JBG Smith files plans to turn RiverHouse parking lots into 1,668 homes

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Sixty-some years ago, developers paved paradise in Pentagon City and put up parking lots to serve residents of the RiverHouse apartment complex.

And after a few stops and starts, property owner JBG Smith is poised to reach its longtime goal of redeveloping the vast parking expanse along S. Joyce Street, which at this point is only partially utilized by residents. Today (Monday), the developer officially filed its plans to turn parking into apartments with ground floor retail, condos, townhouses and senior living facilities.

JBG Smith plans to preserve the three existing buildings along S. Joyce Street and add 1,668 new units and nearly 28,000 square feet in retail. The proposed development of the 36-acre property will increase density on the site from 49 to 91.3 units per acre.

This filing comes eight months after the Arlington County Board adopted a new sector plan intend to shape development within the 116 acres comprising Pentagon City. It replaced a 45-year-old document that reached the end of its life in the shadow of Amazon’s under-construction second headquarters.

“Following the County’s adoption of the Pentagon City Sector Plan, our team has had the opportunity to meet with local residents, neighbors, County Staff and other community stakeholders,” JBG Smith Senior Vice-President Matt Ginivan said in a statement. “We are grateful for their time, insight and input, which have helped shape our proposed plans for the RiverHouse Neighborhood. We look forward to continuing to collaborate in the coming months as we advance a shared vision for our neighborhood.”

Not all that engagement was positive. Last fall and winter, the plan reignited old concerns about redeveloping the surface parking lots and open spaces surrounding the complex. The density the plan envisioned at the RiverHouse site prompted a group of nearby residents to form a movement criticizing the county for a lack of community engagement and petitioning the County Board to moderate its approach to growth.

An illustrative site plan of the existing RiverHouse high-rises and the proposed infill redevelopments (courtesy of JBG Smith)

Currently, RiverHouse has three apartment buildings:

  • 13-story “James” building at 1111 Army Navy Drive, with 452 units
  • 16-story “Potomac” building at 1400 S. Joyce Street, with 647 units
  • 16-story “Ashley” building at 1600 S. Joyce Street, with 571 units

It also has six tennis courts, a private outdoor dog park, picnic tables, two outdoor swimming pools, a jogging trail and a community garden, according to the complex’s website.

JBG Smith proposes development divided into three parcels:

  • A “north parcel” between James House and Potomac House with:
    • two 7-story, 80-foot tall apartment buildings, one with 401 units and 13,079 square feet of retail and another with 551 units and 14,680 square feet of retail
  • A “central parcel” with:
    • an 88-foot-tall condo building with 164 units
    • a 97-foot-tall building for seniors, with 185 units with options for independent and assisted living and memory care facilities
    • an 84-foot-tall apartment building with 102 units
  • A “south parcel,” located south and west of Ashley House, with:
    • 265 units of three- and four-story townhomes, with two to four bedrooms and a mix of private and communal outdoor spaces

“There is enormous unmet demand for senior housing that is integrated into the fabric of vibrant, accessible communities, and we are excited to bring this new lifestyle option to RiverHouse,” said Janet Meyer, Principal, BCT Design Group, in a statement. “With a diverse range of open spaces, public transit, and retail options, residents will have access to everything they need within their neighborhood while receiving the support they may need to live life to the fullest.”

These townhomes would be “geared toward family living” and would “provide a suitable transition” to the single-family homes of the Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge neighborhoods, writes Kedrick Whitmore, a land use attorney representing JBG Smith, in the application materials.

Renderings of the proposed RiverHouse redevelopment (courtesy of JBG Smith)

The developer says it is committing to preserve previously committed affordable apartments in RiverHouse’s existing residential buildings and creating additional committed affordable units (CAFs).

Currently, there are 342 approved and existing CAFs in the Pentagon City study area. Of these, 300 are at the age-restricted Claridge House, and the remaining 42 will be inside the James building at RiverHouse, per the Pentagon City sector plan.

Of those, 35 were approved as part of the 1900 Crystal Drive site plan and seven were approved as part of the 2001 Richmond Highway site plan. Another 35 CAFs are expected to be included in the James building as part of JBG Smith’s redevelopment at 223 23rd Street S., the plan says.

JBG Smith says it aims to achieve LEED Gold certification via energy efficient building systems and fixtures and electric vehicle charging stations.

The developer said in a press release it will commit to preserving more than 200 existing trees and plant more than 800 new trees, providing more than 300,000 square feet of conserved and restored tree canopy. Additionally, there will be seven acres of public open space that will connect to the rest of Pentagon City via Arlington’s planned “Green Ribbon” network.

This is described in the Pentagon City Sector 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 the project, JBG Smith is agreeing to a number of community benefits, including a quarter-mile, two-way protected bicycle path on S. Joyce Street and a one-acre expansion of Virginia Highlands Park. This expansion will be made possible through a realignment of S. Joyce Street as part of the RiverHouse redevelopment.

One criticism of the sector plan was its ambiguity regarding future infrastructure needs, such as schools and a library, and what exactly would go on that spot. Per the plan, the county envisions the newly expanded park accommodating “potential future public facilities,” suggesting that the park will be impacted if a school is built on the Aurora Hills Community Center site.

When the buildings go up, parking will go underground in garages, with some on-street parking for the townhouses. JBG Smith proposes parking ratios ranging between .5 spaces per unit for the apartment buildings to 1.6 spaces per unit for the condos.

“The property is well-served by multi-modal transportation options and decreases in observed parking demand indicate that lower ratios are appropriate for projects located in Pentagon City,” Whitmore writes in the application materials filed with the county.

JBG Smith proposes about 30,000 square feet of new, street-level retail “with a focus on neighborhood goods and services,” according to the developer.

These facilities will provide a transition to the nearby retail center of “Westpost,” formerly known as Pentagon Row, according to Whitmore.

Once the county accepts this application, it will go through the site plan approval process, which includes numerous opportunities for public engagement.

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