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Proposal: Build Atop Rosslyn Highlands Park

by Ethan Rothstein February 24, 2015 at 11:10 am 2,362 0

Rosslyn Highlands Park — a narrow parcel of open space, a basketball court and a playground on Key Blvd — could be sold to a developer in exchange for a new fire station.

In a Nov. 8 presentation to the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) working group, Penzance, which owns the office building at 1555 Wilson Blvd, outlined a proposal that would redevelop the county-owned site — which includes Arlington Fire Station 10 — with three buildings and open space in the middle.

Last week, county staff released a draft plan to sell the site to Penzance, with the developer building a new fire station on the site, a landscaped public plaza and an extension of N. Pierce Street to 18th Street. On the property, Penzance proposes a 17-story office building fronting Wilson Blvd, a 24-story residential building along 18th Street N. and a 27-story residential building along the eastern edge of parcel.

The park is part of the area covered by the WRAPS group, a county-led commission discussing the future of the area in between 18th Street N., N. Quinn Street, Wilson Blvd and the 1555 Wilson Blvd property line. The development would replace Fire Station 10 and sit adjacent to the new H-B Woodlawn building at the Wilson School site, expected to be complete in September 2019.

The proposal is already drawing concern from some interested parties, including the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission and some members of the WRAPS working group. Paul Holland serves on both groups and spoke about his concern before the Arlington County Board Saturday morning, with several supporters dressed in green shirts — many recycled from the “Friends of TJ Park” group’s efforts — standing behind him.

Holland said that county staff’s presentation to the WRAPS group last week proposed selling the county’s land to Penzance to develop the plot.

“The only stakeholder getting what they want out of this process is the private developer, and this equates to public land for private good,” Holland said. “Selling parkland is a dangerous precedent that threatens publicly owned parks and open space throughout the county.”

Earlier this month, county staff released a resident feedback study about how best to use this parcel of land. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed preferred an option that keeps the Rosslyn Highlands Park footprint and shrinks Penzance’s proposal to the confines of its current plot of land.

“I attended our meeting [last] Thursday, hoping to see a proposal that captured the feedback of our community members: the desire for large, consolidated open space and ample park and recreation space that can serve this underserved community,” Holland said. “Unfortunately, this was not the case.”

“Instead, staff presented the working group with a plan that reduces the size of Rosslyn Highlands Park by more than two thirds,” he continued, “replaces cherishes green space with yet another paved plaza that supports a developer, and ignores the neighborhood’s significant open space needs.”

County staff said Fire Station 10 can’t be placed where the residents want it — on the property owned by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, across 18th Street — because of conflicts with school traffic. Staff also said N. Pierce Street needs to be extended, not the resident-preferred plan of extending N. Ode Street to the east. Those factors prompted staff to recommend selling the land to Penzance.

The dispute appears similar — right down to the T-shirts — over the battle for open space next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School that left the School Board scrambling for alternatives. County Board members told Holland and his supporters on Saturday that they might have to sacrifice some open space for other county needs.

“We can do anything we want, but we can’t do everything,” Board member Libby Garvey said, according to InsideNova. “We all want different things — they’re all good things — but how is it going to balance? … We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to start setting priorities. It’s not going to be an easy conversation.”

Caroline Haynes, the chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, sent a letter to the Arlington County Board in December voicing similar concerns over Penzance’s proposal, before county staff gave its presentation last week.

“With increasing population in Rosslyn and the desire of families to live within the corridor, our current and future citizens desperately need recreation and open space amenities to maintain the County’s high quality of life,” Haynes wrote. “There is currently insufficient space for field and court games in Rosslyn and the closest playground for young children is approximately [a half-mile] away. Rosslyn Highlands Park is used at all times, day and night, by the residents of Rosslyn.”

In Penzance’s proposal, it says the development fulfills several of the County Board’s charges to the WRAPS group last spring, including:

  • “Economically viable, urban and vibrant development with a mix of uses, heights and densities”
  • “Create a memorable urban “place” that supports retail activation along Wilson Boulevard”
  • “Locate parks, plazas, and other green spaces for visibility, easy access and maximum use”
  • “Create smaller, walkable blocks by introducing new streets, alleys, and/or pedestrian walkways.”
  • “…locate and design beautiful open spaces to maximize the size of contiguous areas and ensure the flexibility of uses and activities…”
  • “Expand the street grid within the study area to ensure adequate circulation for fire/emergency response and school-related transportation needs.”

The Board will take up the WRAPS plan on at March 7 work session and could vote on the item in April.

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