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Updates to Clarendon’s development plan head to County Board

Updates to a 14-year-old plan guiding future development in Clarendon are entering the home stretch.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is slated to authorize public hearings on the Clarendon Sector Plan update, which could culminate in a vote on whether to accept the updated plan on April 23. The county is also still seeking feedback on the updates.

Changes to the sector plan were prompted by a bevy of expected near-term redevelopments on the Silver Diner/The LotJoyce Motors and Wells Fargo/Verizon sites, as well as projects proposed by the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the YMCA and George Mason University.

The update did not revisit any of the 2006 plan’s overarching goals, which envision Clarendon as an “urban village” with “accessible and connected spaces, and a rich mix of uses” that build on the area’s historical commercial focus, according to the county.

Instead, the updates focused on whether the 14-year-old plan’s recommendations for specific sites needed to be updated as new proposals come in. It provides guidance on land use, building heights and forms, and transportation, and explores how the county can redevelop a parcel it owns with some combination of a new fire station, open space and affordable housing.

Members of nearby civic associations, the Planning Commission and the Housing Commission are urging the county to prioritize different elements on the publicly-owned site, located at 10th Street N., between N. Hudson and Irving streets.

The lot is currently is home to three aging county buildings: Fire Station 4 (3121 10th St. N), the Fire Prevention Office (1020 N. Hudson St.) and Clarendon House, which has been vacant since the county moved the mental health rehab program run by the Department of Human Services to Sequoia Plaza (2120 Washington Blvd) in 2015.

Both Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office — home to the offices of the Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief — have reached the end of their useful life, the plan says. The Fire Prevention Office building will be relocated to county offices at 2020 14th Street N. in Courthouse while Fire Station 4 could be rebuilt on the same property or elsewhere.

Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office (via Google Maps)

The Planning Commission favors using the land for a blend of government and community facilities, such as a rooftop public space above a proposed fire station.

Ashton Heights Civic Association President Scott Sklar writes in a letter to the county that neighbors envision “a significant, unique playground for children from the new residential buildings, along with some basketball, racquet or pickleball courts in the space adjacent to the fire station, as it would be centrally located to serve Clarendon and nearby residents.”

Lastly, the Housing Commission would like to see affordable housing co-located at the site, as the sector plan area has only 82 committed affordable housing units — the lowest number in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, says Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey said in a letter to the county.

“The Commission stated the priority should not be to provide luxurious amenities to those who live in single-family detached homes, but rather to provide homes to those who cannot afford them,” Berkey said. “Anything other than a structure which utilizes the full zoned height maximum would be a missed opportunity for the County-owned land.”

The plan recommends public space and affordable housing if Fire Station 4 can be relocated and affordable housing can be built. The site could also fit a 43,000-square-foot park without housing.

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission and the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board are keen to see the sector plan take more steps to preserve the Joyce Motors building, which is ranked Essential in the county’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI). The building’s owner proposes to tear it down and incorporate the historic façade into a corner of its proposed apartment building with ground floor retail.

How the owner plans to incorporate the historic façade of the Joyce Motors building into a new apartment building (via Arlington County)

Moving a historic building or sections of one is not a federally recognized preservation treatment, but in this case, it’s needed, the plan says.

But HALRB Chair Dick Woodruff says approving the owner’s proposal would “make a mockery” of the county’s HRI policy.

“That is not façade protection by any standard architectural definition, and it’s completely inappropriate for a building of this recognized historical significance,” he said. “It is an excellent and rare example of the porcelain-enameled, boxlike service station and has the distinction of being the last remaining intact, in situ example in Arlington County.”

The Planning Commission is urging the county to explore creative solutions that keep the building in its place. Clarendon has several other commercial buildings ranked “Essential,” including the Fisher Post Office and the buildings that house Lyon Hall, Liberty Tavern, Don Tito’s and Spider Kelly’s.

In addition to development, the sector plan envisions more open spaces and more child care.

A portion of Fairfax Drive near Northside Social is reimagined as a new public park that improves the connection between Clarendon and Virginia Square. The plan recommends turning it into a curbless shared street that accommodates cars, emergency vehicles and short-term parking while being more pedestrian friendly.

Plans for Fairfax Drive in the Clarendon Sector Plan update (via Arlington County)

The plan also outlines how the county could expand an existing green space, which it dubs “Triangle Park,” at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and Kirkwood Road, by relocating a Department of Parks and Recreation building and acquiring nearby private parcels.

A green space dubbed ‘Triangle Park’ in the Clarendon Sector Plan update (via Google Maps)

Lastly, the plan recommends the county pursue securing a second county child care center within a new development in Clarendon. This center would meet the growing demand that exceeds the number of slots available at the current county-owned childcare space in the Colonial Village neighborhood.

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