County pushes for more greenery, accessibility in Amazon HQ2 Phase 2 designs

(Updated 4:40 p.m.) County commissioners welcome Amazon’s latest revisions to plans for the second phase of its HQ2 in Pentagon City — but are pushing for more greenery and accessibility.

Designs for Phase 2, also known as PenPlace, are wending through Arlington County’s planning review process.

Phase 2 will be anchored by a lush, futuristic building, dubbed “The Helix,” and feature three, 22-story office buildings, three retail pavilions, a childcare center, a permanent home for Arlington Community High School, 2.5 acres of public green space, multi-modal pathways and underground parking.

Amazon is massaging out the details with county staff, commissioners and community representatives to ready the plans for Planning Commission and County Board review, possibly in the spring. The tech giant has already updated the three office buildings, pathways and green spaces in response to requests for more architectural diversity and plantings.

“The team has been careful reviewing all comments and believe together, we are making PenPlace a better project for the entire community,” said Joe Chapman, Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities, during a meeting last night. “We are committed to the process and to the community.”

Project designers presented their changes during a Site Plan Review Committee meeting last night (Monday). County staff, commissioners and community members asked for better accessibility for people with disabilities, more pedestrian safety features, increased tree canopy and even more plants.

“In general, everyone really likes the presentation and appreciates the refinements to the design from the [Long Range Planning Committee] to now, and from the comments raised in the online period,” Planning Commission member Elizabeth Gearin said. “There’s very strong and widespread appreciation for changes to the design, for the early incorporation of sustainability, biophilia and art.”

Still, commissioners recommended leveling the entrances to underground parking garages so drivers have clearer views of pedestrians. They and county staff asked Amazon to revisit a set of stairs leading from Army-Navy Drive to an “elevated forest walk” on the northern end of the site.

“We’d really like to see the stairs removed and replaced with ramp that everyone can use equally,” Gearin said.

A rendering of the “elevated forest walk” and stairs from Army-Navy Drive (via Arlington County)

Those suggestions follow up on changes Amazon made this summer to the Army-Navy frontage, “to greatly improve what was seen as a foreboding frontage,” county planner Peter Schulz said.

Others called for more and taller trees throughout the site — not just in the “elevated forest.”

“Anything less than towering oak will look out of place next to 22-story buildings,” said Arlington Tree Action Group member Anne Bodine.

A draft sector plan that could govern the phase 2 site sets a tree canopy target of 20% for sites and 30-40% for public spaces, such as parks, Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore later told ARLnow. These numbers may change before the sector plan, known as the Pentagon City Sector Plan, is finalized.

“County staff will work with the applicant to ensure that the plan meets the County’s adopted ordinances and goals for the tree canopy in this area,” she said.

Commissioners and county planners requested more plantings along the various walking and biking paths through the site and at two plazas on S. Fern and S. Eads streets.

These pathways reflect the relatively new concept of “green ribbons” that Arlington County has introduced to future neighborhood planning efforts as part of the draft sector plan, which has yet to be adopted by the County Board.

“The applicant, to their credit, has been monitoring this closely, and has engaged with a lot of stakeholders in our study,” said county planner Matt Mattauszek. “They’re very familiar with the material and have been updating their proposal accordingly as we’ve been making progress with the study itself.”

Amazon’s interpretation of Arlington County’s concept for “green ribbon” paths (via Arlington County)

Commissioners want to see these ribbons connect to Metropolitan Parkthe park within the adjacent first phase of Amazon’s HQ2, south of 12th Street S. and the PenPlace site — and the forthcoming park in Crystal City on what is known as the “Teardrop Parcel” site.

The layout of open spaces across phase 1 and 2 of Amazon’s HQ2 (via Arlington County)

Pedestrian Commission Secretary Pamela Van Hine said what Amazon is doing “is a really important trial for the Pentagon City Planning Study Process — I hope we get all this right.”

Amazon did reduce the size of HQ2 Phase 2’s central green. Earlier this fall, the company had expanded the planted area by 5,500 square feet and reduced the amount of impermeable surfaces, such as paving.

Amazon increased the plantings within PenPlace in response to community feedback (via Arlington County)

But this led to concerns that the lawn couldn’t handle frequent events. So hardscape was added to allow for “frequent and higher intensity activations,” such as weekend markets. The additional tree plantings, however, were retained.

Amazon reduced the central green in PenPlace to allow for more programming (via Arlington County)