Plans for RiverHouse come into focus as residents call for more infrastructure upgrades

(Updated at 5 p.m.) Proposed infill development for the RiverHouse site in Pentagon City is coming into focus with more renderings from the developer.

Reprising long-envisioned intentions to redevelop the expansive property, JBG Smith filed plans last year proposing apartments, senior housing, condos and townhomes on the surface parking lots on the RiverHouse site. Existing apartment towers will stay and more units within them will be set aside for affordable housing.

Arlington County has yet to officially accept JBG Smith’s application, a step that would kick off a formal community engagement and review process, which the developer anticipates will culminate in Arlington County Board review by the end of 2023.

The timeline for the RiverHouse project (via JBG Smith)

On Thursday, more than 100 residents, neighbors, other community stakeholders attended an open house, in which JBG Smith shared renderings showing how it proposes shorter and fewer buildings than what is allowed in the Pentagon City Sector Plan, a document guiding decades of development in the area.

“As our design team has developed our plans for the RiverHouse Neighborhood, we have benefited from the active participation and input from existing residents, neighbors, and other community stakeholders,” JBG Smith said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate in the coming months as we advance a shared vision for our neighborhood.”

After the meeting, residents tell ARLnow they are hoping for more collaboration to improve “livability” on the site and in the surrounding area, through more community benefits and supporting infrastructure, per the Arlington Ridge Civic Association President Kateri Garcia and the local group Dense That Makes Sense.

“How do we know the infrastructure in place is going to be enough to meet the demand of all these additional people?” Garcia said. “What are the benefits we most need in this area? … We already have a community center and library that is out of date. How can we use the investment to improve those facilities to right-size them for the future population?”

Some Arlington Ridge residents welcome, for instance, the lower heights. Before the Arlington County Board adopted the sector plan in February 2022, some residents rallied against the height maximums the plan would allow on the RiverHouse site, potentially blocking the skyline view some enjoy in the condos and homes that line Arlington Ridge Road.

“The October 2022 plan is a more reasonable plan than what Arlington County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) proposed in its Pentagon City Sector Plan that was accepted by the County Board at its February 12, 2022 meeting,” according to Dense That Makes Sense, a group of residents who organized on this issue.

That said, the group said it does not endorse the 2022 plan, nor does it necessarily endorse plans JBG Smith put forward in 2019, which it says is the best of the three visions for the site. It argues that further study of the site is needed to figure out what supporting infrastructure is needed before JBG Smith moves forward.

For instance, the sector plan allows for taller buildings west of an existing building dubbed “The Ashley,” with lower-rise homes providing a transition to some homes along S. Arlington Ridge Road.

Massing recommended for the RiverHouse site in the Pentagon City Sector Plan (via JBG Smith)

JBG Smith instead proposes no high-rises north of “The Ashley,” but instead, will put a collection of townhomes there.

Massing of what JBG Smith proposes for the RiverHouse site (via JBG Smith)

On what JBG Smith dubs the “North Parcel,” the sector plan allows a maximum height exceeding that of the existing RiverHouse buildings.

Massing recommended for the RiverHouse site in the Pentagon City Sector Plan (via JBG Smith)

Here again, the developer plans to keep these buildings shorter than the existing residential towers.

Massing of what JBG Smith proposes for the RiverHouse site (via JBG Smith)

Garcia, meanwhile, says some RiverHouse residents she has talked to view the new development favorably, as a way their rents will stay relatively low. Still, they do not want to lose the amenities they have now: barbecue grills, tennis courts, pools, green space and walking paths.

As for infrastructure, schools and transportation are top priorities for Garcia.

“I certainly would welcome the idea of having a library, community center or school on the RiverHouse property, somewhere,” she said. “I do tell that to them with every engagement I have with them. I don’t know that that will happen.”

She also wants JBG Smith to ensure proposed walking and cycling paths with plantings, called “green ribbons” in the Pentagon City Sector Plan, are accessible and connect well to existing infrastructure.

“What is being done to make sure, where that green ribbon ends, there is a safe transit path for community members?” she asked. “Yes, we’ll have this great green ribbon, but how does it connect to existing infrastructure safely for most vulnerable?”

An ivy-covered bus stop and a sidewalk on one side of the road along S. Lynn Street, near the RiverHouse buildings, in September 2022 (via Google Maps)

Stretches of the public right-of-way do not have sidewalks and some crosswalks are barely visible, she pointed out. She worries users of the future “green ribbons” will suddenly find themselves on a street with poor visibility and walkability.

“That’s a terrible idea,” she said.

Steep stairs connecting condos behind the RiverHouse apartments to the walking paths on the site (via Google Maps)

As for schools, the Pentagon City Sector Plan indeed suggests co-locating a school and community center in the area of nearby Virginia Highlands Park.

“Right now, a lot of the kids are being bussed to schools that are not in our zip code,” she said.

While the approval process for projects has options along the way for community engagement, she said she hears from residents who feel that publicly accessible information does not always explain why the county and the developer made certain decisions and key deliberations are happening offline.

“This is an opportunity to do a good job,” she said. “It is also an opportunity to fail.”