Arlington, VA

The third time may be the charm for a residential development slated to be built in Ballston where a vacated church stands.

McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is taking over plans to build apartments and townhomes at the intersection of N. Vermont Street and 11th Street N. The site used to house Portico Church Arlington, which, according to its website, is now found at 800 N. Illinois Street.

The project at 1031 N. Vermont Street has changed hands three times since the County Board first approved a redevelopment plan in 2018. It has also drawn some backlash from neighbors who said the plan added density to an already congested Ballston neighborhood.

The first developer, NVR, proposed to replace the two-story church and its parking lot with a 72-unit condo building and 12 townhouses. Arlington-based BCN Homes took over the development in 2019 and in June 2020, was granted an additional 4,300 square feet to develop.

With the County Board’s approval, BCN proposed a new plan: a 7-story apartment building with 98 units and 10 townhouses across the street. JAG indicates it will not be making major changes to this configuration.

“We plan to move forward with substantially the same plans that the Board approved last June,” the developer tells ARLnow. “We may pursue a few, minor changes related to the interior programming and unit mix but the project will look largely the same.”

The boutique apartment building will have a rooftop terrace, 120 underground parking spaces and 40 bicycle parking spaces, according to JAG.

Meanwhile, the 10 luxury townhomes across 11th Street N. will each have about 2,000 square feet of space, with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, a private rooftop terrace and a private, two-car garage.

“Ballston is one of the most desired submarkets in the Washington, D.C. region,” noted Greg Van Wie, Senior Vice President and Development Partner at Jefferson Apartment Group, in a press release.

The development, he said, “underscores [JAG’s] commitment to create a contemporary, sophisticated boutique apartment building with top-of-the line finishes and luxe amenities and underscores the strength of the housing market here in Northern Virginia.”

A private, Chile-based real estate company, STARS REI, has invested in the property.

“We are thrilled to be working with Jefferson Apartment Group again on this boutique apartment project in this amazing neighborhood,” said Joaquin Canessa, Vice President at STARS REI in the press release.

Construction is slated to begin this winter and is expected to be done in summer 2023.

Photos (1-2) courtesy Jefferson Apartment Group

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Police responded to an Arlington church last week after a man was seen open carrying a pistol on its grounds.

The incident happened on the afternoon of Thursday, April 8. A childcare center operates out of the church, on the 600 block of N. Vermont Street near Ballston.

“At approximately 2:32 p.m. on April 8, police were dispatched to the report of a subject openly displaying a holstered handgun while walking on a property containing an occupied child care facility,” said an Arlington County Police Department crime report. “The subject left the scene prior to the arrival of police and was not located in the area by responding officers.”

“The subject is described as a white male in his 50’s, 5’8″, medium build, white hair beneath a dark ball cap, long sleeve button-down shirt and tan pants,” the crime report continues. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Initially, officers told dispatch that the man might have been legally open carrying the gun. However, the crime report indicates that the incident is now believed to have been a weapons violation. It is illegal to open carry on the grounds of a childcare center or preschool during operating hours in Virginia.

Morning Notes

Va. ‘Seals Deal’ for Rail Expansion — “Virginia finalized agreements Tuesday with CSX, Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express as part of the state’s $3.7 billion passenger rail expansion program that seeks to relieve a rail bottleneck and get more commuters onto trains. The signing of agreements advances a pledge Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made in December 2019 to significantly grow passenger rail service this decade by building a new rail bridge over the Potomac River, adding new track in the Washington-Richmond corridor and buying hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from CSX.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Affordable Housing CEO Retiring — “Longtime CEO of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing Nina Janopaul will retire June 30, 2021, after a remarkable 14-year career at the helm of the organization, leading APAH through a period of transition and rapid expansion. The APAH Board has appointed Executive Vice President Carmen Romero to lead APAH into its ambitious next phase of growth and service.” [Press Release, Twitter]

