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As residential redevelopment plans in Crystal City take shape, community benefits may hit snags

Plans to redevelop an office building and the former Jaleo restaurant in Crystal City as two apartment towers are crystallizing.

But two yet-undeveloped buildings appear to be limiting plans for some transportation and open space community benefits associated with the project.

JBG Smith proposes replacing the one-story retail building at 2250 Crystal Drive — home to Jaleo until September — and the aging 11-story “Crystal Plaza 5” office building at 223 23rd Street S. with two, 30-story apartment towers:

  • A “West Tower” at 223 23rd Street S. that would be 309 feet tall and have 613 dwelling units, 4,379 square feet of retail and 184 parking spaces
  • An “East Tower” at 2250 Crystal Drive that would be 304 feet tall, and have 827 dwelling units, 13,059 square feet of retail and 249 total parking spaces

Most of the buildings on the block, dubbed “Block M” in the 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan, are owned by JBG Smith: the apartments 220 20th Street S. and Crystal Plaza 6 and the offices and retail at 2200 and 2100 Crystal Drive.

Once approved and constructed, the development would make the block 80% residential. On the same block, JBG Smith is replacing the Crystal Plaza 1 office building with two apartment towers, 2000 and 2001 S. Bell Street.

Site conditions and developments within the block, dubbed “Block M” (via Arlington County)

As part of the project, JBG Smith is responsible for providing two open spaces and building a new S. Clark-Bell Street to improve pedestrian, car and transit circulation near Route 1. But the developer has to work around Crystal Plaza 6, which it owns, and the Crystal Plaza Apartments, owned by Dweck Properties.

JBG Smith proposes putting the new S. Clark-Bell Street west of these buildings, which could create future transit connectivity challenges, county planner Michael Cullen said in a staff presentation last month.

“While much of the vision relies on the redevelopment of the Crystal Plaza Apartments and the Crystal Plaza 6 site at 2221 Clark Street S., the proposed site plan project will be establishing critical alignments for future entry and exit points that will impact the feasibility of achieving the ultimate roadway alignment,” he said.

An alley between the two towers that JBG Smith is proposing will be nothing but a dead end unless the Crystal Plaza Apartments are redeveloped, according to the county.

Until JBG Smith redevelops Crystal Plaza 6, the developer says it can only build an interim, 8,670-square foot park on the site’s southwest corner — not the 13,000-square foot park envisioned in the 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan.

That is likely more than a decade out. For now, Crystal Plaza 6 is home to furnished apartments that were previously one of the two U.S. locations of WeLive, WeWork’s experiment in communal living. Management changed hands after WeWork closed its Crystal City coworking space in January 2021.

The plan also envisions a 3,300-square foot plaza on the corner of 23rd Street S. and Crystal Drive. JBG Smith proposes moving the plaza and pedestrian access to a collection of underground shops and corridors to the northwest corner of the east tower.

From now through next Monday (March 14), people can weigh in on these sector plan departures.

Still, land use attorney Kedrick Whitmore writes that the project achieves the sector plan’s major goals.

“The proposed development will help to create the 18-hour active environment, provide substantial transportation upgrades, particularly along 23rd Street, and enhance the retail environment,” he said in a letter to the county.

This project is the latest in a decades-long effort to redevelop Crystal City’s aging and vacant office buildings with more apartments, which Arlington County has treated as an avenue for realizing other neighborhood improvements.

Before it merged with JBG Smith, Vornado proposed one office and one apartment building on the site. The new plan reflects a shift in away from speculative office projects given Arlington’s high office vacancy rate, in addition to national office leasing and work-from-home trends in the wake of the pandemic.

The public will have a second opportunity to weigh in on the plans this summer, with online feedback addressing land use, design, architecture, transportation and open space. Planning Commission and County Board hearings are slated for this fall.

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