PenPlace Development Enters Review Process

by ARLnow.com February 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm 16,831 53 Comments

A proposed development that could bring more than 2 million square feet of new office and hotel space to Pentagon City has entered the site plan review process.

The first of several expected Arlington Site Plan Review Committee meetings on the so-called PenPlace project was held last night at county government headquarters in Courthouse. The meeting was standing room only as interested community members packed the small audience area to observe the hour-and-a-half-long proceedings.

Developer Vornado has proposed building five structures on a large, 10-acre block of mostly vacant land bordered by Army Navy Drive, S. Eads Street and S. Fern Street, one block from the Pentagon City Metro station.

Two of the proposed buildings are commercial office buildings, each just over 500,000 square feet. Another two are secure office buildings to be used by the Department of Defense, between 300,000 and 500,000 square feet apiece. The final building is a 300-room hotel. A 16-story Marriott Residence Inn hotel is the only existing structure on the block; it is not part of the development plans.

The proposed building heights vary from 139 feet for the hotel to 291 feet — or 18-22 stories — for two of the office buildings.

The proposal includes the creation of four new streets that will help improve vehicle accessibility — including an extension of S. Elm Street from the adjacent Metropolitan Park residential project and an extension of 12th Street S. from Eads Street to Fern Street. County staff have expressed interest in approving ground floor retail space along the proposed stretch of 12th Street.

The Arlington County Board is not expected to consider the project any earlier than June, but the plan is already facing an uphill battle as it advances toward Board consideration. Members of local neighborhood groups, like the Arlington Ridge  Civic Association, have expressed concerns about building heights and additional traffic generated by the new office buildings. Last night some Site Plan Review Committee members also expressed skepticism about the project as proposed.

  • So BRAC leaves Crystal City vacant, yet we’re planning new construction a few blocks over?

    I’d hoped to see some residential construction planned, to ease the rental rates in that part of Arlington. I guess you have to cater to demand…which must be for offices and hotel rooms.

    Which, again, are plentiful in Crystal City. Hmm.

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      A guess would be that in order to appeal to the modern Class-A office user, it’s cheaper to build new than to retrofit. Leaving the older buildings will offer those seeking Class B (C perhaps?) ex-government/government contractor space some options for being close to the Pentagon, etc.

    • Michael H.

      There have also been new residential buildings in the area in recent years, from the two large buildings just to the south of this plot, to the apartments south of Long Bridge Park, the Concord in Crystal City and the condos at the south end of Crystal City (Potomac Yard-Arlington).

      There are also long-term plans to continue adding buildings to the block bounded by Fern, Eads, 15th and 12th St. (12th St. does not exist on that block, but the road is supposed to be extended between Fern and Eads in the future.) That block is already dominated by residential. I believe the future buildings will also be residential. Not every block in Pentagon City/Crystal City needs to have residential. Even if the Army-Navy Drive block focuses on offices and hotels, there will still be plenty of residential buildings in that immediate area, with more on the way (possibly).

    • Jim Oliver

      Hadn’t really noticed Crystal City being vacant. Maybe you heard them say that they would vacate Crystal City meaning, to leave, but new tenants certainly followed. I do think Crystal City is supposed to get a lot more residential development, maybe that will help those rates you mention. Ahh, the market.

      • Crystal Dykey

        Look in the Underground at all of the closed stores and you’ll see the effects of the empty offices that have escaped your notice.

      • Jim Oliver

        And yes, the underground retail is hurting from the drop in population, but it isn’t vacant. And yes, there are a few buildings that are vacant in Crystal City, some are slated to be replaced, some are are to be rehab’d, and some are in need of tenants. We shouldn’t put too much faith in tomorrow looking like today. I find it strange that half the folks who argue with my posts call the developers greedy and say it is all about them making money and the other half point out that they think the development is unneeded and will go unused making the developer nothing.

    • CC Contractor

      BRAC left offices that didn’t mean particular security standards vacant for DOD/DHS other sensitive government departments agencies. But I imagine that those offices were filled up with other companies.

      Now looking at the very rough site plan- not that the DOD buildings are surrounded by hard/soft scaping with what appears to be adequate street standoff and perimeter

  • WFY

    291 feet! That’s about as tall as the Rosslyn twins.

    • Jim Oliver

      Sounds tall, but didn’t they already approve a building about hat tall right on top of the PentagonCity Metro? Height is one of those hard things. I remember the County Board saying about Crystal City that they were making the developers build buildings with smaller footprints so there would be more people space down on the ground. I guess the buildings got taller so they would have the same square footage in a smaller footprint.

      • Nonsense

        No, they don’t build bigger buildings for more “people space down on the ground”. They build taller buildings to make more money. This county board is addicted to development dollars to fund their projects. The only way to get those dollars in the amounts they need to feed their habit is to sell ever greater levels of density. Vornado is just the guys willing to give them the really big fix that they need. Of course it only leads to greater dependence. Crystal City wasnt enough of a give away to vornado. Within a month of the sector plan approval PenPlace was presented and like most addicts this county board won’t have the will power to say no.

