Staff Recommends Approval of Bergmann Development

by ARLnow.com December 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm 7,728 82 Comments

Arlington County staff are recommending that the County Board approve a proposed mixed-use development for the Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning site on Lee Highway.

Last month, the county’s Planning Commission voted against the project, which includes a 10-story apartment tower. The commission said Arlington should have a development plan in place for Lee Highway before any big, potentially precedent-setting developments are approved.

The Planning Commission’s vote was cheered by some residents, who think the 10-story building is too tall, and jeered by other residents, who like the grocery store component of the development plan (MOM’s Organic Market has signed on to the project) and who think the 1950s era Bergmann’s plant is an “eye sore.”

The development proposes a total of 202 residences, including apartments and row houses, and 13,257 square feet of retail space. In addition to the height of the building, some residents also worried about increased traffic.

While expressing some reservations about building height, county staff said the development is appropriate for the area — located at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street, near I-66, 0.4 miles from the Courthouse Metro station — and will benefit the community thanks to its “placemaking” retail and affordable housing components.

“Placemaking involves providing a vibrant space that meets the needs and desires of a community,” said the staff report. “In this instance, the proposed project will provide for a broader mix of uses on a site occupied by a former dry cleaning plant and [vacant] single-family houses. The proposed grocery store and potential ancillary retail space would provide a retail component lacking in this area that residents in the surrounding neighborhoods could easily access on foot or by bicycle.”

While staff said that an 8-story building might be more appropriate for the area in the general, they said 10-stories is appropriate for this specific development.

Staff believes that the proposed height of the East block is appropriate for the site for the following reasons:

  • The general area of the proposed site plan, Lee Highway west of Rosslyn and east of Cherrydale, consists largely of medium density apartment and townhouse residential development, with a few pre-World War II frame single family houses dispersed throughout. The general area had been almost entirely rezoned for apartments between the 1940s and 1960s. The tallest apartment building in the vicinity, Potomac Towers (located at 2001 N. Adams Street), was constructed by-right in 1961, and is approximately 90 feet in height and has 10 stories.
  • Similarly, the Circle Condominiums constructed in 1964 at 2030 N. Adams St., varies in height from eight (8) stories and 12 stories (due to the sloping grade). Most of the development surrounding the Bergmann’s site is of older garden apartments of generally no more than eight (8) stories, and townhouses of more recent construction (1980s- present) of no more than four stories or 40 feet.

Therefore, for the above reasons staff believes that, in general, the appropriate maximum height in the neighborhood would be no more than eight (8) stories. However, staff can support a building of 10 stories on this particular site, because it is unique within the area for the following reasons:

  • The site for the proposed East building is the only location on Lee Highway within a half-mile radius from a Metro Station, outside of East Falls Church and Rosslyn, that is bordered on two sides by a major highway and a major arterial: I-66 and Lee Highway. The site for the proposed 10-story building is located on a full block, separated from other uses by the Interstate 66 right-of-way on the east and north (approximately 230 feet), the Lee Highway right-of-way to the South (150 feet in width including a 45-foot landscaped buffer area acquired as Lee Highway right-of-way but not used), and will be buffered on the west by the retail/mixed use block, transitioning down to the townhouses on the west. Furthermore, the grade at this site is lower than in the immediate vicinity.
  • Most of the Lee Highway corridor is more than one-half-mile from the nearest Metro station.
  • The applicant is proposing bonus dwelling units for the provision of on-site affordable housing, under the provisions of Section 36.H.7 of the Zoning Ordinance, where the applicant is permitted additional density of up to 25% of the base number of dwelling units, and up to six (6) stories of additional height. The applicant is requesting 33 bonus dwelling units, eight (8) of which will be on-site committed affordable dwelling units, 24% of the total number of bonus units, which is similar to recent site plans, and exceeds the County’s adopted target of 20% of the bonus. Each floor of the 10-story East building has 16 dwelling units. Staff believes the proposed East Building as an eight (8) story building with two (2) stories of bonus height, accommodating the 33 bonus units. Again, it is important to note that 10 stories is the maximum height for apartment buildings, exclusive of possible bonus height, in the “C-O-1.5” Zoning district.

