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County Officials Not Fazed by Drop-Off in Development in 2020

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Few office and retail spaces were approved or completed in the first three quarters of 2020, but Arlington officials say it is too early to attribute the drop to the pandemic or consider it a trend at all.

The 2020 third quarter report on retail, office, hotel and residential development appears to show that the rates at which projects are approved, buildings are demolished, and construction starts and ends have dropped off in 2020. Meanwhile, the demolition and redevelopment of single-family detached homes appears to remain consistent.

No hotel rooms have been approved or built so far in 2020 (though a former hotel was demolished in spectacular fashion on Sunday). About 120,000 square feet of retail has been completed this year, and 40,000 square feet approved, but rates exceeded both those sums in 2019. About 17,000 square feet of office space was approved this year, compared to 2 million last year thanks to Amazon’s HQ2.

“It would be easy to think because of COVID-19 that that might explain the tapering off of development, but it’s too early for us to know,” said county planner Emily Garrett, who led the Q3 Development Tracking Report. “It could be normal to have a slower couple of quarters following large projects.”

In the view of Marc McCauley, the director of real estate for the Arlington Economic Development office, the coronavirus has impacted existing properties more than future projects.

“If you’re in development and considering mixed-use, we haven’t heard a lot of projects significantly delayed or dropped because of concerns, but you may be concerned about getting a hotel financed,” he said. “It has not moved the needle one way or another in terms of development.”

Although these reports look back to the third quarter of 2015, that is not long enough in the scheme of big projects to determine if large-scale office, retail and mixed-use developments are actually slowing down, the two officials agreed.

Rather, such projects could be on four- to five-year cycles, which looks inconsistent compared to the 50 to 60 houses that are approved, demolished and rebuilt each quarter, like clockwork, Garrett said. Before Amazon was granted 2 million square feet in December 2019, the last time a comparable project came around was in the first quarter of 2016, she said.

As for retail, the change reflects the broader trend in Arlington’s development extending beyond the last five years. McCauley said. Retail clusters such as the Ballston Quarter explain the occasional retail spikes, but it is more common to have small amounts of ground-floor retail approved as part of a mixed-use project.

“There’s only so much retail clusters you can support,” he said. “Through long-term market cycles, they get repositioned because it’s about refreshing your concept to be able to compete for customers.”

Meanwhile, the housing development rates reflect the trajectory Arlington has been on for decades, Garrett said, with most new development focusing on denser housing near transit hubs.

“I would definitely say overall the way development trends aligns with the overall demographic trends of Arlington County for decades now,” she said.

The average household size shrank in 1970 and has been stable ever since, with more opting to live in smaller housing units, she said. The report shows that the number of apartment units is growing, while the number of single-family homes remain flat, with detached homes being replaced at a nearly one-to-one rate.

The last three quarters of relative inactivity come as the county is focusing on new and ongoing development plans, including along Lee Highway and in the Clarendon area.

“We’re at that point where we’re looking at studies that have been completed and… seeing where there might be additional potential,” Garrett said.

Garrett said it “could be a year, or years” before the County sees the true impact of the pandemic on development. “We’ll just have to see.”

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The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.

The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.

Former participants have this to say:

_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._

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Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.

Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.

About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.

The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.

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