Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Nonprofit Won’t Return to Arlington Office — “The American Diabetes Association isn’t planning a return to the Crystal City headquarters it left Alexandria for a few years back, not even when a Covid-19 vaccine is readily available and it’s safe to go back to the office again. The nonprofit is seeking to sublease all of its space at 2451 Crystal Drive, about 80,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Voter Registration Open Until Midnight — “A judge on Wednesday granted a request from civil rights groups to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline until Oct. 15 after the state’s online system crashed on the final day of the registration period, according to Virginia’s attorney general.” [Axios, Press Release]

Oh, Deer — The regional deer population has been increasing during the pandemic, which is making driving more dangerous this fall as deer potentially become “too comfortable” around roads. [NBC 4]

Park Rangers Patrolling for Rogue Mountain Bikers — “Park rangers have been patrolling the parks to keep the mountain bike riders off the natural trails. ‘We put up barriers in places where we can. We put up signs … in key areas we put up some things to block their access … but we’re focusing on education,’ Abugattas said.” [WTOP]

Voting Lines Should Move Quickly — “Arlington election officials are advising the public not to be dissuaded if lines for voting, either in advance of Nov. 3 or on Election Day itself, seem long. ‘You can expect to see a pretty long line, but that’s because of the spacing we’re trying to put between voters,’ county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” Also, the Reinemeyer said the county is already fully staffed with volunteer poll workers. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Certification for Sheriff’s Office — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier this year.” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Planning Meeting Tonight — “Participate in a virtual workshop about Arlington’s community planning process for Pentagon City! The first workshop will include small group discussions about the community’s vision for the Pentagon City Area.” [Arlington County]

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Arlington County officials are considering new administrative guidance to streamline the process of converting office buildings into residential buildings.

Such conversions would remain subject to County Board approval, but a new set of guidelines being considered by county staff would make the review and recommendation process easier.

In a presentation, expected to be given to the county’s Long Range Planning Committee at its meeting tonight, officials will say that trends both local and national will lead to a wave of office building conversions. Underlying that is the pandemic and the shift to working from home, potentially leading to less demand for office space.

The trends, however, started before the pandemic, with an “observed reduction in office demand — nationally, regionally and locally — over the past decade resulting limited economic feasibility for speculative multi-tenant office buildings.”

Recent office-to-residential conversions in Arlington include the WeLive/WeWork building in Crystal City. Future projects like it need a better-defined path from proposal to County Board consideration, county staff says.

“Neighboring jurisdictions are actively addressing issues around use flexibility,” the presentation notes. “Alexandria and Fairfax County have adopted policies related to this issue and have approved projects implementing them whereas Arlington County has approved projects with no guiding policy to date.”

The guidance will not change existing County Board policies, the presentation asserts, but will help staff when reviewing office conversion proposals.

“In advance of evaluating the appropriateness of new office conversion requests, staff developed this administrative guidance for use during staff review, community discussion and [County Manager] recommendation to the [County Board] on the proposed conversion,” the presentation says. “This guidance is not [County Board] policy, and does not change existing [County Board] policy or alter existing land use processes.”

The law firm McGuireWoods is telling its clients, however, that the changes will “increase flexibility and support for repurposing existing and approved office buildings.”

“The new administrative guidance is expected to give developers and property owners much-needed flexibility to consider residential, live-work and other options that, in many cases, could be beyond what existing planning guidance permits,” the firm said on its website. “Outreach is currently underway with business community stakeholders and decision makers and will continue in the upcoming weeks. The administrative guidance will likely be in place by the end of 2020.”

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Monday Properties, which is best known locally for being the predominant owner of office buildings in Rosslyn, is making its second recent purchase in the Shirlington area.

