Construction on 193 new apartments — including 78 affordable units — in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood has begun, and county officials and developers celebrated today with a groundbreaking.
The project, called Union on Queen, will raze three buildings to erect a 12-story tower, which will contain 181 apartments. The two buildings that make up the Pierce Queen Apartments, built in 1942 on the 1600 block of 16th Street N., will be gutted, but preserved and renovated. They will be converted into 12 affordable units.
The project is a public-private partnership among The Bozzuto Group, nonprofit developer Wesley Housing and Arlington County, which is providing debt financing. Construction began a few weeks ago, according to Bozzuto President Toby Bozzuto, and is expected to last two years, putting the project on track for an October 2016 opening.
The process to get the apartments from proposal to site plan approval to construction was not an easy one. The project was deferred by the Arlington County Board before its March 2013 approval for design and parking concerns. It also faced issues securing affordable housing grants from both the county and the state.
The developers and public officials in attendance at this morning’s groundbreaking all noted how tough of a slog the approval process was. Wesley Properties President and CEO Shelley Murphy said the company’s founder called Pierce Queen Apartments “the project from hell” when the company acquired it in 1991.
“This is as good an example of why Arlington succeeds as anything,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. “We actually follow through. Follow-through is hard. We all create plans, we all create visions, we write beautiful words, we put it on a shelf. In Arlington, we work really hard to bring the vision to life, to make the investments and the hard calls to make things work.”
Rep. Jim Moran didn’t step up to the podium — “One of the nice things about retiring is that I don’t have to stand up at any more podiums and microphones,” he joked — but said “Arlington County works, and it works because they understand that communities and their economies are a reflection of a collective decision-making on the part of thousands of families.”
Arlington approved $6.8 million in Affordable Housing Investment Fund money toward the project, which also received assistance from the Virginia Housing Development Authority. The state money wasn’t easy to secure, several of the speakers said, partly because the development’s total cost was close to being ineligible for state money. Eventually, the sides struck an arrangement and Fisette said the apartments will be up to the high standards the county has set.
“There are a lot of places that would say, ‘Dumb it down, cheaper, less efficient. It’s affordable housing in there’,” Fisette said. “But that’s not the way this community works. We want every building to be indistinguishable from the next.”