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APS to Sell Wilson School to Developer

Wilson School (photo courtesy Preservation Arlington)

The Arlington School Board has announced its intention to sell the Wilson School property, at 1601 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, to a developer.

By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the School Board instructed Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy to sign a non-binding letter of intent to sell the aging building to developer Penzance.

The School Board said the property could not sufficiently accommodate a new elementary school, and thus it would best serve the school system to sell the property and use the proceeds to fund its ongoing school building projects. Those projects are intended to help APS keep up with rising enrollment, expected to surge to nearly 30,000 students by 2021.

The potential sale price has not been disclosed, but Penzance bought a nearby office building, 1555 Wilson Blvd, for $67 million in 2011.

Penzance plans to use both properties for a large-scale mixed-use development. The development plan also calls for Penzance to acquire Arlington’s Fire Station #10 and the 39-unit Queens Court Apartments, owned by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Today (Wednesday), Arlington County announced that it is beginning a formal planning process for the redevelopment. Dubbed the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study, the process will include the formation of a County Board-appointed working group, outreach to local community groups, a charrette, and numerous other public meetings.

As detailed in a press release, the county seeks to use the redevelopment as an opportunity to create 1.5 acres of new open park space, to build a new fire station that better meets the fire department’s needs, and to add more committed affordable housing units, among other objectives.

The goal of the study is to develop a Conceptual Plan and related policy recommendations that will guide future development and achieve the following County goals that have been identified for the study area:

  • County park, recreation and open space that is at least 60,000 square feet in size;
  • New fire station;
  • Affordable housing;
  • Energy efficiency / sustainability; and
  • Mix of uses and compatible heights and densities.

“This is a rare opportunity to meet community goals in a dense part of the County with little available land,” said Donnellan. “I am excited about the prospects of the possibilities of future public/private development and look forward to working with the community over the next year.”

The working group is expected to be appointed in July and to deliver a conceptual plan to the County Board in early 2014. The County Board is expected to vote on the plan in the second quarter of 2014, paving the way for any future development on the site.

Staff said the redevelopment study will consider things like building height, density and retail spaces.

The sale and subsequent demolition of the Wilson School is likely to draw protests from local preservationists. Last month the group Preservation Arlington identified the Wilson School, built in 1910, as one of the most “endangered historic places” in the county. This 11-minute video, created in 2007, features numerous community members calling for the school to be preserved.

The Arlington School Board has resisted efforts to designate the Wilson School a historic district. The school served as an elementary school up until 1968, when Key Elementary was constructed. Most recently, the building served as space for the Mongolian School of the National Capital Area.

So far, public feedback gathered by county staff includes a request that the new development provide at least 200 affordable housing units, that it creates “significant” open space and that it preserves the Wilson School. The latter seems unlikely, and staff said that it has yet to assign a “numeric target” for affordable housing.

The School Board says the Wilson Schools site could not accommodate an elementary school with at least 600 students, and thus does not fit into its current Capital Improvement Plan.

“The Wilson Property represents significant value in the APS capital inventory. Because the Wilson Property comprises a large portion of the Western Rosslyn Study Area, making it available for inclusion as part of the County’s Planning Study will provide a substantial benefit in meeting the County’s goals for this area,” the School Board said.

“Therefore, to meet the goals of APS, County Government, and Arlington residents, the School Board has informed the County Board that it does not intend to locate an elementary school at the Wilson site and that it intends to sell its property to Penzance.”

Penzance, which has not responded to a request for comment, is the developer behind the 3001 and 3003 Washington Blvd office project in Clarendon.

Photo via Preservation Arlington

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