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Redevelopment of American Legion Post into Affordable Housing Complex Wins County Approval

County leaders have now given the green light to plans to redevelop the American Legion post in Virginia Square into an affordable housing complex, a project widely hailed as an innovative effort to provide reasonably priced homes to veterans.

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday (Feb. 23) to approve plans from the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to replace the Legion’s current home with a new seven-story structure. The building will have room for 160 apartments — half will be set aside specifically for veterans, and all of them are guaranteed to be affordable to people of more modest means for the next 75 years.

The development, located at 3445 Washington Blvd, will also include 8,000 square feet on its ground floor for American Legion Post 139 to stay on the property. The Legion has owned the roughly 1.3-acre property since the 1930s, but opted to sell it to APAH in 2016 after the nonprofit sketched out plans for a new complex decided to helping local veterans.

“Unfortunately, the high cost of housing has put Arlington out of reach for many,” APAH Board of Directors member Rich Jordan wrote in a statement. “But we are excited that this project, the first collaboration of its kind, will welcome more veterans home to our community.”

The building will include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, all at varying levels of affordability. Most will be designed to be affordable to people making 60 percent or 80 percent of the area median income — that works out to a yearly annual salary of $49,260 and $65,680, respectively.

However, some will be set aside for people making 30 percent of the area median income, a level of affordability that projects around Arlington only rarely achieve. Someone would have to make around $30,000 a year to qualify for the homes.

“We are adding much-needed affordable units to our inventory, and many of them are large enough for families,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey wrote in a statement.

The project will also include an underground parking garage for residents, with a total of 96 spaces. Of those, 20 would be set aside to serve the Legion post specifically.

That represents a smaller number of parking spaces that the county’s zoning laws would typically allow at a development of this size. But county officials opted to sign off on the plans anyway, reasoning that many people living at the building will likely rely on the area’s Metro station and bevy of available bus stops to get around.

Even still, parking was a key concern for some neighbors. Some local leaders worry that the building’s larger apartments will attract families, who will bring cars and take up street parking in the neighborhoods adjoining the development.

The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association and Lyon Village Citizens’ Association both floated the idea of tweaking zoned parking limits in the area — the streets surrounding the development, like N. Kansas Street and 12th Road N., are currently off-limits to people without permits from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Some neighbors proposed a 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. limit instead, but county officials weren’t inclined to grant that request.

In a staff report, the county noted that it’s still in the middle of a lengthy review of the residential parking permit program, with a moratorium on most changes to parking zones while that review moves forward.

That’s now set to wrap up sometime early next year, and county staff told the Planning Commission that they’re hesitant to make any zoned parking changes in the area until then — the County Board did, however, roll back some contentious restrictions in the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill neighborhoods earlier this year.

“In the future, if parking increases along 12th Road N. by non-Zone 6 permit holders, the hours of the RPP restriction could be evaluated based on the program’s guidelines at that time,” staff wrote in the report.

APAH also plans to construct a new section of N. Kansas Street running north-to-south between 13th Street N. and Washington Blvd, a move that staff hope will break up the area’s “superblock” feel. The new road will include some dedicated space for pedestrians and cyclists, and the developer is also planning to widen Washington Blvd near the project.

Eventually, the county also hopes to see 12th Road N. extended to provide an “east-west” connection across the property as well, though that will likely be finished only once the adjacent YMCA redevelops that property to allow for a new recreational facility and some new apartments on the site. A developer is also hoping to add 255 new apartments near the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road in the coming years.

APAH expects to fund the bulk of the $78.4 million project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit cash, though the nonprofit will also work to raise $3 million in private financing.

The Board also approved a $5.79 million loan for the project Saturday from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a key tool designed to spur affordable development in Arlington. APAH expects to ask for another $5.375 million loan from the fund next year.

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