  • grammar nazi

    Precedent-setting, not precedence-setting.

    • Fixed.

    • Dr Seuss

      Also.. the vote was cheered by people who think the proposed building is too tall, and simultaneously jeered by people who like the idea of a grocery store?

  • ef

    Look everybody, grammar nazi found his true purpose in life! Go forth and live the dream!

  • John

    The retail building is ghastly. McCaffery Interests always goes with their in-house architect for their Arlington projects, because they can get away with it. They only invest in decent architecture in DC.

    • barrybatllston

      Please submit a rendering so that we can see what a non-ghastly building looks like. Arlnow.com is full of architect critics.

      • Louise

        ^that guy

  • MB

    I’m with County staff on this one. While a Lee Highway sector plan being in place would be preferable, that will take many years to develop.

    • captain_subtle

      ^Nailed it. Well said.

    • Sparky

      We have a General Use Plan. It’s what developers are supposed to use. This 11 story tower on 5 single family home lots doesn’t fit the plan. Approving this would amount to invalidating the entire plan, at least for Lee Highway. That’s not smart.

  • NoVapologist

    +1 for the staff including the word “vibrant” in their recommendation.

    • staff troll

      It is kind of a running joke around here.

    • South Awwlington

      For Christmas I am buying all Board Members and the County staff a Thesaurus. There word usage is wearing me out.

      • South Awwlington

        *THEIR* Geesh!

        • drax

          Best mistake ever.

          • Arlingtoon

            At least it didn’t where him out. Or ware him out, for that matter.

  • courthouse living

    i live right across the street and fully support this. they may need to make the light at veitch and lee a little, “smarter,” but if a 2 block area in clarendon can handle the traffic from a whole foods and a trader joe’s we can handle this just fine.

    • iiandyiiii

      I also live across the street and fully support this. The area needs more options as far as supermarkets go.

      • FlipFlopEnthusiast

        It’d be nice to have (especially since I also live nearby), but we are not really lacking in grocery options. Whole Foods and Giant are both half a mile away, and there are two Safeways within biking/driving distance (one a little further up on Lee Hwy, the other in Rosslyn, although neither are fantastic).

        • drax

          There are no Mom’s Organic Markets within several miles though. So it’s a new option.

      • outoftowner

        I could hit the Giant down Lee Highway with 4 throws of a Vortex.

        How close do you need?

        • random commenter

          Video or it didn’t happen.

      • veeta

        I’m glad Whole Foods will be getting some competition. Since they took away their bulk spices section, I’ve been hoping for a natural foods store to move in.

        • Travva

          Let’s see…. 202 new residencies = 300+ new residents at a guess = at least 200 more cars… Ground space occupied = 2 acres. Quite a price to pay for a small grocery store

          • Confused

            Im not sure that new tax paying residents are a “price”.

          • Travva

            Does that mean the County should be doing all it can to increase the number of tax paying residents in the area? Interesting thought… There’s always McCoy Park across the street – might be able to build another 10-story 200 residence building on that to get more revenue …

          • Josh S

            The county should be doing what it can do accommodate those people who want to move here and, at the same time, work to make the community an enjoyable one, which includes providing parks and open space.
            Since the space is already developed, I’m not sure what you could be objecting here. It would seem that a run-down, abandoned building is far less attractive for a number of reasons than would be the proposed development.
            If you are complaining about increased population in the neighborhood, this makes little sense – you’re what? – one mile from Washington DC? It’s not exactly – wait for it – the ‘burbs.

          • Sparky

            It’s the height of the tower that is the issue. It’s 10 stories plus an 11th story for amenities (not counted as a story per fine print in the zoning regulation) plus a basement with apartments. Driving west on Lee Highway, you would actually see a 12 story building.

