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Morning Notes

Blue Line Reopens — “On Friday, October 15, normal service will resume on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Intermittent delays are possible as the investigation into Tuesday’s derailment continues.” [WMATA, Twitter]

New County Website Launching Soon — “Arlington County Government is launching a new website, the first major refreshment of the County’s online presence in more than seven years. The site will launch Monday, Oct. 18. Users will continue to access the site by visiting www.arlingtonva.us.” [Arlington County]

Spotted: Bizarre Banner Bedecked Bus — From Nicole Merlene: “Outside the Courthouse today… What in the world? Civil service sure ain’t for wimps with crazies like this.” [Twitter]

Reuters Photo Shows Local Apartments — “A man sits on his balcony amid a sea of balconies at an apartment building in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Kevin Lamarque.” [Twitter]

New Utility Vault Near Clarendon — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Behold the 40-ton concrete utility vault installed under Washington Boulevard yesterday between N Kirkwood and Wilson. That stretch’s big safety upgrades and lane-shift makeover continues into next year.” [Twitter]

National Airport Getting Busier — “New data suggest the airport, which has had one of the most sluggish returns to normal(ish) performance in the COVID era, may be seeing better times for the rest of the year. New data from the trade group Airlines for America suggest that the airport will see just 11 percent fewer flights during the fourth quarter than during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. That projected performance also is less than the 14-percent drop reported nationally, based on current flight schedules.” [Sun Gazette]

Water Main Break Closes SchoolUpdated at 9 a.m. — Arlington Science Focus School is closed today due to a 6-inch water main break on the 1400 block of N. Lincoln Street that’s affecting about 200 water customers. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]

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Developer Greystar broke ground yesterday on an apartment building just a stone’s throw from the Courthouse Metro station.

The under-construction building now has a name: “The Commodore.” Work on it follows about three months of demolition of the “Landmark Block,” previously home to brick buildings that housed a handful of restaurants, including CosiBoston Market, Jerry’s Subs and Summers Restaurant.

Completion of the 20-story, 423-unit building at 2025 15th Street N. is expected in the fall of 2023, according to a press release.

“We are extremely excited to partner with Arlington County to redevelop the Courthouse Landmark site into a world-class, mixed-use project in the heart of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,” said John Clarkson, the managing director for Greystar Real Estate Partners. “The Commodore will deliver much needed housing and placemaking retail at the seat of Arlington County government and bridge the gap between the Rosslyn and Clarendon Metro Stations.”

The project will advance the county’s plans — seven years in the making — to redevelop not just the “Landmark Block,” but a sub-section of Courthouse it has dubbed “Courthouse Square.” The area is bounded by Clarendon Blvd to the north, N. Courthouse Road to the east, 14th Street N. to the south and commercial buildings to the west.

“Courthouse Square” is envisioned in county planning documents as “the civic and cultural heart of Arlington” and “where the revolution begins.”

Courthouse Square concept plan from 2015 (via Arlington County)

Apartment units will range in size from what Greystar calls “micro-units” to three-bedroom penthouses. The Commodore will offer 24/7 concierge service, a fitness center, a kitchen and dining area, a children’s playroom, a clubroom and a co-working space. Outdoor amenities include a pool and a rooftop with views of Rosslyn and D.C.

About 18,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space “will host locally loved food and drink destinations as well neighborhood, health & wellness, and personal care services for the Courthouse and Clarendon communities,” the release said.

As part of the project, Greystar will build part of a pedestrian promenade along N. Uhle Street between Wilson Blvd and 14th Street N. Residents will be able to use it to access the Courthouse Metro station.

The County Board approved the project back in March. Greystar is also overseeing another project in Courthouse, a 220-unit building on the vacant Wendy’s lot, which is currently winding through county processes.

“Greystar looks forward to being a vested and long-term owner in this dynamic and strategically important submarket,” Clarkson said.

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A proposed development for the Xerox building in Rosslyn is under review by county planning staff.

