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JBG Smith is asking Arlington County to relieve it of restrictions that it says present serious obstacles to putting up new rooftop signs.

The real estate company is specifically asking the county to remove language restricting the number and size of signs allowed on two office buildings in the Crystal Park development it owns in Crystal City. The proposal is set to go before the County Board this Saturday.

Not everyone is comfortable with the language change, however. Two area civic associations told the county that the restrictions should stay, fearing this would pave the way for more signs going forward.

Currently, Crystal Park offices are governed by a document that “ties certain approved signs to specific tenants, some of which no longer occupy the premises, limits installation of rooftop signs to a single, prescribed rooftop sign and contains outdated requirements for approved signs,” land-use attorney Kedrick Whitmore wrote in an application to the county.

This hamstrings JBG Smith, he continues.

“Collectively, these restrictions complicate the ability to re-design existing signage for new tenants and present obstacles to achieving new rooftop signage,” Whitmore wrote.

JBG Smith is requesting the county remove restrictions for Crystal Park 1 and 3 office buildings, located at 2011 Crystal Drive and 2231 Crystal Drive. Instead, it asks the county evaluate new signage only in accordance to the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance.

In 2012, the zoning code was updated, providing new clarifying parameters for signs and only requiring staff review. This change did not apply to a smattering of older developments throughout Arlington governed by more restrictive agreements.

County staff say this change would make it easier for JBG Smith to compete for tenants.

“As commercial buildings mature and market themselves for new tenants, it is imperative that building owners be able to avail themselves of sign permissions available to other similar buildings so as to not place themselves at a competitive disadvantage,” the report said.

The county notes that other building owners have made similar requests and had the support of staff, as this “allow[s] for fair administration of building signage.”

The report says Crystal City and Aurora Highlands civic associations told the county they do not support JBG Smith’s request because it could allow for more signs.

The other reason, leaders told the county, is that the current provisions were decided through negotiated community benefits during the site plan review process.

“The community accepted less in the way of other benefits to limit the number and size of signs, so they believe that changes to allow more signs would not be fair,” the report says.

The county says it found no evidence that the more restrictive language was related to community benefit packages.

“Rather these were common site plan conditions approved in the absence of comprehensive sign provisions of the [zoning ordinance], which are now in place,” the report said.

Eric Cassel, the president of the Crystal City Civic Association, told ARLnow this morning that, as of now, the issue is “relatively minor.”

“JBGS downgraded the proposal significantly and we are not spending resources to oppose it,” he said.

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Arlington County expects to accept a handful of major development applications this month, teeing them up for public engagement down the road.

The four pending projects span Pentagon City and Crystal City to the south and Rosslyn and Courthouse to the north.

Apartment buildings figure into all the proposals, though two developers are mulling a mix of office or hotel uses, too. Of those in the queue, two are straightforward, single-phase apartment projects while two are far-afield, multi-phase redevelopments with details still to iron out.

First up, between Rosslyn and Courthouse, sits the future home of an apartment building by D.C.-based developer the Fortis Cos.

Fortis proposes demolishing the existing National Science Teachers Association headquarters at 1840 Wilson Blvd, and surrounding restaurants, to construct an apartment building with 188 units and about 12,000 square feet of retail space. It purchased the properties at the start of this year for $14 million and filed its application, complete with new renderings, this summer.

Next up, in Crystal City, JBG Smith proposes to build a 7-story tower with 370 apartments and about 3,300 square feet of retail or equivalent space on land dubbed Block W, located at 2451 Crystal Drive.

The site is bounded by Crystal Drive, a National Airport access road, and railroad tracks, and is currently home to a gravel parking lot, an off-ramp from the access road and a small, JBG-owned workout park.

The off-ramp would be removed for construction, as envisioned in the Crystal City Sector Plan, but JBG Smith will be keeping adjacent sand volleyball courts.

Heading to Pentagon City, two developers are taking steps forward on long-standing redevelopment plans.