        • Southeast Jerome

          Taller buildings are way riskier and costlier to construct for developers, so its not as clear as it may seem that they always want super tall buildings…..

        • Josh S

          You say that “this county board is addicted to development dollars to fund their projects.” But the fact is that the board doesn’t develop properties. Developers do. So if no one wanted to build this properly, it wouldn’t get built. You can’t really blame the board for development. It happens because people want to live, work and play/shop in Arlington. Period.

          • SouthsideSue

            Well actually this property is not zoned for high rise office or frankly any office. So contrary to a number of these posts, Vornado cannot “just do it” without the approval of the board. The land was purchased by the developer with the full knowledge that under current law it could only be developed as residential and hotel.

            The density and height Vornado needs for this proposal will be “earned” through payments to county board projects yet to be set in stone, but include: $20million to Long Bridge Park, TIF support for the Columbia Pike Trolley (and provision of a trolley maintenance facility, contributions to affordable housing and reaching a certain level of Leed certification. All good projects, but whether it is a fair price for such an enormous deviation from the plan governing the area is probably based largely on how far you live from the project and how often you plan to go swimming….

          • Jim Oliver

            I appreciate when people point out the zoning “law” and what it says about a certain piece of property. But equally as important and valid is the part of the zoning las that talks about how zoning is changed or modified. On a different issue, someone said to me that residents hadn’t bought into Arlington with all this development. Not for or against the project or changing the zoning, but the better way of making the argument is that people should not have bought into an assumption that things will always be the way they were when you first moved in. Change brings with it some good things and some bad things and our job is to discuss and weigh those options. The original Aurora Hills Community Center and Library were part of “community benefit” associated with the original plan developed back in the mid-70’s. How many other things that we just assume that we have paid for are actually the result of projects like this – I don’t know the answer.

          • wondering

            Developers purchase property with full knowledge of the development parameters, what is allowed through zoning etc… its simply not true that they have some sort of right to do whatever they want to do on the property, any more than I have the right to do whatever I want on my own property. I have to abide by setbacks etc. The County Board will need to approve a huge zoning exception before this development can be built… they do have the ability to shape what is eventually developed on this property. Period.

        • Josh S

          And furthermore, why would they say no? Really, how could they say no? It’s a free country, remember? Free market? Etc. Etc. What precedent is there, anywhere, for a county board to say no to development? They can try to shape it, which Arlington certainly does. But while you may decry development in Arlington, that’s like cursing rainy days. It’s going to happen. There’s virtually nothing you, or the board, can do to stop it.

          • wondering

            Again, saying ‘no to development’ is not what’s at issue here. Something will be built on this piece of property, but it does not have to be whatever the developer wants it to be. The developer wants to make money, OK that’s fine and fair. Free market Etc Etc. The County Board is supposed to be paying attention to development and planning and shaping it… and, while doing so, they are supposed to be looking out for the people who elected them. Representative democracy Etc ETc.

        • Jim Oliver

          Interesting points, Nonsense. I think you missed my point about taller. The county board specifically stated that they were requiring the buildings in crystal city to have smaller footprints so that there would be more “people space” at ground level. To keep the building capacity the same, this makes the buildings taller. Of course, building volume determines how many square feet can be leased out and how much money a developer can make. Some interesting statistics, almost 10 times as many people come to work in Arlington and Arlingtonians leave to work elsewhere – we are an employment destination. If the home owners all want to pay the bills, they should first know what they are signing up for. I know that there are pet projects and waste, but not as much as most folks think if they actually look at the numbers.

          • Ken W.

            I need an explanation on “If the home owners all want to pay the bills…” I was under the impression that commercial office buildings are a cash cow for local governments, which is why they prefer them to residential buildings.

  • CrystalMikey

    Bring it on…that vacant lot is an eyesore.

  • neathridge

    Could have had a baseball stadium instead … but no, folks here prefer congestion and concrete blocks, so they are getting them!

    • Rick

      NIMBY the Chicken agrees with neathridge

    • Josh S

      How can you contrast a baseball stadium with congestion and concrete blocks? I guess a baseball stadium only results in congestion (and productive activity) 81+ times a year……

  • Michael H.

    That field has been sitting vacant for years. Why is it preferable to have a pile of weeds and dirt instead of some modern development there? There isn’t need for a park since Long Bridge Park just opened up nearby a few months ago. The Virginia Highlands Park is also located just a few blocks away from this site.

    There are no single-family homes in the immediate area, only other office buildings, high-rise apartment buildings and the Pentagon Center retail building. The plot is located just one block away from the Pentagon City Metro station and a few blocks from the Crystal City Metro station. There is access to I-395 nearby.