Monday, in a joint venture with London-based neo capital, is acquiring Shirlington Tower at 2900 S. Quincy Street. The nearly quarter-million square foot office building is mostly filled, with tenants like the U.S. Navy and the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

It’s the second Shirlington office tower the company has acquired in as many years, after the purchase of 2800 S. Shirlington Road, a gleaming tower adjacent to the highway that contains a number of medical offices, among other tenants. Office properties outside of Metro corridors had previously fallen out of favor in the local commercial real estate world, but this transaction suggests that perhaps something is different about Shirlington.

In a press release, Monday touts Shirlington’s live-work-play amenities — including retail stores, restaurants, the Shirlington library, apartment buildings, theaters and a grocery store — plus its proximity to Amazon’s future HQ2, just up I-395 in Pentagon City.

“Shirlington Tower marks the second acquisition Monday Properties made in the Shirlington submarket within the last two years, and we are pleased to have partnered with neo capital,” Tim Helmig, Managing Partner at Monday Properties, said in a press release. “We remain bullish on forward-looking regional market fundamentals and intend to continue our momentum as active buyers in the marketplace.”

More from the company’s press release, below.

Monday Properties and neo capital today announced their joint venture acquisition of Shirlington Tower, a 233,446 square-foot office building located in the heart of Shirlington… in Arlington, Virginia. Shirlington Tower is 97% leased to an array of notable tenants including the U.S. Navy, HNTB Corporation, The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, and Halfaker & Associates. Onsite amenities include a 12,000 square-foot fitness center, outdoor courtyard, and a variety of retail stores and restaurants.

“The DC region has again demonstrated its resiliency to economic downturns. Despite the turbulent market conditions brought on by COVID-19, the area remains attractive to businesses, investors, and residents,” said Wes Machowsky, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Capital Transactions at Monday Properties. “The acquisition of Shirlington Tower is the result of a collaborative effort by all parties involved, and we are well-positioned to continue to strategically grow our portfolio in spite of the pandemic-related headwinds confronting the capital markets.”

Shirlington Tower is located less than two miles from both National Landing — home to the future Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus — and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. Shirlington Tower is connected to Shirlington [Village], with extensive multifamily and retail product, and experiential amenities that include an AMC movie theatre, Harris Teeter, and [the Shirlington Branch] Library, along with restaurants, shops, and entertainment options.

A representative from neo capital said “Our acquisition of Shirlington Tower is an important part of our strategic portfolio growth in the United States. This is exactly the type of asset and market neo capital is looking to invest in — exceptional job growth, great regional connectivity, and best-in-class tenants. We see a lot of value in the DC region and will look to invest further here and in other strong performing U.S. cities.”

“Shirlington Tower marks the second acquisition Monday Properties made in the Shirlington submarket within the last two years, and we are pleased to have partnered with neo capital,” said Tim Helmig, Managing Partner at Monday Properties. “We remain bullish on forward-looking regional market fundamentals and intend to continue our momentum as active buyers in the marketplace.”

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It’s a curious sight: a house in the middle of Ballston, in the midst of apartment and office towers.

But it’s not really a house, it’s a commercial building that most recently served as a Chinese restaurant called Sichuan Wok, and thus its fate is of some local interest.

The restaurant closed in 2018 and the property went on the market last fall for $3.2 million. The original listing for the property deemed it an “excellent opportunity for an investor, developer, or user.”

As of June 18, according to county records, the property at 901 N. Quincy Street has a new owner.

A Columbia Pike resident paid $3 million for the 3,000 square foot building and the 5,200 square foot commercial lot on which it sits, according to public records.

It’s not immediately clear what the new owner’s long term plans are for the building, which is configured as a restaurant. But a building permit application suggests that the owner — under the name Roxanna LLC — intends to build an addition and open a spa.

“Alteration of the space with new tenant layout and addition to the existing building for new use of a spa,” the permit application says.

There’s no word on when the work will take place, nor when the spa might eventually open.