Building owner and financial services company TIAA, along with its real estate management arm, propose to tear down the building at 1616 Fort Myer Drive and build a 30-story, 691-unit apartment tower in its place.

“Recognizing the Property’s location and topography, this application envisions the transformation of the property into an exciting multifamily residential development with world-class architecture,” the applicant’s legal representation Nan Walsh and Andrew Painter wrote in a letter to the county in June.

The office building on the site, which neighbors a condo complex, a hotel and another office building (recently home to President Trump’s re-election headquarters), opened in the 1970s. After housing Xerox for many years, it has recently seen some vacancies, the Washington Business Journal reports.

The new 1616 Fort Myer Drive “will serve as an iconic architectural feature for Rosslyn’s southern gateway,” said Walsh and Painter, lawyers with land use firm Walsh Colucci.

They say both the height and the architecture would tick a box in the Rosslyn Sector Plan stipulating that a development should “consider its appearance as a gateway to the Rosslyn area.”

TIAA’s tower would be 290 feet tall, the maximum height allowed in the sector plan. Residents will have access to a semi-underground parking garage that the lawyers say will be “tucked into the property’s natural grade,” which slopes from north to south. There will be 437 parking spaces, for a ratio of 0.63 spaces per unit.

Above-grade parts of the garage “will be fully screened through architectural treatment and residential uses,” they wrote.

TIAA may use more than a third of the apartment units for short stays while the building works on getting longer-term tenants.

“The applicant is considering designating up to 250 residential units for a temporary hotel use and short-term rental during the initial lease-up period for a limited period of up to five years,” Walsh and Painter wrote.

That’s a revenue stream other area developers want to tap into, and one that the County Board has recently deliberated. Some community members have raised concerns about the impact such a policy would have on housing affordability.

Staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development say they intend to study the issue. For now, per a recent staff presentation, the division will consider temporary hotel use requests for up to two years.

As for community benefits, the developer aims to achieve LEED Gold sustainability certification, contribute to Arlington’s underground utility fund, contribute to public art in Rosslyn, and make streetscape improvements. Plans for additional affordable housing contributions are being developed.

A preliminary review of the project is underway. After its full site plan application is accepted by county staff, dates will be set for public meetings ahead of a County Board vote. Staff anticipate bringing this project to the board prior to July 2022, per the presentation.

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(Updated at 2 p.m.) Plans from a local affordable housing nonprofit to redevelop apartments in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, near Rosslyn are ready for public review.

Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) proposes to redevelop some buildings in a housing complex consisting of a series of three-story garden apartments and a detached single-family residence. These buildings are located within a mile of the Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro stations.

If approved, the plan will demolish some of the existing Marbella buildings, while renovating others and adding two 12-story buildings, at 1300 and 1305 N. Pierce Street, for a total of 561 units. The new buildings would only have committed affordable dwelling units.

According to APAH, a public comment period is set to open today for residents to provide feedback on the project. The site plan submission for the project was accepted by the county earlier this month, a precursor to reviews by county commissions and the County Board. Public review meetings and a County Board vote have yet to be scheduled, however, per the project’s webpage.

“The development will provide critically needed affordable housing in north Arlington, thereby advancing the priorities of the County Affordable Housing Master Plan and other County housing policies,”  said Kedrick Whitmore, a land-use lawyer with Venable.

Currently, the apartment complex — deemed “notable” in the county’s historic preservation program — has 72 committed affordable units. The new construction will bring a net increase of 489 committed affordable units to Arlington.

The two buildings, designed by KG&D Architects, are designed to attain EarthCraft Gold energy efficiency. They will feature a mixture of family-size and senior housing units.

The project will be divided into two phases. In the first phase, a 12-story tower with 325 residential units — 132 of which are dedicated to senior housing — and 163 underground parking spaces will be built. The second phase will see the construction of the second 12-story tower with 236 residential units and 118 below-grade parking spaces.