            The developer and county compare this to Potomac Towers which was built in 1960 and could not be built that high today because the zoning regulation have been changed in the 70’s to place these tall buildings in the Metro corridor tapering back. Besides, Potomac Towers was built on 7 acres and had some 3 acres of green park-like space (I-66 took about 1.5 acres). And Potomac Towers is set way back from Lee Highway unlike this proposal.

            This 10++ story tower does not meet the General Land Use Plan. The Civic Associations all along Lee Highway do not want it lined with these towers. There is no way to stop if this one is approved.

    • captain_subtle

      Yes! I live a block away and this site is a total dump. This project can’t happen soon enough.

      • Sparky

        Move near it, than don’t like it? That’s like moving to the end of the runway at the airport and complaining about airplane noise.

        It”s low and well screened with trees. I live a block away and am fine with it. Let it sit fo until somebody proposes building something of more appropriate height, say 5-6 stories.

  • CW

    Can anyone provide a relatively concise explanation of the approval flow for these sorts of things? The planning board disapproved, the “staff” (what is staff?) approved, now what? What is the actual process?

    • South Awwlington

      I think the process goes something like:

      Review by committee (if there is one)
      Staff Recommendations
      Board Vote

      The funny thing is, the committees are Board appointees so it appears to be at best – a deeper analysis on track with the Board logic , at worst – a rubber stamp of the Board.

      This ruling will be the exception, not the rule though as I can’t see the Board going against this.

    • Cobalt

      Planning Commission is advisory to the County Board. County Staff (typically urban and transportation planners, among others, who review these projects), by way of the County Manager, provides a recommendation for the County Board to either approve, deny, or defer. Ultimately, the power to approve or deny site plan projects such as these rests solely with the County Board.

      • CW

        Thanks. Not to nitpick here, just purely curious (ok, and confused as can be), but – why do we have both a “planning commission” and “urban…planners”?? Shouldn’t there be some overlap, or at least shouldn’t they be on the same page? I mean, I’d think the County would have a policy direction and the staff (using the term generally here, not in the sense it’s used in this article) would move to support it..

        • drax

          The staff work for the Board. The Planning Commission is independent of the Board, so it may feel more free to speak its mind. That’s probably why.

        • Easy as ABC

          Insert affordable housing = get approval

          • CW

            My question isn’t so much about why we have certain policies, that’s its own debate, but rather why we have two entities that seemingly do the exact same thing and are opposing each other.

          • Easy as ABC

            I still think the answer is in my comment.

            Planning commission are professional consultant types who review land use and form issues, and most importantly handle the interface with the community during the review process.

            Staff works for the County Manager, whose role is to provide advice to the Board. The CM’s office and staff are an extension of the County Board and their role is to implement the policies directed by the Board.

            So while the PC has an independent mindset, the Staff and CM office have an agenda as defined by the Board.

            The Board’s agenda includes adding affordable housing to Arlington, so while the PC may feel a project is not appropriate for a neighborhood, adding affordable hosing is one way to satisfy staff and gain their approval.

          • Eric

            @CW The urban planner are full-time employees of the county. The work for and report to the County Manager. The are professionals in the planning field.
            The Planning Commission on the other hand is made up of citizens appointed directly by the county board who may or may not have any particular expertize or training in urban planning, but volunteer to be an advisory board to the county board.
            The county staff urban planners certainly work with and provide advice to the planning commission, but the commission doesn’t always agree with them.

          • CW

            @ABC and Eric – thanks for the input, this now makes sense. Nice of the County to have independent “committees” so people feel that they have a say in the process before their opinions are discarded wholesale!

        • Suburban Not Urban

          They serve a few political rather than functional purposes.
          1) Political cover/or stalling when the board wants it.
          2) They surface issues that might be raised by citizens so that the staff have pre-canned answers(regardless of their veracity) for issues that might be raised by the public. Without this the staff would just ride rough-shod over the process implementing their agenda based program without even a nod to answering it’s critics.
          The planning commission has very little power except I think maybe on zoning variances.

          • occasionally a fact

            No — the Board of Zoning Appeals deals with variances. The Planning Commission’s statutory responsibilities are to hold hearings on site plan projects etc. and make recommendations to the County Board.