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Morning Notes

Amazon Buys Hotel Next to HQ2 Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has purchased the Residence Inn by Marriott in Pentagon City with plans to demolish it and expand its second headquarters, the company tells the Washington Business Journal. Acorn Development LLC, an Amazon subsidiary, paid $148.5 million for the building and its 1.5-acre site at 550 Army Navy Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Trail Roundabout Now In Use — A new roundabout along the Custis Trail is now in use, improving safety at a formerly hazardous T-intersection in Bon Air Park. [Twitter]

Changes for Missing Middle Housing Study — “Staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) presented to the County Board a revised Missing Middle Housing Study Scope and Charge, which was shaped by community feedback and informed by research.” [Arlington County]

Optimists Now Meeting in Person — “While many other service organizations across Northern Virginia have curtailed operations or moved to an online-only presence due to the public-health situation, the Optimist Club of Arlington is back with in-person meetings. The local club… resumed its twice-monthly meetings in July at Washington Golf & Country Club, with appropriate precautions.” [InsideNova]

Robo Mower Snatched, But Then Returned — “Though not a tale of high crimes and misdemeanors, the brief disappearance Tuesday morning of ‘Shultzy’ the robotic AutoMower caused a degree of excitement for one Maywood family.” [Patch]

ACFD Touts First ‘Whole Blood’ Use — “Crews responded for a person that suffered serious injuries after a long fall on Monday. Medics quickly administered whole blood, helping to stabilize the patient’s vital signs. This was the first use of our innovative whole blood program implemented earlier this month.” [Twitter]

Today: Virtual Pike Progress Luncheon — “Support our community with this year’s virtual ‘luncheon’ benefit! While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Columbia Pike, the region and indeed the world, our community is still strong.” [ARLnow Events, CPRO]

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) After years of stalled plans, concepts for a new public plaza and office building in Virginia Square are taking shape.

Arlington County and developer Skanska released two new concept designs for the plaza as part of a community engagement process for the planned development, located near Arlington Central Library. The county is seeking feedback on the designs, which have changed since the development was first approved in 2012.

The site at 3901 Fairfax Drive once housed the Arlington Funeral Home, but has been a parking lot since the funeral home was demolished in June 2012. The site plan was amended twice, in 2015 and 2018, to extend the term of the original plan and allow the location to be used for temporary parking.

Skanska bought the property, after years of development limbo, in October 2019.

In its latest iteration, the building now includes 10,280 square feet of space for retail tenants at the bottom level, with storefronts featuring roll-up doors that open to the plaza, and 184,036 square feet of office space.

Designs for the plaza have been updated due to changes to the building design, including the removal of a proposed black box theater and tweaks to the ground floor retail space. The two new, proposed designs for the .2-acre public plaza are dubbed “The Serene Urban Oasis” and “The Breezy Public Forum.”

“Neighbors, patrons of nearby businesses, and library goers can use this space to chat, play, or even get started on that new book they’ve checked out,” says the project website.

“The Serene Urban Oasis” features a passive water feature that is proposed as “more of a sculptural object,” according to John Becker, an architect for CallisonRTKL Inc. and project manager for the development.

“The Breezy Public Forum,” trades the water feature in the first concept for an overhead shade structure in a small area on the northern side of the plaza. It also integrates ornamental trees in the paved area to allow for additional shade.

Both concepts feature a smaller paved area on the north end of the plaza, with a larger paved area on the south. They also feature trees along the sidewalks, berms with inset benches, moveable tables and chairs, and a seating zone for retail. Interactive play elements are also a listed possibility.

County-standard streetlights surround the perimeter of the site on the sidewalk. A mixture of hidden, direct and indirect LED lighting is included with both concepts. Both designs are accessible for those with disabilities.

The original plaza budget — which is funded by the developer — was $825,000, but now sits at $914,000 after being adjusted for inflation.

“Through estimates, we believe that the schemes presented are capable of being delivered within the $914,000 budget,” Becker said.

