strip malls is just fine. That McDonalds has been there longer than most of the people who want to raze it. Turn the Federal Lock building into a parking garage? WTF? Leave well enough alone or move out to Reston where your ideas are welcomed.
    The ONLY idea that makes sense is a new Safeway. Everything else is ridiculous town center stupidity.

  • Pedro

    Why don’t the residents of Bluemont flex a little political and economic muscle and press the execs in Pleasanton, California to upgrade the “Safeway That Time Forgot.” Clearly the company is hoping benign neglect will allow them to sell the property with minimum interference on zoning.

    http://shop.safeway.com
    http://twitter.com/#!/safeway

  • Kate

    I’m not keen on high rises, more traffic, poor planning. It’s already hard to pull onto Wilson between 7:30-8:30 am; how does this help? And high rises can mean higher taxes that run out local businesses (see what happened in Clarendon). This needs to slow way down for clear thinking. And who is asking for all the development?

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