Planning Commission gives thumbs up to Joyce Motors redevelopment in Clarendon

A developer is setting aside $25,000 for the installation of a historical marker to describe the importance of the Joyce Motors site in Clarendon.

The sum raised eyebrows among some Planning Commission members last night (Monday) during their discussion of a proposed redevelopment of the auto shop at the intersection of N. Irving Street and 10th Street N.

“I think people often complain about the cost of building things and doing things so for my own benefit, when people ask me about this, I want to drill down a little bit,” Commissioner Daniel Weir said. “When you buy a plaque to give to one of your coworkers who’s retiring after 30 years of service, it costs $40 from the guy you buy tchotchkes from. So distinguish these two things for me, please.”

Commissioners were told the $25,000 is budgeted for the hard costs of installing a sign or plaque or embedding the explanations in concrete under-foot.

Without much other discussion, commissioners unanimously approved the plans from Orr Partners to build a 241-unit apartment building with 3,600 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The project required the developer to work with nearby businesses to divy up the triangular lot bounded by Wilson Blvd, 10th Street N. and N. Irving Street lot into three parcels. Orr Partners will build an alley through the middle of the site from which residents can access underground parking.

Orr Partners will preserve another nearby property deemed historic — 1411 N. Garfield Street, which housed a barber shop — from future development using the county’s transfer of development rights tool.

The approval comes more than three years after the developer submitted its site plan application in 2019. Arlington County accepted the site plan in spring of 2020 but put it on hold for two years while staff completed an update to the Clarendon Sector Plan, which guides development of the neighborhood.

“We have made substantial changes over the past three-plus plus years as we’ve been at this,” said Andrew Painter, a land use lawyer with Walsh Colucci, representing the developer. “We’ve shown the ability to be creative by partnering with neighbors on the alley [and] the land swap, by partnering to preserve historic façades and construct a building that will be able to solve so many planning goals.”

Changes to the 2006 sector plan were prompted by several redevelopments, including Joyce Motors, as well as on the Silver Diner/The Lot and Wells Fargo/Verizon sites, and projects proposed by the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the YMCA and George Mason University.

While the $25,000 budget for a historical marker gave some commissioners sticker shock, others thanked Orr Partners for delivering a project that provided nine on-site committed affordable units, including five family-sized ones.

“I just wanted to say thank you for including larger-sized units that can fit families,” said Commissioner Tenley Peterson.

Commissioner Stephen Hughes said Orr Partners chose “to go above and beyond and make that contribution,” calling it “a step above many of our proposals that come in.”

A few commissioners had lingering concerns about the sustainability features of the project.

Commissioner James Schroll urged the developer to install more electric vehicle charging stations rather than set aside a certain amount as “EV ready,” saying it is much more expensive to retrofit these spots.

Commissioner Nia Bagley asked Orr Partners to work with the county to come up with a way to make the glass exterior bird-friendly. The building does not include fritted glass, a type of treatment that makes glass less transparent from the outside so birds can avoid flying into buildings.

“We want it, too, but the problem is the frit in the glass is enormously expensive,” said David Orr, the chairman of the company. “We certainly want to protect the birds. We realize that two-thirds of the species have gone away in the past decade and it’s troubling to us, but the specifics of the bird-fritted glass is infeasible. Maybe we can come up with another way.”

The project is set to go before the Arlington County Board at its meeting on Saturday, Feb. 18.