Feedback received on concepts for the plaza will be used to create a “hybrid of these two preliminary concepts” that will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 27 for review, according to planners. The County Board will consider the final concept as a part of a site plan amendment in November.

There is no listed timeline for the start of construction on the project.

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Morning Notes

Fall Officially Starts Today — “While many of us think of the first day of fall as a full calendar day, the equinox itself is a rather fleeting astronomical event. It happens at a precise moment when the sun’s direct rays are straight over Earth’s equator. This year’s equinox is at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on Sept. 22.” [Capital Weather Gang]

JBG Acquires Local 5G Radio Spectrum — “JBG Smith Properties has paid $25.3 million for licenses to use small parts of a new class of wireless spectrum to set up a 5G internet network in National Landing, home to Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters and Virginia Tech’s innovation campus.” [Washington Business JournalPress Release]

County Board Challenger Amps Up Rhetoric — “Is Arlington’s political ruling elite a bunch of preening political poseurs unwilling to do the heavy lifting of implementing a truly progressive agenda for the community? That somewhat uncharitable (and decidedly paraphrased here) assessment comes  from Audrey Clement, the perennial independent candidate for office who this year is facing off against County Board Chairman Libby Garvey.” [InsideNova]

County Launches New Data Portal — “Arlington County today unveiled a new Open Data Portal with several benefits and features that make it easier than ever to access and use Arlington data. The new portal, a centerpiece of the County’s Open Government Program, builds upon the first open data solution that launched in 2016.” [Arlington County]

Robbery Suspect Arrested in Pentagon City — “At approximately 3:36 p.m. on September 19, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect allegedly stole merchandise from a business without paying. Upon being confronted by loss prevention at the exit, the suspect allegedly brandished a knife, then fled on foot. The victim was not injured. Arriving officers located the suspect in the Pentagon City Metro, still in possession of stolen merchandise.” [Arlington County]

Postal Service Keeping Rosslyn Office — “The United States Postal Service has tacked on an additional 3 years to its office lease at the International Place building in Arlington, Virginia, but will give up one of its floors in the process.” [CoStar]

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An new tenant in Ballston helps adults in need of a boost to establish foundational computer skills, ultimately expanding their career opportunities.

Called Computer CORE, the educational nonprofit offers courses in Google Suite, email, internet basics, computer security, community college math and similar fields to underserved adults. The classes help workers increase their salary by $10k on average.

The new educational facility will be located in a 3,500 square foot space in the Ballston Exchange complex, across Wilson Blvd from Ballston Quarter mall. The Ballston Business Improvement District coordinated the agreement between Computer CORE and Jamestown, the building’s owner, a press release said.

Overall, Computer CORE has around 150 students, roughly 70 of which will be able to use the new space, according to a spokesperson. In terms of group demographics, around 70% of all enrolled students identify as women and 95% are people of color, according to the organization’s website.

Though the center is only set to remain in the Ballston Exchange through the end of 2020, there is a possibility to extend the agreement, according to a spokesperson.

The location was partially chosen because of its proximity to a Metro station and Ballston’s nearby amenities, Tina Leone, the Ballston BID’s CEO said in the press release.

Computer CORE also offers help with resume review, the job search process and interview prep. Program applicants must live in the Northern Virginia area, be at least 18 years old, be motivated to find a job and have demonstrated need for the classes, according to the website.

Currently, 350 other students are on a waiting list to attend classes, the spokesperson said.

Photo courtesy Ballston BID

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Across the region, office buildings have remained largely sparsely populated since the start of the pandemic, with most employees working from home.

It might stay that way for awhile.

“It could be next summer before the bulk of the Washington region’s workers return to their offices after months spent teleworking because of the novel coronavirus, according to a new survey,” the Washington Post reported yesterday. That has big implications for traffic, for commercial real estate, and for the business that serves workers in central business districts.

