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Parking Plans Spark Debate Over Pentagon City’s PenPlace Development

Plans for a new parking lot at the large “PenPlace” development in Pentagon City are shaping up to cause a bit of friction between county staff and the project’s developer.

JBG Smith is hoping to build a temporary, 204-space retail parking lot adjacent to the development, located on a nine-acre plot of land along S. Fern Street and just off Army Navy Drive. But Arlington officials would much rather see the developer construct a lot roughly a quarter of that size, over fears that so much parking would contribute to a car-dependent culture in the area.

The real estate firm argues that the parking is necessary to meet demands of the up to 50,000 square feet of retailers who will someday occupy the development, noting that the lot will only be a temporary necessity. Yet county staff have repeatedly insisted on changes, marking another dust-up over the development after officials previously expressed skepticism about JBG’s desire to significantly scale back the size of some buildings planned for the site.

The County Board approved the project back in 2013, when it was proposed by Vornado before the company spun off its D.C. holdings in a merger to form JBG Smith. Original plans called for three office buildings between 20 and 22 stories tall, an 18-story, 300-room hotel and a 300-unit apartment building between 16 and 18 stories tall.

JBG decided earlier this year to spread the residential space among two seven-story buildings instead, shifting the hotel rooms to some of the other buildings on the site, which prompted a new round of county scrutiny of the project.

Documents prepared for the project’s Site Plan Review Committee over the last few months show that county staff remain concerned about the reduced density on the site, citing the “dramatically lower heights and scale” of the seven-story buildings as especially problematic given their potential to house people close to the Pentagon City Metro station. Arlington planners previously called it “highly unusual” that a developer would seek to build something less dense than originally approved, though JBG executives have said the change was meant to “improve the pedestrian experience in the area.”

The newest debate centers around the parking lot proposed for a new segment of 11th Street S., which would sit behind two of the buildings to be built along S. Eads Street.

JBG argues that its plans for copious new retail in the area make the new lot essential, at least until another 1,600 parking spaces become available as the developer builds garages alongside the office buildings it has planned for the area.

“In addition, the applicant has claimed that a larger amount of parking is necessary due to the type of retailers being sought,” county staff wrote in a July 23 SPRC report on PenPlace. A JBG executive did not respond to a request for comment on the exact nature of the developer’s plans.

But to add so much parking for the new buildings, JBG needs an exception from the county’s zoning ordinance, which only lets developers construct one space for every 1,000 square feet of retail space. JBG’s proposal, by contrast, works out to about one space for every 196 square feet.

That’s a problem for county officials, who believe the parking lot “encourages auto traffic to the site, and proliferates surface parking.”

JBG has offered to shrink the size of the lot slightly, adding a 10,000-square-foot temporary dog park to cut the number of spaces to 180. Arlington planners wrote in the July 23 report that such an offer is an “improvement,” but lament that the change “does not address comments from staff regarding confining parking lots to future building footprints.”

So far, the SPRC has met four times to discuss the PenPlace plans, but does not yet have another meeting scheduled to hash out this dispute. Plans will ultimately need to go to the Planning Commission and then the County Board for final approval.

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