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PenPlace Open Space Approved Over More Resident Discontent

The Arlington County Board has approved a concept for two acres of open place on the planned PenPlace development in Pentagon City.

The plan calls for three open spaces: two small parks along planned 10th and 12th Street S. connections between S. Fern and Eads Streets and a “Central Green” in the middle of the large development. The Central Green is designed to allow for events like outdoor movies and concerts, according to the space’s designer, and will include a cafe in the northeast corner.

The concept was presented to the County Board during its Thursday meeting last week after three community meetings. The PenPlace development was approved by the County Board last September, with the condition that a concept for the open space be brought back within a year.

The PenPlace development, when completed, is planned to have five buildings, each between 16 and 22 stories tall, that include 1.8 million square feet of office space and a 300-room hotel. It will be adjacent to a planned streetcar station on 12th Street.

As part of the approval, the developer, Vornado/Charles E. Smith, agreed to build about two acres of public space as a component of the community benefit package required for bonus density.

“I think the overarching goal here, that we’ve shared with the public, is to create a vibrant urban space in the heart of Pentagon City,” said Hallie Boyce, a design partner with Olin Landscape Architects, which designed the open space, “that will not only allow people to enjoy the great outdoors but also to enjoy each other’s company, and to really create a sense of community here in Pentagon City.”

In addition, Vornado plans to include up to 20,000 square feet of community-oriented space in the building at the corner of the planned 10th Street and S. Eads Street intersection. According to Vornado’s presentation to the County Board, the space could be used for educational use or a university, a business incubator, a library or community center, or large entertainment use, such as a bowling alley, movie theater or performance venue.

The concept was submitted and approved as a “base case,” which will now operate as a guiding principle for when the buildings come back before the Board for a full site plan approval. According to Vornado Senior Vice President and Director of Development Mitch Bonanno, there is still no timeline for any construction.

PenPlace was met with numerous resident objections when it first came before the County Board last year. Four speakers came to Thursday’s meeting in protest of a provision that allows Vornado additional density on the site, saying they felt they were caught unaware after the community meetings. The base case includes a provision that, if the open space costs more than the staff’s estimate of $2.65 million, Vornado is entitled to added density.

“The citizen participants were under the mistaken impression that the outdoor space improvements were part of the extremely generous deal Vornado already got,” Pentagon City resident Elizabeth Wirick said. “Those who took part in the workshops feel betrayed. This is a concept, not a plan, we don’t have any data on how much it’s going to cost other than staff estimates, and with regards to staff estimates, I’ll keep it short. Two words: aquatics center.”

(Vornado agreed to partially fund the proposed Long Bridge Park aquatics center project as part of PenPlace’s initial phased development approval. The aquatics center is now stalled after construction bids came in well above staff estimates.)

The motion passed just before midnight, 3-1, with Board member John Vihstadt dissenting and Board member Libby Garvey absent.

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