New Restaurant Fighting for Funding — “Andrew Darneille had a sense of deja vu when he clicked on the link from his certified public accountant. It led him to a page that said, in essence, that the Restaurant Revitalization Fund would not be the lifeline he had hoped for. Based on the fund’s grant calculations buried in the larger $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, his Smokecraft Modern Barbecue in Arlington, Va., would not get a cent in federal relief during a pandemic that has left many restaurateurs hanging by a thread.” [Washington Post]

No GOP County Board Candidates Yet — “The Arlington County Republican Committee remains on the hunt for a candidate or candidates to challenge for the one County Board seat on the November ballot. ‘We have had people reach out to us,’ party chairman Andrew Loposser said on March 24, though none has yet stepped forward publicly.” [Sun Gazette]

Green Valley Church Helping with Vaccinations — “At Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington, the sanctuary has sat empty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic… So when Harcum was recently approached about a new vaccine equity partnership with Arlington County and Neighborhood Health, he said he was happy to offer up space inside the church.” [WJLA]

Photo courtesy James Mahony

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Members of Grace Community Church in Arlington honored thousands of unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic: grocery store employees.

Over the course of three days, 75 volunteers from the church distributed 5,000 gift bags to employees at 60 grocery stores in Arlington and seven neighboring counties, said Anna Maia, the Director of Compassion and Justice at Grace Community Church, in a video.

“Thank you, grocery store workers for serving us through this whole year of this pandemic. It’s an honor to be a church in your community and to serve you as you’ve been serving us,” she said. “We are so excited to be part of this operation and to just show a little bit of appreciation to everything you’ve been doing.”

Each employee received a bag with a gift card, granola bars, lip balm, and an “essential” button that Maia said is a reminder “that they are remembered and appreciated.”

This was one way the church has worked in the community while being uprooted from its previous indoor location at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Grace currently holds its services online and, weather permitting, outside of the school.

A volunteer named Stephanie said in the video that she was glad to participate because these frontline workers “are not thanked as much as the other essential workers.”

In the video, another volunteer named Anne said workers told her, “We are always telling each other that no one cares what we’re doing.”

One woman who works in a store’s customer service department called the church “to say how incredibly touched I am by this crazy-thoughtful gift. It’s just so beautiful. I deeply appreciate it.”

Photos via Grace Community Church/Vimeo 

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A new tenant could be taking over a vacant church on Arlington Boulevard in Buckingham.

The church sits on a .37 acre-parcel at 4347 Arlington Boulevard that housed Bethel United Christian Church until the congregation moved in September 2018 to the Boulevard Manor neighborhood.

“Due to uncontrollable circumstances related to parking availability, we made the decision to sell our building and move into a shared property relationship with Arlington Church of the Brethren,” according to the church’s website. The church has only tiny lots for drop-off, and there are few available street parking spots within easy walking distance.

The church building has been on the market since then, according to Saul Corral, of Fairfax Realty of Tysons, who represents the church.

“It’s such a beautiful building, inside and out,” he said, adding that there are impressive old beams that are hard to come by in modern architecture.

Contracts have been drafted with potential buyers three times already, “but unfortunately, they’ve fallen through,” Corral said.

The fourth time could be the charm for the church. A potential buyer is studying whether or not the investment is feasible, and this study period expires at the end of April, he said.

Previous buyers have had their contracts cancelled based on what they intend to do with the building, he said.

“That’s where the contracts fall through,” Corral said. “Buyers that have other intentions put a contract on it and they’re not approved” by the Arlington County Zoning Department.

The church lot is zoned for single- and multi-family dwellings, according to a county zoning map.

Although the church is vacant, the founding location of a full-time preschool, Children’s International School, continues to operate on the site.

The preschool school has been housed in the church since it was founded in 1985, and has since expanded to three more locations in Arlington and Alexandria. It expects to be able to continue operating from the building, managers have told parents.