The first, plans from Brookfield Properties to redevelop the old TSA headquarters at 601 and 701 12th Street S., marks progress after a years-long pause. Brookfield held off on advancing these plans while Arlington County was developing the Pentagon City Sector Plan, approved last year.

Now, Brookfield proposes carving up the land, dubbed 12th Street Landing, into three bays. It is mulling either apartments, condos and an office building, or a apartments and a hotel, per filings with Arlington County.

To keep its options open, it asks Arlington County to approve the overall “density and intensity consistent with the maximum allowed by the [Pentagon City] Sector Plan,” the materials say.

More concrete details would be approved with a later site plan application, the letter to the county said.

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The Air & Space Forces Association will be moving out an office building north of Rosslyn to something closer to the Pentagon.

The association, which supports members the Air and Space Forces, was looking for a more modern space for its national headquarters after spending about 40 years in an office building from the 1980s. It sold its digs on Langston Blvd earlier this year before agreeing to move into the Westpost development, formerly Pentagon Row, in Pentagon City.

Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns Westpost, announced the deal yesterday (Tuesday). The association, also known as the AFA, will be taking over some 31,000 square feet of space previously occupied by thermal imaging camera company FLIR Systems in 2024.

“The Air & Space Forces Association is excited to relocate our headquarters closer to our Pentagon customers and to continue our strong partnership with stakeholders in the Arlington County area,” said now-retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, the association’s president and CEO. “We look forward to creating a more modern and flexible facility that will enhance AFA’s operational capability and open new doors to growth in the future.”

This summer, the Washington Business Journal reported that the AFA sold the building on June 1 for $16.25 million — after buying the land on which the office building stands in 1982 for just under $1 million.

It noted that Arlington County’s online property database said, and still says, the sale price was $19.1 million. At the time of the sale, the building was 79% leased and had 10 tenants outside the AFA.

The property was sold to an affiliate of Arlington-based Taicoon Property Partners, a recently-formed “privately owned investor and developer.”

Posts on LinkedIn by those involved in the transaction foreshadowed forthcoming development plans for the site.

In its announcement, Federal Realty Investment Trust said the AFA’s new offices are a “convenient” distance from the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport, as well as the Virginia Railway Express station and Metro. It noted, as many such press releases do, that Amazon’s second headquarters complex is nearby.

“We are delighted to welcome the Air & Space Forces Association to Westpost at National Landing,” FRIT Senior Vice President Deirdre Johnson said in a statement.

“Westpost continues to evolve alongside Amazon’s HQ2 as an exciting office destination for Arlington County, and the greater Washington, D.C.-metro region,” Johnson continued. “We are eager to see the Association thrive in its new location and utilize the highly amenitized environment of retail, restaurants and services that Westpost has to offer.”

Per a leasing map, Westpost now has just five ground-floor retail spaces available.

Photos (2-3) via Google Maps


(Updated at 10:20 a.m.) With half of its planned HQ2 now open in Pentagon City, Amazon is planning to leave most of its leased spaces in Crystal City.

Once the leases expire for temporary Amazon offices at 1800 S. Bell Street and 2100 Crystal Drive, in 2023 and 2024, respectively, JBG Smith intends to “take off-line and entitle [them] for alternate uses,” per a new report.

One of the buildings, 1800 S. Bell Street, could get the redevelopment treatment as early as 2026, the report says. JBG Smith included the property at the tail end of its near-term development pipeline for National Landing, the area composed of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. It appears slated to remain for office use.

JBG Smith’s development pipeline in National Landing (via JBG Smith)

Amazon has always planned to consolidate its office space and move employees to its permanent HQ2, the first phase of which — Metropolitan Park — opened in June. There is still no word from the company on when the stalled second phase, Pen Place, could begin, though the delay may only be a year or so.

The tech company’s departure from two of its three leased offices will pile on more vacancies in JBG Smith’s portfolio, according to the real estate company’s report.

By the end of 2024, the company anticipates 1.2 million square feet of office space in National Landing will be vacated. Amazon currently occupies about half that square footage.