While some have returned to the office in the six months since the start of the pandemic, a study led by the Greater Washington Partnership found that many employers are still not sure when they’ll bring workers back. The study, according to the Post, says that a third of employees are expected to resume commuting to the office this fall, 40% this spring, and 72% by next summer.

Those figures, of course, are largely a function of the desire of employers to bring workers back into offices. In this morning’s poll, we wanted to ask those that work in offices: when do you want to come back?

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A prime triangle of land in Courthouse is expected to remain largely vacant through next year.

The property at the corner of Wilson Blvd. and N. Courthouse Road once housed a Wendy’s. The fast food restaurant was torn down in 2016, in anticipation of the construction of a 12-story office building, which was approved the year before. More than four years after the demolition, however, there’s still no office building.

Instead, the lot has been used as a construction staging site over the past year, and this weekend the Arlington County Board is expected to approve the renewal of the construction staging use permit.

In a report to the Board, county staff say the lot is still needed for the construction of a new condo building at 2000 Clarendon Blvd, after the project was delayed by the pandemic.

“Although the approved use was initially anticipated to last no longer than one (1) year, the applicant has requested to extend the use for additional time due to delays in construction related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the staff report says. “At the current time, the applicant is utilizing this site primarily for contractor parking.”

If approved, the use permit for the staging site would be valid for another year before the next County Board review. The 2000 Clarendon Blvd project is expected to wrap up in 2021.

Also in the report, county staff note that some nearby residents have complained about trash in and around the former Wendy’s site. That is being addressed, the report says.

This is a one (1) year review of a use permit associated with a site plan for a temporary off-site contractor’s storage and staging area, located at 2026 and 2038 Wilson Blvd. Radnor/Fort-Myer Heights Civic Association, the host civic association expressed concerns regarding maintenance of the sidewalk and trash pick-up around the site. Staff has relayed these comments to the applicant who acknowledged that he will remind contractors parking at this location to not litter within the public right-of-way.

In April, the County Board extended the approved site plan for the office building at the Wendy’s site for another three years, through July 1, 2023.

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PBS is asking the Arlington County Board permission to add its logo to the top of its new headquarters in Crystal City.

The public broadcasting network is moving from its current space at 2100 Crystal Drive to the northern corner of the neighborhood, at 1225 S. Clark Street, after signing a 15-year-lease for 120,000 square feet of office space last year.

There’s just one problem: the new headquarters building has a condition placed on it, from its original county approval in 1979, specifying that no rooftop signs be placed. PBS is asking the County Board, at its meeting this Saturday, to scrap the 40-year-old restriction and allow its logo to grace the top of the office tower.

From a county staff report:

The subject site consists of four (4) office buildings on individual parcels of land, and the associated underground parking; the buildings also have a small amount of below grade retail in the Crystal City Underground. The buildings are part of the larger Crystal Gateway mixed-use site plan that was originally approved in its current form by the County Board in 1979, with an additional major amendment approved in 1984. Crystal Gateway has approximately 1,380,000 square feet of office and commercial use and 242 dwelling units in two (2) condominium buildings.

The original approval of the Crystal Gateway site plan in 1979 included a condition (#3) that prohibited the installation of rooftop signs. A comprehensive sign plan for the Crystal Gateway site plan project was initially approved by the County Board in 1983 and was amended several times. Additionally, the site plan has been amended twice to specifically allow rooftop signs on separate office buildings within the project boundaries. The applicant now requests that the restrictive condition prohibiting the installation of rooftop signs be eliminated to allow for sign permits to be obtained for the buildings in a manner consistent with the current provisions of Article 13 of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance

The new PBS headquarters is located next to the U.S. Marshals Service headquarters and a couple of blocks from Amazon’s under-construction HQ2.

“We are thrilled that PBS will remain in Crystal City, especially during such a transformative and exciting time for this community,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said last year. “Keeping our headquarters in Arlington is great for PBS and our employees, and we’re proud to call ‘National Landing’ our home.”

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