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Morning Notes

Rainy, Then Windy TodayUpdated at 8 a.m. — From the National Weather Service: “Rain will end later this morning into this afternoon from northwest to southeast. However, gusty winds will develop and river flooding is expected along portions of the Potomac River and nearby tributaries.” [Twitter]

Freddie’s Expanding to Delaware Shore — “Freddie’s Beach Bar, the gay bar that has been operating in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Va., since 2001, is planning to open a new version of itself in Rehoboth Beach in time for Memorial Day weekend, according to owner Freddie Lutz. Lutz said that similar to the Freddie’s in Arlington, the Rehoboth version will operate as a restaurant and bar with entertainment that is expected to include karaoke, drag bingo, and possibly drag shows.” [Washington Blade]

AG Candidate Wants to Intervene in Local Cases — “A candidate for state attorney general says that, if elected, he’ll press for the authority to step in when local prosecutors will not act on specific cases. ‘George Soros-backed commonwealth’s attorneys are not doing their jobs,’ Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) said in remarks to the Arlington County Republican Committee.” [InsideNova]

Local Restaurants Make New Washingtonian List — A half dozen Arlington restaurants are among a new list of “61 Neighborhood Restaurants That Make the DC Area a Better Place to Eat — and Live.” Among them: The Green Pig, Lebanese Taverna, Los Tios Grill, Medium Rare, Nam-Viet, and Pupatella. [Washingtonian]

Church Providing Food to Those in Need — “The Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington hosted its first Mobile Market Feb. 25 in conjunction with the Capital Area Food Bank to serve those dealing with food insecurity. This drive-thru food distribution provided nonperishables as well as fresh produce including fruits and vegetables. The monthly market originally was scheduled to begin Feb. 18 but was delayed due to inclement weather.” [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Bouncers Recognized for Spotting Fake IDs — “Tonight the Arlington Restaurant Initiative, Washington Regional Alcohol Program and Responsibility.org recognized staff from Don Tito and Whitlow’s on Wilson for their excellence in detecting false identifications and preventing underage drinking. We commend the recipients for their dedication to safe service and responsible alcohol consumption.” [Facebook]

Crystal City Company Planning IPO — “Leonardo SpA is moving forward with an initial public offering for its Arlington-based defense electronic systems subsidiary. The Italian defense and space contractor filed its plans Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The unit will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker ‘DRS.'” [Washington Business Journal]

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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon is proposing to lease part of its campus for private development and to make its grounds greener and more walkable.

The mid-century church sits on two-and-a-half acres of land wedged among Washington Blvd to the north, N. Kirkwood Road to the west and Fairfax Drive to the south. Parking occupies much of the lot, with the church and its auxiliary spaces lining N. Kirkwood Road and Fairfax Drive.

New renderings, however, reposition the church at the corner of Washington and Wilson Blvd, closer to Clarendon, with parish spaces and a private residential building fanning out behind the church. The building is likely to be an apartment building with a 100-child preschool at the base.

Currently a through-road and one-way loop wrapping around parking, Fairfax Drive would be converted into a walkable plaza. This “enables a comprehensive, pedestrian-friendly connection to Virginia Square and addresses north-south pedestrian access,” according to an architect’s report. Church parking would be accessible from Washington Blvd.

Bike lanes would be rerouted along the south side of the plaza to reduce interactions with pedestrians, the report said. The buildings would provide internal access to protected open spaces — a cloister, a playground and a courtyard.

St. Charles pastor Fr. Don Planty said in a January report the parish has spent the last three-and-a-half years studying the land, working with lawyers and architects and projecting potential costs. Recently, the project turned a corner.

Planty said in the report that Bishop Michael Burbridge of the Diocese of Arlington “has approved our recommendation to move forward with our project, seeking a development partner.” (Diocesan laws require the bishop to approve all developments.)

“This marks an exciting transition for us: we have long spoken about the ‘potential’ redevelopment of our site,” he wrote. “We now set about the exciting business of turning our vision into a reality.”

St. Charles plans to lease the western half of its site to a private developer, which would fund the changes proposed for the sacred half of the site.

Drafting a Request for Proposal and selecting a development partner could take six months or more, but would “clear the path for local government approvals and eventual construction,” Planty said.

Although the pastor described the future as promising, he said “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Like other proposed developments, including mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site, aspects of the church’s proposed changes will not meet guidelines in the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan. In preparation for these developments, Arlington County began mulling over changes to the sector plan in February 2020.