      • Arlingtonian

        About 99% of the time, the County Board votes to approve the County Manager’s recommendation, regardless of anything that any County advisory commission, citizen group or individual states. Board members give lip service to opposing views, but almost always support County staff, even when the staff report contains pure baloney and when individual staff members provide false information to the Board. It does not matter who you vote for; the fact remains that individual Board members find it extremely difficult to convince a majority of the Board that the staff is wrong. That is because few Board members have the time to do their homework. It’s the “Arlington Way”.

        The Board’s action on this project will be no different. Wait and see.

        • CW

          Frankly, I don’t have any issue with that project. I think it’s a fine plan. The retail doesn’t look to be much taller than Bergmann’s, and the building isn’t any taller than Potomac Towers (10 stories). The site is completely encapsulated by Lee, 66, and Veitch. There wouldn’t be huge impacts on surrounding neighborhoods (North Highlands) because there is nothing to cut through to anyways. Cars just get back on Lee and go on their way. That said, the weird break in Lee right there might make for some funky traffic engineering and a nightmare at the Veitch light (which is already weird enough with blind hills galore).

          • 350sbc

            You missed something here. There will be an impact on North Highlands due to the westbound entrance to I-66 off of 29. With the deflux of people leaving the office/store, more people will cut through North Highlands via N 21st. in order to access the westbound 66 ramp. They won’t take 29 west and get on further down… because there are too many lights. There are already enough speed bumps on N. 21st… what will they do next?

          • CW

            Thats a really good point. I suppose they could make 21st akin to what highland is through lyon village…a really slow arterial road. They could also maybe make part of it one way? Trying to think if that would help…

          • NoHighlander

            There are already quite a few cars speeding along 21st St despite the speed bumps (or detouring around by the park, and then failing to actually stop at the stop sign where 21st Rd meets N Scott). It’s kind of unnerving, since sidewalks are patchy along these streets and there are generally a lot of people walking dogs and occasional kids on bikes. I guess I would be in favor of (a) bigger speed bumps that do not have indentations that encourage drivers to drive exactly in the middle of the road, (b) making 21st St one-way heading west-bound, or (c) finding a way to incorporate continuous sidewalks in the neighborhood.

        • Suburban Not Urban


    • drax

      Click on the “staff report” link and see page one for who the staff are.

      The next step is a county board vote (I presume).

  • fedworker

    The county board needs time to sort out a plan for the Lee Hwy trolley

    • CW

      I’m not even sure if you’re joking. Lee Highway is a better corridor for development than Columbia Pike – some existing high rises, plenty of existing retail, and lots of green space and low-density areas. Some sort of decent transit option aside from the buses, which run unpredictably on weekdays and pretty much never on weekends, would be pretty sweet. Lee Highway streetcar over the key bridge to Georgetown?

      • arlcyclist

        More NIMBYs to oppose a streetcar project along Lee Hwy than the Pike. Plus the Lee corridor isn’t very far from the Orange line.

        • CW

          Well, it gets further away as you go west. By the time you get to Cherrydale, it’s pretty far. But yes, more SFH-owning lawyers that would not want that in their very precious back yards (which was not an issue on the pike).

          • JohnB

            But by the time you get to Sycamore it’s pretty close again.

          • CW

            Fair point.

      • Boom! Roasted

        LOL @ Georgetown ever allowing a street car there.

        • CW

          That part was clearly a joke. But it would be funny to have a terminus right at the dividing line between VA and DC – just dump people off into the median.

  • Plorch

    The developer must have sweetened the deal and offered to throw in a $50,000 kiosk.

  • Chad

    I think (thankfully), that some of the grades on Lee Highway preclude that option under current traction technology. Now, an Alpine tram type vehicle might be in the cards.

    • WeiQiang

      I think that this is just a ploy by North Arlingtonians who just don’t like the idea of SArl getting a streetcar they desire before the NArls. Just wait … the Narls will be promoting the idea of a funicular “due to the grades” on Lee Hwy. Don’t think that we don’t see how you NArls think.

