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Senior facility rezoning request sows some confusion, concern ahead of County Board vote

Sunrise Senior Living at 2000 N. Glebe Road in Arlington’s Glebewood neighborhood (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 11:10 a.m. on 5/17/23) Two years after indicating interest in redeveloping its property in the Glebewood neighborhood, Sunrise Senior Living is almost done with early-stage procedural hurdles.

Meanwhile, the way the process has unfolded so far has confused and alarmed some neighbors.

Arlington County is mulling changes to the land-use plan governing the site to allow for greater density and to allow for elder care uses through a site plan process at 2000 N. Glebe Road. The Arlington County Board authorized public hearings on these changes on Saturday.

The designation changes, if approved by the Board, would tee up a rezoning request by Sunrise to facilitate the actual redevelopment down the road. Documents filed with the county indicate Sunrise is considering a rezoning request that could also allow “one-family detached, duplexes, semidetached, multiple-family, and
townhouses” to be built by-right.

County staff studied adding elder care as well as apartments to the site over the last year, which perturbed some neighbors who say there should be language ensuring any future development is geared toward elder care only.

Last week, during a Planning Commission meeting, county planner Margaret Rhodes said residents should not worry.

The result of the study, which the Arlington County Board is poised to adopt on Saturday, includes “a guiding principle stating the preference strongly for elder care use.”

“In terms of the conversation about the confusion over… a potential multi-family development, because this is a General Land Use Plan high level study, we need to evaluate all different land uses,” she said.

Beyond this confusion, however, neighbors had other concerns about the impact on quality of life. They predicted the building would dwarf nearby homes, contribute to tree canopy loss, flooding and traffic.

Catherine Ginther, who lives across the street, said in the meeting that she chose her home in part for the quiet street and is “frankly a little concerned about how the plans could change all that.”

“Since moving here, I have noticed there are some issues with Sunrise that will likely worsen if this plan would move forward,” she said. “Children and adults walk down [20th Street N.] throughout the day and the walkability of this neighborhood is at risk if Sunrise is allowed to grow in size and create a garage entrance on 20th Street N.”

Some Planning Commissioners acknowledged these concerns but said they are being raised at the wrong stage in the process.

“It’s very much inside baseball. It’s very frustrating to the neighborhoods,” Commissioner Jim Lantelme said. “I’ve walked that neighborhood — it’s a great neighborhood — but you’re right about the topography, the trees, where the loading needs to be, the sidewalks. All those things absolutely have to be addressed.”

Commissioner Nia Bagley said she has been through lots of planning processes as a former civic association leader.

“I recognize that this is not your expertise and many of you have busy lives and this becomes like a full time job on the side,” she said. “Don’t be discouraged tonight but please hang in there.”

Some speakers, however, supported the redevelopment project.

“This facility is toward the end of its operational life and needs additional renovation for its continued operation and this project would allow for a significant increase in the number of units available to seniors,” said Arlington Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Manager John Musso.

Cynthia Schneider, with the Commission on Aging, said this project addresses a shortage of elder care rooms in Arlington. The county and the region are predicted to see an increase in the number of seniors living in the area over the next two decades.

She advocated for more dedicated affordable beds on-site, which a representative of Sunrise said would not be possible.

The company has also put forward a redevelopment project in the Alcova Heights neighborhood, at 716 S. Glebe Road, which Arlington County is reviewing. The representative said affordable beds could be added there to meet requirements for both facilities.

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