Amazon plans to continue to occupy 1770 Crystal Drive, located near the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse, the taqueria Tacombi and the proposed second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, at the northwest corner of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S.

Excluding Amazon, JBG Smith says its current retention rate between now and the end of 2024 is about 50%, versus an annual average of about 70%. To bring the rate up, the company will focus on filling more up-to-date buildings going forward.

“Our efforts to re-lease certain spaces will be targeted toward buildings with long-term viability,” wrote Matthew Kelly in the report. “We expect to repurpose older, obsolete, and vacant buildings for redevelopment, conversion to multifamily, or another specialty use, ultimately reducing our competitive inventory in National Landing.”

JBG Smith declined to elaborate on what other specialty uses it envisions as well as properties it plans to either retain for tenants or develop.

Its report, however, outlines when each of its commercial holdings in Crystal City was built and when it was last renovated.

Of the four built in the late 1960s, three have not been updated since the mid-2000s. Another 10 were built in the 1980s and were renovated over the course of 15 years starting in 2006.

The report also provides a timeline for forthcoming redevelopment plans. It says Crystal City is slated to get new apartments in the following places:

A new office building is slated to come to 101 12th Street S. and either offices or apartments could come to 2525 Crystal Drive. JBG Smith has studied both at the site and the report currently lists its estimated residential redevelopment potential.

A map of JBG Smith’s commercial holdings in the area, as well as its pipeline of commercial and residential development opportunities, is below. Click on the window in the top left corner to see a description of the map, the different colors, and individual addresses.

A vacant office building in Courthouse in December 2022 (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) One pocket of Arlington County has the most office space on the market and seeking tenants in the D.C. area, according to a new report.

A submarket made up of Courthouse, Clarendon and Virginia Square tops the charts for its “availability rate” — which includes any offices that can be leased now or in the next year — because of its high concentration of older office buildings.

“There are a number of dated 1980s-constructed buildings that sit idle as tenants continue to re-evaluate their office needs and often move to newer or renovated buildings in different submarkets,” says Ben Plaisted, vice chairman at commercial real estate company Savills, which produced the report.

In this submarket, Arlington Economic Development staff says 80% of offices were built more than 20 years ago.

“National and regional trends show that new leases tend to prefer buildings built in the past 10 years,” the county’s economic development arm said in a statement. “As a result, submarkets with newer product tend to have lower availability and submarkets with older product tend to have higher availability.”

Across Arlington, vacancy is concentrated in older buildings: about 75% of vacant square footage is within buildings at least 30 years old, says AED.

In response, why Arlington County is trying to infuse old office buildings with a mix of emerging businesses, such as research and development, artisan workshops, breweries and distilleries, and even pickleball courts.

Office availability rates and rents in the D.C. area (courtesy Savills)

AED provided a few caveats to the report.

It says Savills combined Courthouse, Clarendon and Virginia Square into one submarket, while another real estate company, CoStar, only combines Courthouse and Clarendon. That changes the overall availability rate.

Without Virginia Square, Clarendon-Courthouse has the second-highest availability rate in Northern Virginia and the D.C. area, behind Herndon, according to July 2023 data from CoStar, AED said.

Including Virginia Square means adding one major construction project to the mix: George Mason University’s FUSE building, says AED. The new facility has over 100,000 square feet listed as available for tenants.

The economic development division also says availability rates should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Availability rates can mask available square feet, as submarkets vary greatly in size,” AED said. “Therefore, the same amount of available square footage would appear as much lower availability rates in larger submarkets.”

Like other parts of the nation, Arlington is seeing tenants seek out smaller offices in higher-quality buildings, dubbed the “flight to quality.”

Overall, the report notes Arlington has some of the highest rent prices in the D.C. area, which is due to building quality plus proximity to D.C. and Metro. Over 60% of Arlington’s office product is listed by CoStar as Class A, or those built recently with attractive amenities and high rents, among other features.

