Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The Arlington County Board has signed off on a large new apartment development in Crystal City, near Amazon’s incoming headquarters.

During its meeting this past Saturday, the Board approved plans for the 17-acre Crystal Houses site that will add 819 new residential units to the property across four new apartment buildings and three rows of townhouses. The two existing Crystal Houses apartment buildings will remain as-is.

The plans include two new public parks, 627 new below-grade parking spaces, and a small amount of ground floor retail space.

“One .8-acre public park will be located at the intersection of S. Eads Street and 20th Street N.,” a press release notes. “The park… will contain a multi-use lawn; play area; games; pathways; seating and planting areas.”

A 0.6 acre public park located at the corner of S. Fern Street will include an enclosed “dog run” space, according to landscape architect Trini Rodriguez, and an urban orchard with fruit-bearing trees.

“We wanted to make sure where the parks are located, there is easy access to them and they are adjacent to other amenity areas, creating a pleasant walk for other neighboring communities,” said Rodriguez.

Other planned community benefits from the project include:

  • Streetscape improvements
  • Public art installations
  • LEED Gold Certification
  • A tree-lined pedestrian pathway through the block
  • Protected bike lanes along S. Eads Street and between 18th and 15th Street S.

The developer will plant 359 new trees to offset the loss of 230 existing trees on the site.

In exchange for requested zoning changes for additional density, and to meet affordable housing requirements, developer Roseland Residential Trust has agreed to transfer an adjacent property — currently a surface parking lot — to the county for a future affordable housing development.

From the press release:

To justify their request for additional density sought under the sector plan, and in lieu of providing on-site committed affordable housing units, the developer is conveying a portion of their site, along with their approval to build a seven-story building on it, to the County for affordable housing purposes. The conveyance will allow for significantly more affordable housing to be built on the site than called for in the Crystal City Sector Plan. The developer also will contribute nearly $1.65 million to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

The parking lot is currently used for patrons of Crystal City’s 23rd Street “Restaurant Row.” A campaign to save the lot, “Keep 23rd Street Weird,” argues building atop the parking lot will be detrimental to the row’s customer base.

Several members of the 23rd Street campaign spoke against the site plan at the County Board meeting, clad in matching shirts that read “Keep 23rd Street Weird, Eclectic & Uniquely Authentic, Support Parking For Your Local Business.”

“Like other restaurants, we really need parking,”  said Danny McFadden of the recently-opened McNamara’s Pub & Restaurant. “We’ve got customers coming from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and everybody expresses the same concerns about the parking, everybody on this block thinks the same way.”

Arlington’s Planning Commission suggested that the seven-story, 81-unit building approved for the parcel of land being given to the county could be bigger.

“It is the sense of the Planning Commission that… the County Board and County Manager not build the proposed Crystal House 5 under the approved entitlement, but rather begin a new SPRC process to take full advantage of the density available on the site and seek partnership with adjacent landowners in order to maximize the impact of affordable housing programming and set the appropriate amount of public parking to serve the area,” the Planning Commission said in a letter.

Ultimately, the Board unanimously voted 5-0 to approve the site plan.

The county will now conduct a parking study for the Restaurant Row area and will conduct a search for an affordable housing partner, to develop the lot, sometime between April 1 and September 30, 2020.

The full county press release about the project’s approval is below, after the jump.

The Arlington County Board today approved a plan to add 819 new housing units, two new public parks and a small amount of ground floor retail space to Crystal City’s 17-acre Crystal Houses site. The developer will convey a part of the site to the County that can provide at least 105,000 square feet of gross floor area for affordable housing.

Developer Roseland Residential’s Crystal Houses project will add four new apartment buildings and three rows of townhouses along the edges of the two-block site at 1900 S. Eads St., which already includes two 12-story apartment buildings.

“This redevelopment gives us a unique opportunity to increase Arlington’s inventory of affordable housing by deeding to the County valuable real estate in the heart of transit-accessible Crystal City,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “The combination of affordable and market-rate housing, much-needed parkland and greater walkability along S. Eads Street that this redevelopment will provide will enhance the urban fabric of this neighborhood in a manner consistent with the Crystal City Sector Plan.”

The Board voted unanimously to adopt a rezoning, a site plan amendment and a new site plan for the site. To read the staff report, visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 42 on the agenda for the Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 Regular County Board Meeting.

To justify their request for additional density sought under the sector plan, and in lieu of providing on-site committed affordable housing units, the developer is conveying a portion of their site, along with their approval to build a seven-story building on it, to the County for affordable housing purposes. The conveyance will allow for significantly more affordable housing to be built on the site than called for in the Crystal City Sector Plan. The developer also will contribute nearly $1.65 million to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

The new buildings will achieve Gold Certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

New public parks

The public park space is more than what is recommended in the sector plan for the site. One .8-acre public park will be located at the intersection of S. Eads Street and 20th Street N. The park was largely planned during an earlier site plan review process for the site and will contain a multi-use lawn; play area; games; pathways; seating and planting areas. A .6-acre park, at the corner of 22nd Street S. and S. Fern Street will include casual use space, a dog run and a small area of fruit-bearing trees.

The developer will plant 359 new trees to mitigate the loss of 230 existing trees on the site. Street trees will be added on nearly all the project frontages.

Buildings tapering to neighborhood

The new buildings will taper down in height and scale westward toward the Aurora Highlands neighborhood. The developer will build a protected bike lane on the S. Eads Street frontage, and another off-site protected bike lane on S. Eads Street between 18th Street S. and 15th Street S. The site will have 62 surface parking spaces between buildings or along internal driveways, not visible from public streets and open spaces.

Background

The existing Crystal Houses buildings were developed in 1961.

Public process

Reviewed at four Site Plan Review Committee meetings. It was also reviewed by the Transportation, Housing and Planning Commissions. The County’s Park and Recreation Commission participated in the SPRC process.

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