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County says YMCA needs more community benefits to justify 374-unit apartment building

Plans to redevelop a local YMCA may have too many apartment units and not enough community benefits, county planners say.

The YMCA is proposing to tear down its existing facility on N. Kirkwood Road in Virginia Square and build an 87,850-square-foot facility with indoor swimming pools, pickleball and tennis courts, a fitness space and a conference and lounge area, as well as 203 parking spaces. To finance the project, the nonprofit is building a separate 7-story, 374-unit apartment building.

County planners say the baseline for this project is around 270 units and that the YMCA it needs to provide more community benefits to build beyond that.

The reason for the 104-unit gulf is a disagreement over whether the gross floor area of the recreation facility should be excluded from the overall project area. This number determines, for instance, the size of a developer’s affordable housing contribution, either in cash or in on-site units.

The nonprofit’s attorney, David Tarter, says it is financially necessary to exclude the entire facility from density calculations and cites the “best in class” facility as a community benefit to be included in the benefits package.

“This full exclusion is necessary to provide the YMCA the resources needed to construct the proposed YMCA facility,” Tarter writes in the nonprofit’s site plan application.

On its website, the nonprofit says the new building “will serve an estimated 11,415 children, adults and seniors annually, creating 108 new permanent living wage positions and 175 construction jobs.”

Other benefits include three open spaces totaling about an acre and an east-west pedestrian and bicycle connection through the site.

County planner Michael Cullen says past precedent for site plans and ordinances support including the building’s square-footage in density calculations. He said in a presentation these extra 104 units “must be earned through a comprehensive community benefits package” that goes beyond earning LEED Gold certification in exchange for more units.

He says the nonprofit will also have to do more for affordable housing to obtain approval to build apartments in the first place. In the Washington Boulevard and Kirkwood Road Special GLUP Study governing the site, the land is zoned for commercial use.

The county developed the plan, with community input, to guide the YMCA development and two other projects on the same block.

That includes Terwilliger Place, which Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing completed this September on the American Legion site, and a 270-unit apartment building dubbed Modera Kirkwood, on which Mill Creek Residential broke ground in December 2020. The latter could be completed next year.

Projects in this situation “have generally been expected to achieve greater achievements in accordance with the affordable housing master plan,” Cullen said.

Arlington Dept. of Community Housing, Planning and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore says the county is discussing with the applicant ways to offset the 104 units with more sustainability and affordable housing commitments. Potential approaches will be discussed at a Site Plan Review Committee meeting, a date for which has not yet been set.

The public review process has just kicked off for the project. An online feedback opportunity, which opened on Tuesday, will run through Monday, Dec. 19.

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