“[Tenants] are willing to pay top dollar for high quality space but by reducing their footprint, they are not increasing their overall real estate costs,” Plaisted said. “The war for talent continues to be prevalent in the market and occupiers are looking to incentivize staff to be at the office by upgrading their physical location and space.”

Not everyone is reducing their footprint, however. AED says a half-dozen Arlington-based firms, from consulting firms to to government contractors, expanded their offices over the last year.

Meanwhile, a handful of British tech firms recently opened outposts in Arlington, while shipbuilding company Huntington Ingalls moved some of its offices from D.C. to National Landing.

Arlington has scored some commercial real estate wins with retention of tenants. The only notable tenant that AED says — to their knowledge — fully moved out of Arlington over the past year is the tech company Ostendio, which is now fully virtual.

Photo via Google Maps


In another bid to encourage business growth, the Arlington County Board has made it easier to open shared kitchens and catering and food delivery operations.

On Saturday, the Board voted to amend the zoning ordinance to allow these uses by right in mixed-use, commercial and industrial zones throughout Arlington County. The changes streamline the regulatory approval process for several food-related uses, according to a county report.

“The outcomes of expanding food delivery to a by-right use support small business resilience by relieving businesses of unnecessary work,” the report said. That includes going before the County Board to seek approval for each use.

The changes are part of a flurry of approvals in the last 14 months to allow more uses by-right in these zoning districts. So far, the County Board has greenlit uses such as breweries, micro-fulfillment centers, podcasting studios, indoor pickleball and other emerging businesses to operate where they previously could not set up shop or needed special permission to do so.

All these updates happened in quick succession because County Manager Mark Schwartz debuted a faster zoning approval process that streamlined community engagement. The intent was to help Arlington respond quickly to changing market conditions and, ultimately, tackle the high office vacancy rate.

Food service was the next candidate for an update because, the report says, local regulations treated delivery operations like it was still 1988. (The iPhone debuted in 2007.)

Per the report, the zoning ordinance “does not account for the present-day popularity of modern food delivery services,” requiring food delivery not to exceed 20% of a restaurant’s sales.

Restaurants were relieved of that kind of provision — borne from a concern about delivery vehicle congestion — during the pandemic, the report said.

Food delivery has become a permanent part of how Arlingtonians eat, even after Covid dining restrictions lifted. This new way of doing business was under threat by the expiration of the Covid-era Continuity of Governance ordinance that relaxed delivery regulations.

The changes approved on Saturday, then, came in the knick of time for new and existing businesses, as the ordinance is set to expire in August — meaning the county would have reverted to 1988 delivery standards.

Businesses would have had to obtain County Board approval to continue delivery, had the Board voted down the zoning change. Some already did — Foxtrot in Rosslyn, for instance, went before the Board earlier this year to continue delivering beverages, ready-made food and grocery items.

Saturday’s vote also is helping another player in the app-based food delivery ecosystem: trailer-based ghost kitchens, the kind of which you might see in a parking lot between Clarendon and Courthouse. Ghost kitchen operators will no longer need certain permits to continue cooking.

Chris Farley (center) of Pacers recording his Pace the Nation podcast (file photo)

Currently, in Arlington County, a podcasting studio would need to go through a county permitting process to inhabit an office building.

But that is likely changing.

A proposal to allow more “untraditional” uses in traditional office buildings is headed to the Arlington County Board this weekend.

On Saturday, the Board is set to consider revising the zoning ordinance to allow broadcasting studios and businesses in the audio-visual production field to occupy commercial space by right. It is also expanding what counts as research and development while allowing those uses by right, too.

Under the changes, entrepreneurs would no longer need a permit to outfit an office for podcasting and influencer studios — Instagram-ready backdrops for people to take photos and record content.

Arlington’s extensive roster of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence startups, meanwhile, would no longer need a permit to conduct research and development. Facilities doing technological, electronic, biological, scientific and engineering research would be able to lease a typical office building in the same way as any other office tenant.