The project includes streetscape and sidewalk improvements, make utility fund contributions and improvements and add bicycle parking. There will also be in-building wireless first responder networks.

APAH is looking to request modifications for bonus height and density, among others possibly needed for the projects.

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Serrano Apartments (photo via Google Maps)

Work continues at the Serrano Apartments to improve living conditions for residents of the affordable housing complex.

Repair and maintenance work started in earnest after advocates brought to light the deteriorating conditions of the Columbia Pike complex in May. Since then, the County Board has kept tabs on housing nonprofit AHC Inc., which owns the building, and its commitment to make things right.

During the County Board meeting on Tuesday, members said they were pleased to see progress on the physical conditions in the complex. They were dissatisfied, however, with AHC’s communication efforts, after hearing reports from residents and advocates that communication gaps and “disrespectful” treatment persist.

“We’re in the middle, not at the end,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “I’m pleased with the micromanagement, candidly, but I think communication is absolutely critical.”

In a letter to the board, Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey said the biggest strides have been removing the rodents and getting a handle on air quality issues.

“It is revealing that little of our September 9, 2021 meeting was dedicated to current physical conditions challenges,” he said.

Susan Cunningham, the interim CEO of AHC appointed after the previous head resigned, said rodent infestation is now down to just three apartments.

Meanwhile, about two dozen units will be abated for asbestos and condensation on cooling pipes. Testing by Arlington County confirmed there were no “systemic air quality issues in the building, no airborne asbestos or lead paint,” she said.

Of the 280 units in the building, the county has inspected all 221 that opted into its inspection program. Arlington County Housing Director Anne Venezia said staff will begin inspecting other aging affordable housing properties for deferred maintenance.

Communication remains a primary concern for the Housing Commission and the County Board. Berkey said to its credit, AHC has made some improvements on that front. Cunningham says AHC now communicates with 85% of residents via text, sends out anonymous third-party surveys, and holds monthly meetings with professional translation services.

But poor treatment of residents continues, longtime advocate Janeth Valenzuela said.

“No one should be asked to put up with dismissive, rude and disrespectful treatment that makes them feel like a problem to be fixed rather than a human being,” she said. “There are fundamental and systemic changes that need to be made at AHC.”

The advocate suggested cultural competency and trauma-informed training for all AHC board members, employees and contractors, as well as customer service training.

Cunningham said a cultural competency curriculum could be in place next year, with trauma-informed training done in-house.

Finally, the County Board urged AHC to prioritize compensating residents whose belongings have been damaged. Residents had reported damage to their possessions when maintenance requests were ignored or mismanaged and during the relocation process some opted into.

AHC has launched a claims process that replicates renters’ insurance, which Cunningham said few residents have.

Although compensation for such losses was a chief priority for the County Board, Valenzuela says a claims system was not set up until ARLnow reported on an online fundraiser for Serrano residents.

AHC “did not offer compensation to residents for property losses until advocates started a public fundraiser that received press attention,” Valenzuela told the Housing Commission, according to Berkey’s letter.

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Arlington County is inviting the public to provide feedback on the planned development for the vacant Wendy’s lot at 2025 Clarendon Blvd.

Greystar Real Estate Partners is proposing to turn the 0.57-acre lot about a block from the Courthouse Metro station into a 16-story apartment building, with up to 231 residential units and 4,000 square feet of retail.

Through Thursday, Sept. 16, residents can comment on land use — whether the building should be used for apartments or offices — as well as building size, architecture, transportation and open space.

Initially, the project was set to be an office building, proposed by the former developer, Carr Properties. After receiving the County Board’s go-ahead in 2015, the fast food spot was demolished in 2016 but the office building never materialized. The vacant lot has instead been used as a staging area for 2000 Clarendon, a condo project across the street.

A Greystar representative said in a presentation that Carr could not secure a tenant for the office building. So the new developer has turned to apartments instead.

