Last night, the Arlington County Board denied developer Penzance permission to extend construction hours on a luxury condo project in Rosslyn.
The Board unanimously rejected the request to add an extra hour of work in the mornings, allowing crews to start at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends, after dozens of residents testified about numerous problems they have already endured with the existing schedule.
Board member Katie Cristol introduced the motion denying the request during the Board’s Tuesday night meeting. While she appreciated Penzance’s desire to speed up its construction process, she couldn’t support “literally unprecedented” construction hours that would be, “an awfully extraordinary action given the resounding comments we’ve heard from the neighboring property owners.”
Cristol noted that the request would only shave a few weeks off the construction schedule, which is projected to wrap up in January 2020. Penzance is building a trio of high-rises on the 1500 block of Wilson Blvd — collectively dubbed The Highlands — with 884 luxury housing units and 40,000 square feet of retail space.
Dozens of residents of the Atrium Condominium building, which is located behind the development site, showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to voice their opposition to Penzance’s request.
“I apologize and thank the community on behalf of the county for what sounds like pure hell for some of you, and I can appreciate that that’s no fun,” said Board member Erik Gutshall, after listening to their testimony. “So stick with us. Nobody sell your unit. No one leave. We will get through this. It’s going to be a beautiful great place and I appreciate folks who can see past that.”
Susan Miller, a 30-year resident of the Atrium, said she has “never seen anything like the horror that this project has brought to this community that we are in,” citing noise and dust and dirt that permeate her balcony.
Another long time resident, Pendita Welch, said that the noise is so loud she has to take phone calls in her closet, and worried that vibrations could be causing her walls to crack.
“I live on the back of the building, and I am partially deaf,” said resident Kelly Davidson, who spoke through tears. “And I can tell you that the noise is loud enough, at nearly the top of the building, partially deaf, to wake me in a startle.”
Davidson told the Board she now has to take medication for frequent migraines.
“Dirt is part of what happens when we excavate and there’s no way we know of to control that,” said Penzance’s Senior Vice President Frank Poli.
Poli said that the goal of the longer construction times is to “expedite the completion of the excavation work” of the project by giving more time to dig up dirt and lay concrete. An attorney representing Penzance told the Board that once this phase is finished, trucks can move back on-site and free up 18th Street N.
Hiam Nawas said she’s lived in the Atrium for 10 years and invited the Board to come visit her apartment and experience it for themselves.
“We can’t open windows, if we do the dust is all over the place,” she said. “I wake up in the morning because of the noise of the construction trucks at 5:30 or 6 a.m.”
Cynthia Carabelli, vice president of the Board of Directors of the Atrium, said condo dwellers were “upset” about the prospect of more construction. Residents have already picked up trash from the construction crews, allowed trucks to use their driveway as a turn-around, and let Penzance install a camera on their roof, she said.
“We’re nice and we have put up with a lot,” said Carabelli.
Penzance’s request was originally on the consent agenda for the Board’s Saturday meeting, a placement usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate. But on Saturday it was moved to Tuesday’s regular meeting to allow for it to be debated.
Board Chair Christian Dorsey said from the dais last night that the situation made him want to reconsider how the county communicates upcoming topics of discussion, noting, “It’s not great that we have a staff report that says, ‘No issues identified at this time,’ and then we have however many people showing up tonight with deeply detailed and emotional testimony.”
“That’s a fail,” he added. “We have to figure out how to fix that.”
Images 1 via Penzance, 2 via Google Maps