Restaurant owners, residents, and advisory group members alike are demanding that an upcoming residential development in Crystal City includes more customer parking for the 23rd Street “Restaurant Row.”
At an unusually heated Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meeting Monday night, a representative from Crystal Houses developer Roseland Residential Trust outlined its plans for “Crystal House 5,” one of the new residential buildings proposed to be added to the existing apartment complex on the 1900 block of S. Eads Street.
The latest iteration of the development plan has been revised upward — with 819 new residential units planned, up from 798 previously. In addition to four new apartment buildings, Roseland is proposing three groups of townhouses.
Monday’s meeting, however, focused on the contentious issue of parking. Currently, Crystal House 5 is set to build over a Roseland-owned surface lot with 95 pay-to-park spaces.
Per use permit conditions, Roseland reserves 35 of those spaces exclusively for customers and employees of the businesses along 23rd Street S. — aka Restaurant Row.
Roseland plans to build a parking garage beneath the building, along with a small surface lot, with a total of 96 spaces. It is offering to reserve 35 of those spaces — 14 surface and 21 in the garage — for Restaurant Row owners and customers, with the remaining 60 for tenant use only.
However, because all 95 spaces in the current lot are open for public use, business owners argue this will result in a net loss of parking for them. Especially outspoken about this is Stratis Voutsas, who manages a trust that owns several of the buildings along 23rd Street.
Voutsas, along with a few other Restaurant Row business owners, wore matching shirts that said “Keep 23rd Street Weird, Eclectic & Uniquely Authentic, Support Parking For Your Local Business.” Voutsas has also started a petition, which he claims has over 3,000 signatures, emphasizing that the county’s Crystal City Sector Plan envisions the preservation of Restaurant Row.
“At Restaurant Row (500 block of 23rd Street), the plan visualizes preserving and retaining small, neighborhood oriented retailers,” the plan says. “Should redevelopment occur in this area, such retailers should be accommodated, to help support active streetscapes.”
Local restaurateur Freddie Lutz, who owns Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant and Federico Ristorante Italiano, told ARLnow he was promised by a county staff member 35 years ago that parking would be protected.
“When me and [business partner] Ted Sachs were standing on the surface parking lot 35 years ago, someone from the county said to us, if anyone builds on this parking lot they will have to provide parking for 23rd Street Restaurant Row,” Lutz said. “Live and learn, I should have stuck my hand up and asked, ‘Can we have that in writing?'”
The county has offered to allow Roseland to build Crystal House 5 up to 35 feet higher from its proposed height of 75 feet in exchange for more parking given to Restaurant Row, according to Arlington County Principal Planner Matthew Pfeiffer, but the developer has thus far rejected the offer, to the frustration of many attendees at Monday’s meeting.
“Many of my clients go to 23rd Street to fundraise and parking is always an issue,” said Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance president Bruce Hightower. “My recommendation is to apply for the incentive to build higher. Maybe the county can purchase the garage space and then pay for the construction of additional levels?”
Restaurant Row business owners have long said the street needs more customer parking.
“Restaurant Row needs parking to survive — it’s like a bald eagle, it’s a protected species,” Voutsas said during the meeting.
County officials are in the midst of planning a Crystal City parking study to address the issue, according to Pfeiffer. The Arlington County Board is set to discuss the Crystal Houses development during its December meeting.