      • Arlingtonian

        Yes, Lee Highway does have some steep grades. However, if you want to see even steeper ones, look at Columbia Pike. See the grades near the Pentagon and Four Mile Run. See the grade on S. Jefferson Street, on which the Pike trolly will travel to reach Skyline Towers in Fairfax County if the trolley is ever funded. Makes you wonder how the Pike trolley would make the trip.

    • Glebe Roader

      It’s also too hilly!

      • Dr Seuss

        See Grade:
        3: a: the degree of inclination of a road or slope; also: a sloping road

        • Dr. It Went Over my Head

          Might want to check your joke meter, Teddy.

  • Mary-Austin

    I’m a fan of the glass high rise…would love to snag one of the affordable units in there!

    • Travva

      All-glass high rise…hmmm.. Should make for some interesting sun glare for Lee Highway commuters – not to mention the lack of nighttime privacy for residents.

      • captain_subtle

        minus the sun glare: the sun is setting behind the building when people head west in the evening rush hour.

      • Josh S

        You’re a regular at your local civic association, aren’t you?

  • ArlRes

    Awesome project. We need some walkable retail in North Highlands. Sooo much better than the dated dry cleaner and the boarded up houses.

  • 350sbc

    I’m all for the redevelopment of this parcel, as the boarded up homes and the area behind the laundry is very dark and creepy. I, however, won’t like the fact that there will be an increased amount of traffic through North Highlands via North 21st in order to access the westbound 66 ramp on 29. I wonder how they propose to fix this…

    • Travva

      Good point… However, fixing that issue will not be possible. Residents will just have to get used to more than doubling the traffic along 21st St – according to the County staff.

  • Chris

    I live across the street in the new townhouses. As long as there is consideration for the new traffic volume and patterns, we love the idea.

  • 350sbc

    Would current residents of North Highland receive discounts on any of the residential properties built on this lot? If so, me first!

    • Sparky

      They’re all rentals and sure, North Highland people can get the discount rent of $3,000/mo on a lower floor 699 sq. ft . one bedroom apartment by the elevator. It’s conveniently located over the trash pickup area with a view of parking garage where you can park your car for $150/mo if you can find a space before 9 PM. The top level of 3 is reserved for the grocery from 9 am to 9 pm. But, there’s plenty of overflow parking in North Highlands just over the I-66 bridge on Court House Rd to the left. Otherwise, you will be feeding 2 hour meters all day and night.

  • marc

    “affordable housing components” is laughable. Bergmans is a solid dry cleaners, though.

  • Southeast ben

    Wish they could just start with the grocery and walkaround retail as a starter. Then if traffic is terrible, don’t worsen it by adding high-rise. They could also limit the traffic by limiting the amount of on-site parking so that people won’t want to go there. Though…this usually causes a huge CF.

  • HenryBennetXIII

    McIssac addressed the current specific issue. Poorly. But it is his employer. Where is the Cooch?

  • Carol_R

    In my opinion a 10 story high rise is disgusting. Heck even an 8 story one. They shouldn’t allow anything higher than 4 stories.

    I see that the Arlington County Board continues in their quest to trash Arlington and turn it into Manhattan instead of what it once was which was a nice residential (not mainly condos or apartments) county with 2 story businesses. People used to actually have houses in Rossyln (my grandparents did) until it became unbearable to live there because of the highrises.

  • Olivia

    I live nearby and do not support this. I hope it fails. Another apartment building? A mixed use retail with a hodge podge of houses that will be managed by whom to ensure that people maintain them properly? Another grocery store? Arlington has no plan other than to fill every available space with some kind of retail joint and apartments. The place looks thrown together because it is. Traffic is already a mess, trying to dodge cars, squirrel pedestrians and cyclists, whom I am sure love the idea of more people and cars to play dare with. A mess and wish I could move.

    • CW

      Good news: unless you are in prison or stationed here in the military, you can!


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