Plans for Phase 2 of Amazon’s HQ2 receive Planning Commission approval

(Updated at 10:35 a.m. on 04/07/22) After one year of community engagement, plans for the second phase of Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City cleared the Planning Commission on Monday night.

The project now proceeds to the Arlington County Board, which is slated to review the plans during its meeting on Saturday, April 23.

The second phase, at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S., will develop a long-vacant block with 3.2 million square feet of office space and about 94,500 square feet of retail, according to county planner Peter Schulz.

This density will be spread across three 22-story, renewable-energy-powered office towers and Amazon’s signature building: a glassy, verdant, twisting structure dubbed “The Helix,” which it intends to open to the public twice a month.

The ground floor of one tower will have a 15,000-square foot public childcare facility accepting government subsidies as well as the permanent home for Arlington Community High School, with seats for 300 students.

The campus will also have one- to two-story retail pavilions, 2.75 acres of public open space and underground parking and loading.

Other public benefits include bike lanes on three of the four streets along the site — Army Navy Drive, S. Fern Street and S. Eads Street — and a $30 million contribution to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

Amazon, which is currently leasing office space in Crystal City, is building its HQ2 in two phases. The first phase, Metropolitan Park, is at the corner of 13th Street. S and S. Eads Street and just south of the second phase, named PenPlace.

Construction on Met Park, comprised of two 22-story buildings and 2.5-acre open space, is underway and should be completed in 2023.

Last night, Planning Commissioners reviewed the changes Amazon made in response to community comments, considered how they were received by the Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) and addressed lingering concerns.

“There was a feeling that the project should be held to a very high standard, considering who the owner of the project is,” said Planning Commissioner Tenley Peterson of the SPRC process. “Such a successful, high-profile business like Amazon should provide a project that will both impress the community and be a standard future projects can be measured against.”

Amazon tweaked the façades and roofs of the office towers to increase their architectural variety and moved buildings around to accommodate protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extra turn lanes for cars.

The company also added an outdoor stairway to create a direct connection to Army Navy Drive and added a 15-foot-wide walking, biking and scooting path running east-west.

This last change will become the neighborhood’s first example of a “green ribbon” — a novel planning tool in the updated Pentagon City Sector Plan, approved in February, that aims to add greenery and improve micro-mobility with a network of lush walking, biking and scooting paths.

Although the SPRC process wrapped up on a positive note, Peterson said initial discussions were tense, as the community “really didn’t feel like the applicant was listening to their feedback.” She said Amazon came back with new designs that enkindled goodwill with the community after taking a three-month break.

“The community, Arlington County and the applicant all worked very hard on this project for a year,” she said. “These efforts are evident in the proposal before us now.”

Some speakers, however, criticized Amazon last night for under-delivering on community benefits.

“The county is not planning or funding major capital improvements like parks and, stormwater projects as part of regular budgeting, nor is it getting close to what’s needed from developers,” said Anne Bodine, representing Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a community group that advocates for measured development in Arlington. “This is not sustainable for our community, whether it’s diversity, environmental viability or financial solvency we are seeking.”

Aurora Highlands Civic Association representative Ben D’Avanzo said the neighborhood still needs a community center, as the space initially set aside for that purpose will be occupied by Arlington Community High School.

He also predicted the buildings and planned bollards will make the public park less welcoming. In response, commissioners urged for active, ongoing planned activities in the park.

Some commissioners also raised concerns about how Amazon’s security cameras and personnel will interact with the public spaces.

People may want to use the park “to protest if they were unhappy with some of the applicant’s behavior,” Peterson explained. “If there were security cameras, then that could be used to capture the faces of the people who are protesting on public land.”

Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate Joe Chapman said the company will work with the county and the community on this but it is too early in the process to say more.

“The mere presence of the easement is going to allow the public to be there for any public use,” noted county planner Aaron Shriber. “It doesn’t mean a private party could ask them to leave if they don’t like what’s going on there.”