This winter, the county sought feedback on how people feel cycling and walking along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and N. Kirkwood Road and what could be done to improve the experience. This area includes St. Charles’s proposed pedestrian plaza and rerouted bike lanes.

Hat tip to Stephen Repetski

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Arlington-based Saint Timothy and Saint Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church is making plans to build a new church building on a vacant lot in Green Valley that it recently acquired.

The church — which also goes by the abbreviated STSA Church — currently rents space at George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus at 3351 Fairfax Drive. It is, however, operating virtually due to the coronavirus.

STSA Church was established in Arlington in 2012 with a mission to “bring an ancient faith to a modern world,” according to the website.

Fr. Anthony Messeh, the church’s pastor, confirmed the planned expansion in an email with ARLnow, saying he will have more details in the coming weeks.

The site at 2640 Shirlington Road is a 39,867-square-foot parcel of vacant land, according to Arlington County property records, overgrown with trees and brush.

The Arlington County Board was tentatively slated to approve an easement associated with the new ownership at its meeting on Jan. 23. The item was removed from the agenda, however, because the form of the deed “is not finalized and the plat had not been approved in time for the January meeting,” said Mary Curtius, a spokeswoman with the county board office, in an email.

The item will likely come before the County Board in February or March, Curtius said.

Old blog posts and YouTube videos indicate that the church community has been looking to buy for years. In 2014, it ran a campaign to raise $2 million to purchase a building, but the attempt appears to have been unsuccessful and the campaign website no longer works.

“Unfortunately, we cannot have signage to let people in Arlington know that there is a church here to welcome them,” according to a video from 2o14. “We currently exist only on Sunday mornings as far as the community is concerned, and that lack of full-time presence has prohibited us from reaching more people.”

Image via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Megachurch Coming to Courthouse — “McLean Bible Church aims to lease about 10,000 square feet at 1310 N. Courthouse Road, according to documents submitted by MRP to Arlington planners earlier this month. The church would be able to host up to 450 worshippers in this new space, and use some other portions of it for classrooms and offices.” [Washington Business Journal]

Crane Erection to Close StreetUpdated at 11:15 a.m. — The erection of a crane at an apartment construction site in Pentagon City, near HQ2, will result in a road closure. The work, however, has been postponed after initially being scheduled this weekend. [Twitter]

Fairfax County Also Low on Vaccines — “‘Even though I have all the people power to be able to vaccinate folks. I literally just don’t have the vaccines,’ said Jeff McKay, Chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors… ‘My greatest concern is now we have ramped up this huge operation, I don’t want to be ramping it down and then ramping it back up again and ramping it down,’ said McKay. ‘We are overwhelmed by demand and underwhelmed by supply.'” [WJLA]

Sports Betting Now a Reality in Va. — “Virginia’s highly lucrative sports gambling market officially opened Thursday when, shortly after 2 p.m., a cellphone user placed a $25 bet on the Golden State Warriors to beat the New York Knicks. Sports betting was approved by the General Assembly in 2020, and the Virginia Lottery was tasked with vetting interested companies. That law included a provision that stirred controversy this week, though, as FanDuel was able to beat the other interested players to market by affiliating with the Washington Football Team.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, ESPN]

Prince William Co. Grapples with Namesake — “Prince William County was named after Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhampstead, Viscount Trematon and Earl of Kennington. The Duke was the third and youngest son of King George II. In England, Prince William had another title. He was commonly called ‘Butcher Cumberland’ for his ruthless conduct during the Battle of Culloden and subsequent genocide of Catholic Jacobites.” [InsideNova]

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The Arlington County Board is slated to review plans for two residential towers at 1820 N. Fort Myer Drive that include substantial affordable housing contributions.

The proposal from Arlington-based Snell Properties would replace the Ames Center office building across from the Rosslyn Metro station. A south tower will abut the Hyatt Centric hotel and a north tower will surround the existing Arlington Temple United Methodist Church and Sunoco gas station, dubbed “Our Lady of Exxon.”