    This is exactly where you would want to build high-density projects: near Metro and highways, on a plot bordered by other tall office and residential buildings. The only minor issue would be sightlines for residents in the apartments in the block to the south. But there are no apartment buildings immediately to the south of this site yet.

    If this makes economic sense, then why wouldn’t this be a good place for such development? Even with BRAC departures from Crystal City, this area is still an appealing location for businesses. Boeing is in the process of consolidating their regional offices into a new area HQ a couple blocks away. Proximity to the Pentagon has its draw for many companies.

    • Vornadan

      Michael H

      You on the payroll of big V? Sounds that way, but then again you’d be there right with the County Board.

      • Michael H.

        Hmm, personal attacks. Real convincing argument there.

  • Michael H.

    Does this mean the end of Nell’s Carryout? Not that I would mind. I’ve never eaten there. Doesn’t look very sanitary to me. That place looks like something you would see on a dusty old road in the middle of nowhere, not in the middle of the urban-suburban neighborhoods of Arlington.

    • Steve S

      I was just about to comment that the hotel in the drawing sits right where Nell’s is now. I’ve only been once or twice, but from what I know there’s a bit of a cult following for their breakfast from the TSA workers across the street. You can always smell bacon on the wind when descending into the Metro in the morning.

      Also, and I could be wrong, I think Nell’s has been on that spot for about as long as the Metro has been there – since the late ’70s? Although the shack/trailer looks like it could fall over at any point, it’d be a shame if they weren’t given the opportunity to relocate or remodel what they have.

  • karzai

    It would be great to see that lot developed. However, with buildings inhabited by DoD come security bollards, metal detectors, guys with long guns checking every car that parks in the building, restricted retail etc. DoD has part of a building in Clarendon and that building has become very forbidding as a result. I love being greeted by guys with long guns as I’m trying to walk to the Metro. these guys need to calm down and stop turning this city into a damn police state “in the name of security.”

    • Josh S


    • JKB

      DIA has been in the 3100 Clarendon Blvd building for a long time, so those guards with machine guns aren’t new.

  • wondering

    the article doesn’t mention the 2200 parking spots requested with this development btw I live in this neighborhood and do NOT prefer congestion and concrete blocks

    • ArlRes

      You live in an office building?

      • Ken W

        Haa!! ArlRes, that is pretty funny.

    • Vornadan

      No worries on the 2200 cars each day, all those cars are going to cruise right up on 395 and oh wait… that’s the same 395 ranked most congested in Northern Virginia — never mind, you’re screwed.

  • wondering

    ArlRes apparently you haven’t heard the County claim that my neighborhood has way too much residence and not enough office. According to county we need this 2million sf of office building to balance out the neighborhood. Apparently Crystal City and the 6million feet of office in Pentagon are simply not enough for us. Vornadan you are right we are screwed

  • MC

    This proposal is very non-compelling as it stands. More fortress buildings with no ground floor retail — we know from the experience of Crystal City how bad an outcome that is. There needs to be something in this very large complex is isn’t a hotel or DOD building, something that Arlington residents can use. Otherwise it will simply draw out-of-county traffic and do nothing to enliven the area. As the Orange Line corridor gets built out, it’s important that such a big open track not repeat the sterility of faceless government offices in Crystal City. Maybe only one DoD building, and an apartment building, like Founders Square.

    • jan

      I like your suggestion.

    • Michael H.

      When is the last time you actually visited Crystal City? While it’s not as lively (or loud) as Clarendon is, it’s hardly a bunch of fortress buildings. There could be more retail facing the streets (instead of inside, in the Crystal City Shops) and some of the older buildings do look plain, but there are quite a few restaurants and bars now. Not as busy as Clarendon, Georgetown or Gallery Place are, but not as loud and hectic as those places either.

      • Defense Contractor

        I’ve worked in Crystal City for the last five years, and it is without a doubt less busy and occupied now than it was when I first started. BRAC has been a disaster for that area. Yeah, a few new bars and restaurants have opened, but plenty have closed up as well.

      • Arlingtonian

        In Arlington, the Blue Line is not as crowded as the Orange Line. All the new development in and around Crystal City should help equalize Metro ridership. \\

        Both lines will then be packed during peak periods. More people will drive.

        Oh yeah. That’s smart growth. Really smart.

    • YoYoYoListenUp

      It’s important to note that they are currently in development of 4 new residential highrises (not including the already built Gramarcy or Metropolitan Park) adjacent to this land that will have loads of ground floor retail. Furthermore, the Costco area is going to be totally redeveloped with tons more ground floor retail. There will be plenty of places people can eat and shop and no one is going to be hanging out over here unless they are staying at the hotel or work in one of the buildings.