“While a conversion from office to residential use will always require some changes to a building, we took a fresh look at the previously approved project, while changing it to fit a residential floor plan and adding a modest amount of additional height,” the representative said.

For the new project, the county and Greystar are interested in feedback on the architecture.

Greystar and architect Cooper Carry liken the building to a ship, said county planner Adam Watson. At the “prow,” pointing west towards N. Courthouse Road, an “angular glass vessel” set on marble-clad columns will rise above the plaza, while the façades along Clarendon and Wilson Blvd will feature red brick, he said.

“We really look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on what you’d like to see in terms of signature gateway architecture at the site,” he said.

A 1,497-square-foot public pedestrian plaza will sit under the columns, at the intersection of Courthouse Road, Wilson Blvd, and Clarendon Blvd. Greystar is looking to fill the retail space with a restaurant that can use the plaza for outdoor dining, according to a spokesman.

Below ground, the new project includes a parking ratio of .32 spaces per unit, for a total of 74 spaces for residents, but no retail parking, according to a staff presentation. There will be 252 secure bicycle parking spaces and eight visitor spaces.

At 16 stories and 165.5 feet tall, the project clocks in much taller than recommended maximum of 10 stories in the Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study. But Greystar has a plan for securing its desired height and density.

The project includes a 104,789 square foot transfer of development rights from Wakefield Manor, a small garden-apartment complex less than a half-mile from the proposed development. The housing on N. Courthouse Road — featuring art deco and moderne design elements — has a historic easement, according to the county.

After the comment period ends, the county expects to hold virtual site plan review committee meetings in October and November. Dates for commission meetings and a final approval from the County Board have yet to be determined.

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Morning Notes

Apartment Rents Bounce Back — “It took a little while, but average rents for Arlington apartments have now shot past pre-pandemic levels, according to new data. With median rent prices of $2,013 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,437 for two bedrooms, Arlington is among 92 of the nation’s 100 largest urban communities that has seen rents return to, or exceed, levels of March 2020, when the pandemic hit.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Resident Creates Bourbon Brand — “I Bourbon is one Arlingtonian’s ode to this classic American whiskey. Now, if he could just get it on store shelves.” [Washington Business Journal]

Reston to Crystal City Bus Proposed — “One of two projects proposed by Fairfax County, the new express bus service would connect Fairfax Connector’s Reston South Park and Ride lot with key employment destinations in Arlington County, including the Pentagon and Pentagon City and ending in Crystal City. The county is seeking $5.1 million to cover two years of operating costs for the service as well as the purchase of six buses.” [Reston Now]

AWLA Takes in Louisiana Pets — “A special delivery arrived Wednesday afternoon at Manassas Regional Airport: a plane carrying more than 100 pets that were evacuated from the Louisiana hurricane zone ahead of Ida’s arrival earlier this week. As the plane landed, rescue organizations from throughout the D.C. area were standing by to take the animals in. ‘There were mostly dogs, but also a few cats in the mix,’ said Samantha Snow with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.” [WJLA]

Student Housing May Become Hotel — “Marymount University is moving to convert some of its recently acquired student housing in Ballston into hotel rooms, giving its hospitality program a boost in the process. The Arlington university filed documents with county planners Tuesday seeking permission to convert as much as half of the 267-unit residential building at 1008 N. Glebe Road into a hotel. Marymount has operated the building, dubbed The Rixey, as housing for students, faculty and staff since buying it back in 2019.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Smoke rising above Crystal City from The Buchanan apartment fire (photo courtesy Will Wiard)

(Updated at 10:35 p.m.) A “large amount” of residents have been displaced after a fire at The Buchanan apartment building in Crystal City.

The fire on the 300 block of 23rd Street S. was reported around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Arlington County Fire Department said crews “found a fire in a 3rd floor apartment with significant smoke conditions.”

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from a distance, rising above Crystal City. Police closed 23rd Street for more than two hours while firefighters worked to extinguish the flames and remove smoke from the building.