Although the church and gas station will be “redeveloped in place,” the skywalks — which provide an elevated pedestrian connection to the Metro station — will be demolished, according to the County.

Along with plans for the Holiday Inn and the RCA building, the proposal from Snell will further change Rosslyn’s skyline, demolishing the existing building, formerly occupied by the Art Institute of Washington.

The proposed towers, 30 and 31 stories tall, include 740 multifamily units and about 10,146 square feet of retail space. Up to 225 of the residential units may devoted to an interim hotel use, while the apartments are leased.

In a report, staff highlighted the affordable housing units in the building, committed as such for the next 30 years.

“The Rosslyn Coordinated Redevelopment District area, where this project is located, is one of the most expensive rental markets in the County,” staff said. “There are currently no [committed affordable units] within the RCRD.”

Twenty-four one- and two-bedroom units will be reserved for households making up to 80% of the Area Median Income.

Typically, such units are reserved for those who make up to 60% AMI, but staff said Rosslyn is so expensive that reserving units for up to 80% AMI “will better leverage the community benefits value while providing much-needed affordability directly in this area.”

Snell Properties is also committing nearly $2.5 million in cash toward affordable housing. The County said this sum could create about 29 units in future developments that are affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income.

The project additionally includes a $5 million cash contribution for the Fort Myer Drive tunnel project, which includes plans to convert the road into a two-way street, remove the tunnel, widen sidewalks and add protected bike lanes.

A cement plaza will separate the two towers and form one segment of a planned pedestrian pathway that County planners call the “18th Street Corridor.” This street-level walkway will replace the existing, elevated passages. Mid-block crosswalks will join the plaza to 18th Street N.

Those who participated in community engagement from July and September “were universally in support of [the] removal of both skywalks,” staff said.

The towers will share four levels of below-grade parking and the south tower will have four levels of above-grade parking — 574 parking spaces in total.

The County said “there are no outstanding community issues” but the mechanical penthouse roof and elevators may block or hurt the view of D.C. from the Central Place Observation Deck.

The south building will be built in phase one, along with an interim open space and other streetscape improvements. The second phase will see more activity: construction of the north tower, the plaza and remaining streetscape improvements, as well as the removal of the skywalks.

The County Board is expected to review the project at its Saturday meeting.

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Morning Notes

Cristol Recovering from Surgery — County Board member Katie Cristol was absent from this week’s Board meeting. She is on medical leave after surgery to treat Graves’ disease, she said. [Twitter]

Axios Makes Local News Moves — Clarendon-based media company Axios has purchased North Carolina-based Charlotte Agenda as it makes a push into local news. [New York Times]

Board Balks at Preservation Request — “Efforts to place the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road into a local historic district appear to have pushed the property owner to move forward with the ‘nuclear option‘… And, county officials say, there is not much they can do to prevent it. ‘Our hands are pretty much tied,’ County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said Dec. 12, effectively rebuffing a request that the county government take stronger actions.” [InsideNova]

Board Responds to Reopening Request — “A request that Arlington County Board members use their influence – whether through sweet-talking or something more forceful – to get county schools back up and running fell largely on deaf ears Dec. 12. Board members said they were working with their School Board counterparts, but had no power to force a reopening of schools that have been shuttered since last March.” [InsideNova]

Local Nonprofit Expands Aid — “Since April of this year [Arlington] Thrive has provided more than $5 million is assistance to 1,300 families and individuals, a dramatic increase from the $805,000 Thrive provided to families and individuals during the same period last year. Typical requests to Arlington Thrive used to be for one or two months rent but since the pandemic now extend to six or seven months.” [Press Release]

Church Continues Drive-Thru Donations — “Clarendon Presbyterian Church recently announced that it will continue holding monthly Drive-thru Food and Toiletry Collections to support our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Since the first Collection in June through the most recent one in December, the community donated the equivalent of 756 brown paper bags of groceries – an estimated value of $30,000.” [Press Release]

Northam Proposes State Budget — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed a state budget that would restore some spending frozen earlier this year amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, updating a spending document that the General Assembly just finished tinkering with last month.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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