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Arlington County considers senior care-related zoning changes in Pentagon City and on Columbia Pike

The RiverHouse apartments at 1111 Army Navy Drive (staff photo)

Arlington County is considering changes to its zoning ordinance to encourage the construction of more senior care facilities.

The proposed changes include increasing the maximum building heights for elder care facilities in Pentagon City and allowing the construction of elder care facilities along the Columbia Pike corridor, per a county report.

The report says these changes are needed to ensure the existing zoning code supports the vision of the Pentagon City Sector Plan, adopted last year. During an initial review of proposed redevelopment projects, staff said they identified inconsistencies between the two related to building height codes for elder care facilities.

To address these issues, staff have proposed an amendment clarifying where elder care facilities can be built in areas of Pentagon City that are zoned for multifamily uses — and how tall these buildings can be.

The amendment targets the part of the neighborhood within a “coordinated redevelopment district” within the boundaries of 16th Street S. to the south, S. Lynn Street to the west, Army Navy Drive to the north and S. Eads Street to the east.

This appears to map onto the site of the RiverHouse complex, which is set to be redeveloped with new apartments, including senior housing. The report does not mention this planned redevelopment specifically but it does note that recent redevelopment plans revealed the inconsistencies staff are trying to resolve.

The Pentagon City Coordinated Redevelopment District and where RiverHouse is located within it (via Arlington County, edited by ARLnow)

Doing this analysis, staff discovered that existing ordinances excluded the construction of additional elder care facilities along Columbia Pike, per the report.

To resolve this issue, the report says the amendment also “introduces assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities as allowable forms of residential use” on Columbia Pike.

The amendment comes several years after the county initially proposed the possibility of opening up some areas zoned for multi-family and commercial buildings to senior centers in 2019.

Some members of the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission and Crystal and Pentagon Cities Council expressed concerns about whether increasing the height of elder care facilities would complicate evacuation in the event of an emergency, according to the county report.

Other members argued there are a wide range of examples of high-rise elder care facilities, as close as Tysons Corner.

Staff said any new construction would still need to comply with “appropriate” building and fire code standards. Staff did note in the report that they plan to conduct a comprehensive analysis of permitted heights for elder care facilities in other zoning districts and special planning areas.

“Clarifying zoning language… will ensure buildings with elder care uses can be properly considered throughout the County and redevelopment in [multifamily]-zoned properties and property owners/developers can propose uses consistent with recommendations adopted in earlier planning efforts,” the report said.

These changes are set to be discussed during a public hearing by the Planning Commission on Sept. 11 and the County Board on Sept. 23.

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