These businesses could also engage in small-scale product design, development, prototyping and testing. The changes will not allow industrial scale production or manufacturing.

Arlington Economic Development says these are some emerging trends it is looking to pounce to tackle its office vacancy rate and remain competitive in a changing economic landscape. Otherwise, it may lose out to peer cities, such as Seattle and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“In the past, [AED] has had prospects come through looking for flexible research and development space to locate their semiconductor and microchip, cyber and quantum computing, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning companies,” according to a county report. “However, the AED team was not always readily able to accommodate those prospects due to zoning barriers.”

“The competition for attracting research and development investment is fierce, the market for these uses is strong, and technological advances have allowed these uses to fit seamlessly into existing business districts,” it continued.

This is the fourth zoning code update headed to the County Board in 13 months under the “Commercial Market Resiliency Strategy.”

Through this strategy, the county established a streamlined public engagement process that expedited the approval process for these changes. Some Planning Commissioners have balked at the shortened engagement period and the nuisances that may arise.

Despite these misgivings, the strategy has already been used to allow micro-fulfillment centers, urban agriculture, breweries and distilleries, and artisan workshops to operate in office buildings, without additional red tape.

Most recently, the County Board approved a broader definition of by-right indoor recreation use, meaning pickleball courts and ax-throwing could be coming to an office building near you.

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Arlington is poised to buy two warehouses used by a dog-boarding facility in order to expand Jennie Dean Park.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to approve an agreement to buy the properties housing The Board Hound, at 3520 and 3522 S. Four Mile Run Drive in the Green Valley neighborhood, for $2 million.

The decision leaves New District Brewery to lick its wounds.

Co-owner Mike Katrivanos told ARLnow the brewery bid on the property as a “last shot” to staying open after its nearby 2709 S. Oakland Street location closes at the end of this month, due to a rent hike and lease disagreement. An indoor dog park and bar is set to take the brewery’s place.

Arlington County says it has been eyeing the Board Hound property since it adopted a master plan for Green Valley and Shirlington, dubbed Four Mile Run Valley, in 2018. The plan “identified for inclusion in the full buildout of Jennie Dean Park,” per a county report.

So when a real estate agent for The Board Hound, which operated in the area for some 10 years, asked the county if it was interested, the county pounced on the opportunity.

“The current owner has… has decided to close this location to consolidate its business at the main location in Alexandria on South Peyton Street,” the county says.

Arlington County says buying these properties helps to meet the goals of the 2019 Public Spaces Master Plan.

The plan calls for the addition of at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years “to help address the challenge of meeting public spaces needs for a growing community.”

For park users, it may have a side benefit of reducing dog barking, which some have found to be a nuisance.

One Planning Commissioner at the start of this year referenced his experience at Jennie Dean Park in a conversation about how Arlington County should use zoning to regulate nuisances, such as dog barking, rather than entire businesses.

“I thought of Jennie Dean Park as I enjoyed it the other day with my children and the incessant barking that was continual and constant, and thought, those poor general neighbors across the street are enduring the constant barking of dogs but it’s next to an industrial zone,” said Stephen Hughes.

Industry is part of the area’s identity, as evidenced by several auto body shops, warehouses and Inner Ear Studios, which moved out of the neighborhood last year after the county bought the building it called home for decades.

Industrial use is also central to planning documents envisioning Green Valley as an “arts and industry district.”

Exactly what that will look like, however, depends on who is asked. The Green Valley Civic Association has previously said it takes a broader view of arts and industry than the county.

“From furniture-making to metal-working, from technological innovation to maker-spaces, from recording studios to culinary arts, in Green Valley we view the arts broadly,” civic association Vice-Chair Robin Stombler previously said.

As those uses materialize, the county continues its work to expand Jennie Dean Park.

In 2018, the County purchased the warehouse property located at 3514 S. Four Mile Run Drive and later demolished the building. WETA uses the property for parking.

On January 13, 2021, the County purchased 3620 27th St. S., which WETA is leasing for up to five years, or until January 2026. The public radio station will be able to move out of the building once new studios open at its renovated headquarters in Shirlington.

