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Planners Envision Greener, More Urban and Less Car-Centric Pentagon City

With the construction of Amazon’s HQ2, a nearly 40-year-old planning document guiding development in Pentagon City has reached the end of its useful life.

Now, Arlington County has to lay out a vision for the next 20 years of development. According to the most recent draft of the Pentagon City Planning Study, that will include a significant amount of redevelopment and infill development, with an emphasis on residential buildings. Two other priorities are increased green spaces and multimodal transportation upgrades.

The year-plus planning effort is set to wrap up later this fall, and currently, county planners are engaging with the community about their second draft plan.

Per the draft, Pentagon City could — if developers follow through — see about nine significant redevelopment projects over the next two decades.

“We have tried to continue to engage to get an understanding of what they’re thinking,” said Kathleen Onufer, of architecture firm Goody Clancy, which worked with the county on the plan. “The years are based on conversation with the property owners and their sense of interest.”

Pentagon City Planning Study Area (via Arlington County)

RiverHouse, one of the largest housing complexes in the D.C. area, is listed as having significant development potential. That’s why county planners included the apartments in the study, despite them being outside the document’s core planning area.

Adding more density to RiverHouse and its expanse of surface parking lots and green space — already a hot topic — prompted a strong reaction from attendees of an open house last night (Tuesday). A number of attendees expressed disapproval for the impact they believed it would have on property values, while a few were more supportive.

“There is plenty of room to build out mid- and high-rises west [on] Columbia Pike [and] south on Richmond Highway, Potomac Yard, and Arlandria,” former RiverHouse resident and attendee Tina Ghiladi said. “To think RiverHouse should absorb the majority of all this density is being expedient. We’re not being NIMBYs. We understand the need for additional housing, we just want height limits.”

After the meeting, Aurora Highlands Civic Association member Ben D’Avanzo told ARLnow he supports turning the tracts of parking spaces into additional housing.

“RiverHouse is a sensitive area, being both a transition to lower density neighbors and one of the somewhat affordable rental housing [options] available” in the area, he said. “Yet, as housing values and rents skyrocket, there are wide swaths of surface parking just blocks from the Metro that do not represent a livable version of our neighborhood. I think the Pentagon City final plan should, accounting for more detail needed on streetscape, open space, schools and other community needs, have a balance of new housing types at RiverHouse, with townhouses at the southern end and more density at the northern [end].”

Overall, the draft plan divides potential redevelopment opportunities into five phases, ranging between two and five years.

“Reality is not that convenient and neat, but it gives you a sense [of] what we can expect if these sites actually redevelop,” said the lead county planner on the project, Matt Mattauszek. “That’s not in our control, but at least organizing it this way gives people a sense of what’s more likely to redevelop sooner rather than later, and what that means for the addition of units and the impact on schools.”

The current and proposed mix of land-use in Pentagon City (via Arlington County)

The phases are as follows below.

Phase 1 (2022-26)

  • Brookfield Properties’ Transportation Security Administration headquarters redevelopment
  • RiverHouse, south of 15th Street S.
  • Infill development along S. Hayes Street and Army Navy Drive by Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
  • An additional Regency Care rehabilitation center building

Phase 2 (2027-2029)

  • RiverHouse between 13th and 15th Streets S.
  • Fashion Centre garage redevelopment along 12th Street S.

Phase 3 (2030-34)

  • RiverHouse, north of 13th Street S.
  • Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) parking lot infill development by Federal Realty Investment Trust

Phase 4 (2035-39)

  • Infill or redevelopment of additional portions of Fashion Centre

Phase 5 (2040-41)

The vision for redeveloping Pentagon City (via Arlington County)

The plan also outlines the creation of at least five new acres of new parks and plazas across Pentagon City, as well as an expansion of the popular — perhaps too popular — Virginia Highlands Park by at least one acre.

One hallmark idea is “The Green Ribbon,” described in the plan as “a new signature network of biophilic walking paths connecting public spaces, destinations, and transit throughout Pentagon City and greater 22202.”

As part of future proposed projects, developers would build out segments of — or contribute cash to — the network, mostly meant for casual use.

“The Green Ribbon is principally a walking path,” the plan said. “While it will accommodate slow-moving cycling [and] micro-mobility and may be used for final approach to a destination, it is not intended as a high-speed trail.”

The plan also specifies upgrades to Grace Hopper Park, including a new building with publicly accessible amenities, such as dining or a library.

The park “should be improved to be more visible, more obviously public, and function better as a destination public space and center of place identity around the intersection of 15th Street S. and S. Joyce Street with the addition of a plaza,” it said.

What a “biophilic” Pentagon City could look like (via Arlington County)

As for transportation, the draft says it aims to “provide safe, inviting transportation choices that make driving unnecessary.”

Mechanisms for this include adding a network of protected bike lanes, removing traffic lanes, improving bus facilities and beefing up micro-mobility connections to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The planning study has been closely followed by neighborhood civic associations, such as the Aurora Highlands Civic Association, which outlined a myriad issues with the first draft’s alleged vagueness and deference to developers, among other concerns.

Public comments on the second draft will be accepted through Oct. 31. A series of meetings and open houses are still on the horizon, with Planning Commission and County Board meetings not yet scheduled, according to a presentation.

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