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Americana Hotel redevelopment in Crystal City nears finish line

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Plans to redevelop the Americana Hotel in Crystal City with apartments could get final approval next month, Arlington County says.

“The County is targeting April for full Planning Commission and Board review, but that is subject to change,” Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore told ARLnow.

JBG Smith proposes to demolish the former hotel at 1400 Richmond Hwy and build a 19-story, 639-unit apartment building with 3,885 square feet of ground-floor retail. If approved next month, construction could wrap up in 2026 or 2027, a company representative said in a Site Plan Review Committee meeting last month.

Up to this point, JBG Smith has overcome sloping terrain and maneuvered future development plans for neighboring sites and Route 1, which the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to lower. Per the meeting discussions, the developer is spending the remaining time before final review ironing out transportation and sustainability elements.

The building will have 188 on-site residential and visitor parking spaces. JBG Smith proposes setting aside 206 spaces for residents at the nearby Bartlett Apartments, which is a quarter-mile away. County code allows property managers to provide spots on other properties they own up to 800 feet away, says Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney for the project.

Some SPRC members differed over whether this would be a burden.

“One of our group members in that situation, they lived in a place and had off-site parking, it was so hard every time they had shopping to get from one place to another,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee Secretary Pam Van Hine. “How are you going to mitigate that?”

Also speaking from experience, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said his first apartment after college had off-site parking about the same distance away.

“It was occasionally annoying but otherwise not a big deal,” he said. “We all know how much parking costs to build. If it means you are 100 bucks a month under rent because it’s annoying, I would happily take that if I were fresh out of college.”

Malcolm Williams, an associate with JBG Smith, said the Bartlett garage is three-quarters full and use will likely decrease with additional transit usage.

(The county is expanding bussing in the area via the extension of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, while advocates of an at-grade Route 1 want to see more walking, cycling and scooting along the urban boulevard.)

The building will also target younger people working at Amazon or other nearby companies who are less likely to own cars. To Van Hine’s point, however, Williams did acknowledge the need for additional managerial effort.

“Anytime you have shared parking, it’s going to require heavy touch from the onsite property manager to make sure that drop offs and things of that nature are managed efficiently… and it’s legible for people,” Williams said.

JBG Smith has plans for a three-car pick-up and drop-off zone and is talking with the Embassy Suites hotel (1393 S. Eads Street) next door about another zone. Van Hine suggested setting aside spaces in the Americana garage for temporary loading, which JBG Smith agreed to look into.

People walking between the sites will have signalized pedestrian crossings after two signalized intersections are installed at 13th Street S. and 14th Street S. as part of the first phase of Amazon’s second headquarters, dubbed Met Park. That is slated to wrap up this summer, though plans for phase two, Pen Place, are stalled.

On sustainability, heating and cooling will be electric and water will be heated with high-efficiency natural gas boilers, but the county’s Climate Change, Energy and Environment Commission would like to see it do more to shift away from fossil fuels.

“As we build for the future we would love to see decarbonization,” said C2E2 member Cindy Lewin. “I reached out to the Building Decarbonization Coalition… and they feel it’s perfectly feasible to do this.”

JBG Smith signaled that, at her request, they would talk with the organization, which advocates for more structures to run on clean electricity.

Affordable housing and enhanced open space may be part of the development’s community benefits package.

“Considerations are being made for potential contributions for affordable housing and off-site transportation and open space improvements in Crystal City,” per a staff memo prepared before the SPRC meeting.

Plans also call for a pedestrian connection — lined with retail and enhanced by a trellis-like structure — to connect the future, likely at-grade Route 1 with S. Eads Street.

The “trellis” will be a “light and airy structure” intended to “give an outdoor room feel with light and air,” bKL architect Angela Spadoni said in the meeting. It will be lined with enough landscaping to discourage people from passing through.

Inside the ‘trellis’ proposed for the Americana Hotel redevelopment (via Arlington County)

Planning Commissioner Daniel Weir stressed how he would like to see the built “trellis” match the renderings. He said he is “once-burned” by the difference between drawings of the Ballston pedestrian bridge and reality.

“What process for community response would we have to make sure the delta between what’s approved and what’s built is less stark?” he asked.

County planner Kevin Lam said staff can consider making certain changes to this feature subject to site plan amendments given its significance.

Ballston pedestrian bridge renderings versus reality (via Arlington County)

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