One person was injured and taken to the hospital but is expected to be okay, according to ACFD. No firefighters were hurt. There’s no word yet on how the fire started nor for how long residents of the building may be displaced.

More via social media:

https://twitter.com/SoWhat_WhoCares/status/1431039795246112770

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Morning Notes

Langston Blvd Plan Meets Resistance — “Following this May’s release of area planning maps and a presentation on density from consultant AECOM, a furious screed was published by Lyon Village Civic Association president John Carten. Though the process is still in the community engagement phase that precedes concrete recommendations, the hint of possible changes in the General Land Use Plan prompted the Lyon Village group to predict a parade of horribles.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Clarendon Apartment Building Sold — “Trammell Crow Residential has sold the Alexan Earl, a 333-unit multifamily building at 1122 N. Hudson St., to Lincoln Property Co. for $192 million… The Earl represents the first phase of the long-planned Red Top Cab redevelopment… Shooshan continues to plan for the second phase, a roughly 250-unit building fronting Washington Boulevard at the intersection with 13th Street North. It expects to start demolition this fall.” [Washington Business Journal]

Online Fundraiser for Fallen Officer –” The family of George Gonzalez started a memorial fund Sunday for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency officer who was fatally wounded Tuesday on the platform of the Pentagon Transit Center… By 3 p.m. on Monday, the GoFundMe campaign had already raised $15,000, outstripping its original goal of $1,000.” [Patch, GoFundMe]

Local BBQ Joint Competing in ‘World Championship’ — “Arlington’s Smokecraft Modern Barbecue… has been invited to compete in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue.  Taking place in Lynchburg, TN on on October 8th and 9th, ‘The Jack’ as it is known, is widely considered the world’s most prestigious barbecue competition.” [Press Release]

Va. AG Continues to Fight Robocalls — “Attorney General Mark R. Herring today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fight back against the scourge of illegal robocalls by moving up the deadline for smaller telephone companies to implement caller ID technology. Attorney General Herring joined a bipartisan coalition of 51 attorneys general have in submitting comments to the FCC.” [Press Release]

Pentagon to Require Vaccinations — “The Pentagon will require members of the military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo on Monday. About 64% of active duty military members are fully vaccinated, a low enough rate to pose concern for potential outbreaks and international deployment.” [Axios]

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A new GoFundMe page was established over the weekend to raise money for five families who have been impacted by the pest infestations and mold at the Serrano Apartments.

These families have been relocated to temporary housing, in hotels and elsewhere, while their units are remediated and repaired. As of Monday afternoon, the fundraiser has raised $3,333 of its $18,738 goal.

It is the latest move by the community leaders and residents who have been calling on affordable housing nonprofit AHC, which owns the property, to improve conditions at the complex. After two years of advocacy, and after involvement from the NAACP and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), organizers say the Serrano Apartments and its residents are finally getting the attention they deserve.

In the case of the families for which funds are being raised, more support is needed, organizers say.

“These families, all with school-aged children, have to replace beds, furniture, clothes and other household items and prepare to get their children ready for back-to-school as they relocate, return and try to restabilize their homes and families,” they wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“These families have suffered significant losses and were unexpectedly uprooted due to the lack of maintenance and care at the Serrano Apartments,” the page continues. “These families work hard, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and do not have additional finances nor renter’s insurance to assist them in replacing their belongings and to address other costs involved with resettling and restabilizing their homes and families.”

Former School Board member Tannia Talento, Arlington Schools Hispanic Parents Association member Janeth Valenzuela, Rev. Ashley Goff and local NAACP President Julius “J.D.” Spain put together the fundraiser. They said they hope to raise $4,000 for four families that spent more than two months in hotel rooms, $2,000 for one family that suffered some significant loss of their belongings, but could relocate to another affordable housing residence, and $738 for the GoFundMe fees and transaction costs.