The county says it “could later vacate a significant portion of South 27th Street between the warehouse properties and the WETA property for incorporation into Jennie Dean Park.”


Developer Brookfield has signaled its plans to redevelop the vacant Transportation Security Administration office buildings in Pentagon City.

Last month, Brookfield filed preliminary plans outlining how it will redevelop the site. The filed documents are not site plans that illustrate the buildings it intends to construct, but rather, a high-level overview of what it intends to do with the property.

The real estate company has long had plans to redevelop the TSA buildings, located at 601 and 701 12th Street S., near the Pentagon City Metro entrance and between the Pentagon City mall and the second phase of Amazon’s HQ2. Those plans are currently paused and the buildings have been empty since the TSA left in March 2021 for Springfield, abandoning its original plans to move to Alexandria.

Brookfield put its redevelopment plans on hold in 2020 at the request of Arlington County planners, who were working on a new sector plan to guide future development in Pentagon City, per the Washington Business Journal.

More than a year after the passage of the Pentagon City Sector Plan, Brookfield is taking its first steps toward redeveloping the property, which it is calling “12th Street Landing.”

Brookfield is dividing the property into three land bays, which it will redevelop one at a time, according to land use attorney Kedrick Whitmore. It will apply for site plans for these land bays “in the future,” he adds.

“The proposed development will result in significant improvements to the Property and benefit the Pentagon City community,” per a letter to the county from Whitmore. “Indeed, to enable the requested density increase, the proposed development will provide community benefits on-site, consistent with the recommendations of the Sector Plan.”

The three land bays comprising the proposed 12th Street Landing redevelopment by Brookfield (via Arlington County)

The number of buildings within each land bay and their uses will be finalized at the site plan stage, wrote Whitmore. Brookfield will provide on-site affordable housing but other community benefits will be worked out during the site plan process.

In the application, Brookfield asks the county to approve the maximum allowable density in for the site, as outlined in the Pentagon City Sector Plan. It also asks for permission to allocate that density among “various buildings and uses” once it files site plans for the site.

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Renovations to a pair of office buildings in Crystal City, including the construction of a new pedestrian plaza, are set to wrap up this spring.

Work kicked off last year at the Century Center towers, located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street. Some older retail space between the buildings, previously known as Century One (2450 Crystal Drive) and Century Two (2461 S. Clark Street), was torn down to make room for the plaza.

Now, the upgrades to the 50-year-old buildings and the plaza between them are in the home stretch and set to be completed this spring, per an announcement from MRP Realty and LaSalle Investment Management. As part of the refresh, the towers are being rebranded simply as “Crystal & Clark.”

The exteriors and mall interior of the old Century Center buildings were “dated and washed-out,” per a press release. Now, the buildings “balance modern design with biophilic and organic touches” and feature “vibrant retail.”

The plaza, meanwhile, “is a reimagined central gathering hub between the two buildings,” per the release.  It will be lined by retail, including a new Primrose Schools Early Education & Care location and forthcoming retailers in casual and fine dining, medical care and boutique fitness, as well as a food market, according to the building’s website.

“Century Center was an outmoded design with limited amenities and much-needed indoor/outdoor spaces for the offices, further complemented by the retail-accessible pedestrian plaza shared by the two buildings,” said Frederick Rothmeijer, Founding Principal of MRP’s Development, Construction Management and Asset Management operations, in a statement. “Our strategic plan executed with Davis Construction brings a palpable vitality to this property, and to the neighborhood, located in the center of the burgeoning National Landing.”

As part of the renovations, the plaza has new outdoor seating and gathering areas while the buildings have increased street-level retail and restaurant spaces, as well as streetscape improvements.

Inside, refreshed features include a new lobby and “the largest office conference center in National Landing,” per the press release. That’s in addition to a fitness center with locker rooms, second- and third-floor terraces with indoor and outdoor meeting spaces and a “townhall” amenity space.

