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‘Community Benefit’ from Rosslyn Development Sits Underused

What was supposed to be a community benefit from an apartment development in Rosslyn is instead a barely used empty space, and one local resident is pushing for that to change.

The “art atrium” on the ground floor of the Bennett Park Apartments at 1601 Clarendon Blvd is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day, but its most common state is empty, with the lights turned off, and chairs stacked in the middle of the room.

This is the way the space — which has no art hanging on the wall, just eclectic lighting, a uniquely shaped brick column in the middle of the room and plants lining the walls — has been for six years since the building opened, says neighbor Soo Lee Davis.

“The last six years I’ve never seen the space used and the little bit of art that is in there is not well visited at all and it’s a complete waste of space,” Davis told ARLnow.com. “Right now, it’s just dead, 24/7 and in a prime location with tons of foot traffic and this area is in dire need of more options that are useful for the community.”

The space is part of the site plan agreement the developer, Washington Realty Investment Trust, reached with the county in 2002. In Arlington, developers often build specific “community benefits” into their projects in order to win support from neighbors and the County Board for taller building heights and other concessions. Department of Community Planning and Housing and Development spokeswoman Helen Duong said WRIT proposed the art atrium “from the beginning.”

“It was not requested by staff or the County Board, but we did provide for it in the site plan, so it is officially ‘required,'” Duong wrote in an email. “The developer did not receive density or any other value for it, as far as our planner can remember.”

Representatives at Bennett Park Apartments tout the atrium as an amenity for their residents to rent out for private parties, but, since the beginning of August, Property Manager Jared Bailey said he only knows of one such reservation, for later this month. According to the site plan, “the art atrium may be closed up to two times per month, for no more than one day at a time, for special events.” Other times, it’s intended for public use — for viewing art — despite the lack of actual art.

The atrium cost more than $300,000 to construct, but Davis is determined to see it transformed. The Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association “doesn’t seem interested in taking up the issue,” Davis said, but she wants to find another avenue to turn the atrium into a use of greater benefit.

“Since it’s not being used as was intended for ‘community benefit,’ then I think it would make a great retail space, coffee shop or restaurant,” Davis said. “If the building owner would agree to contribute a portion of the rent that they charge toward some other county art endeavor (i.e. Artisphere in Rosslyn), then this could be a win/win situation.”

Update at 4:50 p.m.: Bailey “honestly doesn’t know how many people visit the space” on a regular basis, but he is working to “promote and utilize the space several times a month moving forward with different events for my residents.” He said the event later this month is a charity event, and is planning yoga and fitness classes in the future.

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