Meantime, AHC has made some structural changes since the conditions came to light, including the resignation of their CEO. AHC hired an interim CEO, former Independent County Board candidate Susan Cunningham, to take the helm.

“I’m a straight shooter,” she told County Board members during a meeting in mid-July, two days into her new post. “I’m not going to sugar coat. I care a lot about accountability: my own, yours, ours as a community, and the problem-solving that it takes to deliver the kind of quality that we expect in the county.”

AHC and Cunningham are working with advocates and tenants to address repairs, the pest infestation and maintenance issues.

The interim CEO told the board she plans to have an in-depth update on progress in September.

She said AHC has “made good progress” but is not done rehousing the nearly 30 families who were placed temporarily in hotels earlier this year. Although the majority are in permanent homes — some with AHC and some in other complexes — a handful are still in hotels and considering their options, she said.

Meanwhile, AHC has three vendors on site trying to tackle an extensive mouse problem.

“We are filling holes, and we are getting ready to pull cabinets,” she said. “I think we’re getting on top of it, but we won’t feel that for sure for a couple of weeks.”

Fundraiser organizers say the same.

“Change is slow, and while we anticipate AHC will make these families whole again, it may take weeks before anything comes to fruition,” they said in the GoFundMe.

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Plans are taking shape for an apartment building set to replace the Macy’s store in Ballston.

Insight Property Group proposes to demolish the long-time department store and vacant office building at 685 N. Glebe Road, in the heart of Ballston. In its place would go a 16-story, 555-unit apartment complex atop a planned grocery store.

The developer plans to designate 236 units as affordable through the use of a novel zoning tool, and requests the flexibility to possibly dedicate almost half the square footage toward elder care.

The proposed project “will complete the redevelopment of this section of Ballston as well as complement the adjacent Ballston Quarter development,” write land use attorneys Nan Walsh and Andrew Painter, in a letter to the county.

The building was marketed for sale in the spring of 2020. Last summer, the County Board approved an extension until 2023 for the owner to file development plans. Aspects of these designs were first reported by UrbanTurf earlier this month.

Insight will “provide a much desired grocery store and new residential units in a building with high-quality architecture that is within short walking distance to many community amenities and transit options,” said their attorneys, from the land use firm Walsh Colucci.

At 563,336 square feet, the complex would be 198 feet tall and have 41,500 square feet of ground floor retail space. Residences would be split between a northern tower, with an entrance on Wilson Blvd, and a southern tower, with an entrance on Glebe Road. The towers would be built in two phases, UrbanTurf reported.

“The two portions of the building will have distinct, but complementary, architectural features that will form a unified composition,” write Walsh and Painter.

Insight requests “potential flexibility” to convert 201,500 square feet into elder care uses, they said.

The main grocery store entrance will be on Wilson Blvd, and the store will have 148 parking spaces — split between underground and second-floor parking. Residents will have 241 underground spaces.

An “underutilized, ‘back of house’ alley” will be transformed into a “more inviting, safe, curbless shared space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles,” the letter said.

Wilson Blvd and N. Glebe Road will remain largely the same, save for upgraded sidewalks. Insight will also provide bicycle parking and public art contributions.

As for affordable housing, the company aims proposes using a mechanism in the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code to transfer density and development rights from a Columbia Pike apartment complex it owns to the Ballston site.

To do so, it needs the county to designate the Haven Apartments (5100 7th Road S.), which are garden apartments, as historically important.

That’s because the mechanism it wants to use currently allows developers to transfer density from two other garden apartments, with historic designations, to anywhere in the county. In exchange, developers commit to preserve the buildings, renovate the units and keep rent affordable.

The transfer “will ensure the preservation of committed affordable housing units and architecturally significant buildings in the Columbia Pike corridor,” the lawyers said.

Insight acquired Haven in January of 2017 for $20 million, according to the company’s website. Since then, it has rebranded the property, renovated the units, exteriors and landscaping, and replaced the property management.

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