“With our keen appreciation of the National Landing neighborhood, we are pleased to see the redevelopment come to fruition,” said Shaun Broome, Managing Director at LaSalle Investment Management. “We believe it will be a significant draw for new tenants and an improved chapter for those who have been onsite for years.”

The renovations have already attracted a “strong contingent of office leases,” despite the difficult office leasing environment, per the release. Arlington’s overall office vacancy rate is currently above 21%.

Raytheon renewed the lease for its corporate headquarters at the Crystal City office complex in 2021, with 120,000 square feet of space on six floors across both buildings.

In total, 2450 Crystal Drive comprises 336,229 square feet of office space and 51,443 square feet of retail. Of that, 36,000 square feet are leased out or a lease is being negotiated. 2461 S. Clark Street has 232,969 square feet of office space and 5,000 square feet of retail now under lease of the total 18,980 available.

“Once prospective tenants visit the site and see this radically improved office and retail environment — especially the food and dining choices, along with a continuing vision set in the very center of National Landing, the value of this position will be undeniable,” said Gary Cook, Senior Vice President Leasing for Lincoln Property Company, in a statement. “The ‘office lifestyle’ here is a game-changer that I believe all current and future tenants celebrate as we seek to bring them new synergistic neighbors to the building.”

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Area 2 Farms, an indoor vertical farm, is opening in Green Valley (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Urban farms and breweries could be coming to a vacant office near you.

Over the weekend, the Arlington County Board approved a series of zoning changes aimed at tackling the stubborn office vacancy rate. They would allow the following tenants to move into offices by right:

  • animal boarding facilities, provided animals are under 24-hour supervision
  • urban farms
  • urban colleges and universities
  • breweries, distilleries and facilities making other craft beverages, such as kombucha and seltzer
  • artisan workshops for small-scale makers working in media such as wood or metal, laser cutters, 3D printers, electronics and sewing machines

Colleges and universities or urban farms previously needed to seek out a site plan amendment, which requires Arlington County Board approval, to operate in spaces previously approved for office or retail use.

The code requires all animal boarding, farming and artisan product-making activities to occur inside the building.

A county report describes this existing process as “overly cumbersome” for entrepreneurs trying to prove their business concept as well as for landlords, “who may be averse to take a risk on a new type of use that may require significant building improvements.”

The changes require farms, craft beverage facilities and artisan workshops to maintain a storefront where they can sell goods made on-site to walk-in customers, which the report says could reinvigorate dead commercial zones.

“Artisan beverage uses can bring new life to vacant buildings, boost leasing demand and, when located in a walkable neighborhood, can attract both existing and potential residents, while creating active third places for the community to gather,” the report said. “By fostering space for small-scale makers, artisans, and the like, a creative economy can grow, and people who may not have the space for such activities in their urban apartments may see this as an attractive neighborhood amenity.”

Some of these uses were allowed along Columbia Pike in the fall of 2021 to encourage greater economic revitalization. At the same time, D.C.-based animal boarding company District Dogs was appealing zoning ordinances curtailing the number of dogs it could board overnight in Clarendon, prompting discussions about expanding the uses approved for the Pike throughout the county.

The next spring, County Manager Mark Schwartz developed a “commercial market resilience strategy” aimed at bringing down the county’s high office vacancy rate, fueled by persistent remote work trends catalyzed by the pandemic. The tool, which includes an expedited public review process, was first used last fall to allow micro-fulfillment centers to operate by-right in vacant office spaces.

In a letter to the County Board, Arlington Chamber of Commerce CEO Kate Bates said the rapid approval of these commercial activities is critical for attracting new and emerging businesses.

“The Chamber believes that the Zoning Ordinance needs reform, and that unnecessary restrictions on commercial use should be removed to help the economy of the County grow,” Bates wrote. “In the wake of record high commercial vacancy, timely change is needed. It is imperative that the County focuses on long-term solutions for new business models, both through increased adaptability for new uses and expedited timeframes for approval of these new uses.” Read More


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