  • YTK

    Gee …. no one even considers making this a park- with ball fields and places to sit and relax under, …(huuh!) trees…… I guess all of THAT is not needed– we would much rather enjoy breathing exhaust fumes from all the new residents commuting to work in this over-developed burgh.

    • South Arlington

      Gee…. there’s a giant park at Long Branch that just got built and a giant park at Virginia Highlands a few blocks away. Stop complaining.

  • Bird’s Eye

    Hey folks–look around a bit more. Vornado wants intense and dense
    office development (2,000 + more cars) on land where no office should be built under current zoning. But this is not the only office development and traffic that will use existing and proposed transit options. Check out Crystal City’s massive redevelopment plan and the mixed use (including office) in Pentagon Centre. All of these intend to use Metro and I-395 and US1 among other arteries for access and egress. How many people and vehicles can you pour into this confined space? And this does not include commuters attempting to travel through this area. Something will be built on the land in question but we need to be able to breathe.

  • Jim Oliver

    So, one one hand, the “greedy developer” might be wrong and the office space isn’t needed and they will lose a bundle, or, they are right and the office space is needed. If that is true, and you really care about the environment, and clean air, and open spaces, and parks, shouldn’t density be concentrated around places with options to driving? If the same office space is built elsewhere or a bunch of elsewheres, wouldn’t there be a greater negative impact on the things I listed above? Build it in Fairfax and you will have many many more people driving to those office spaces, build it in DC and you may have less drivers, but they will mostly still come up I-395 to get there. How much driving will be avoided by folks walking or shuttling the 1/4 mile to/from the Pentagon from this site versus making them drive (through the same neighborhood or up I-395) from other site(s) miles away? I also know people in the surrounding neighborhood who work for DoD or Defense contractors. How many of them now have to drive to Mark Center, the Navy Yard or Ft. Belvoir and would love the opportunity to walk to work again? How many employees in those new buildings will choose to live nearby or within a short bicycle or trolly ride? This is complicated and deserves a deep look and a long range view.

    • Arlingtonian

      Take a really deep look. No matter where you build something, somebody will build somewhere else. Too many people believe that new development is good (or at least profitable) no matter where it may be.

      When will people learn that many people prefer to drive, even when near public transportation? They know thatMetrorail and buses are often slow, crowded, dirty and unreliable. They also know that Metro’s elevators and escalators are often out of service.

      Build it, and they will drive. In Fairfax, in Arlington, and in D.C. It doesn’t matter where. Near Metro, far from Metro, near D.C. and far from D.C.

      Build it, and they will use energy, pollute the air, cut down trees, gobble up open space, take away distant views, and crowd the roads and public transportation systems. Anywhere.

  • Bird’s Eye

    Right! Very complicated and as presently proposed on target for creating the same kind of traffic Gordian knot that resulted with the
    Pentagon’s faulty planning for the Mark Center. The best solution–have people live where they work and where they can walk to work. How come the redevelopment of Crystal City office buildings has not been coordinated with the building of residential and the hotel development already approved for the Pen Place site (hotel which is supposed to bring the greatest economic return to the County)? Transit options between the 2 sites exist and the County plans expansion thereof. Also, it’s an incredible opportunity to provide hospitality services–fine accommodations–to the Boeing executives et. al. who will be coming to their new international center as well as all the other executive/professional types who need to visit the area
    for face-to-face negotiations/problem solving. Until a real effort is made to determine how much traffic will be engendered by the Pen Place proposal and how that traffic can be accommodated given the
    existing gridlocks on I-395, Metro’s aging and inadequate infrastructure, US 1’s congestion and all the other development already approved for the area–development that will use the same insufficient existing and proposed traffic options–Pen Place is not a viable option.

    • Arlingtonian

      “The best solution–have people live where they work and where they can walk to work.” That’s wishful thinking. Nothing more.

      In most households, more than one person works. They can’t all find jobs near their homes. One might, but the rest won’t. The rest need to travel long distances.

      Some houshold’s have children. The children don’t always go to school near their homes. They need to travel. Often long distances.

      Even in Arlington.

  • “No blank slate”

    Thus tract of land is not some newly discovered piece of real estate as some have intimated. It can have 930 residences and 582 hotel rooms. The owner has chosen to try and develop it with a huge increase in density and different use (office).

    Also, if the lot looks like an “eye sore” the owners have chosen to leave it that way.

    • Arlingtonian

      An empty lot (especially if it has wildflowers and butterflies) is less of an eyesore than is a big building and all of the people and traffic around it.

  • wondering

    the last two SPRC meetings have been held in the community center in Aurora Hills and each attracted 100+ neighbors… there is a LOT of community interest in this site plan.

  • Bradley

    If the Arlington County Board was running Manhattan, they would have paved over Central Park years ago — under the guise of “smart growth,” which really means, “Maximum property taxes flowing into county coffers.”


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