(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) Residents of an aging condo complex near Columbia Pike are embarking on a novel project to upgrade their living situations while dodging staggering condo fees.
Members of the Arlington Heights Condominiums, located on 8th Road S. in the Arlington Mill neighborhood, plan to get the property redeveloped while ensuring every resident who wants to stay can.
First, a developer will build a new 6-story building on the property, into which all 111 existing condo residents can move. Then the existing units will be razed for new housing, which could include apartments for seniors.
“We’re really taking this thing into our own hands,” says Andrew Pitts, the president of the condo association. “If we figure this out and we’re successful, other condos in Arlington that are struggling with these same issues will have a roadmap.”
Arlington Heights is a garden-style complex in South Arlington built during the post-World War II housing boom. It has a diverse population, including about a quarter who are immigrants and some who do not speak English proficiently.
It has seen better days, however. Resident Kenneth Trotter says circuit breakers frequently blow and buildings need upgrades to roofing, windows, plumbing, and electrical systems.
“Implementing these upgrades would incur substantial expenses and lead to high assessments for the member,” he said.
A soup-to-nuts rehabilitation could cost $15 million, or roughly $150,000 per resident in condo fees, Pitts said. This would price out a number of owners, himself included, over the next decade.
Those who sell would likely neither profit from the sale nor pocket enough to buy elsewhere in Arlington. Homes in the complex already have higher condo fees and sell for less than other nearby, newer units, according to a financial analysis prepared for residents.
So the association hired a developer, architect, contractor and land-use attorneys, and partnered with a bank, to wade through muddy legal waters and find a solution.
One year later, the team came up with the phased plan to build a new complex, move residents in and redevelop the rest of the property. Pitts says condo owners could spend $78,000 on condo fees and end up with new homes, a shared clubhouse and other amenities, compared to $150,000 just for rehabbed units.
“The existing homeowners are delivered a tremendous housing upgrade and increase in property value without being displaced from their community,” he said. “The development team has the land and flexibility to deliver a community of properties that fits the demands of a wide range of owners and renters.”
A condo association in Shirlington rolled out tips both smoking and non-smoking homes can implement to prevent the spread of stray smoke.
One suggestion, targeted to marijuana users, is blunt: consider switching to edibles.
Confronted with mounting complaints from residents about smoke from neighbors infiltrating their homes, management for Fairlington Villages reminded smoking residents to be mindful of their neighbors.
The issue is most acute within multifamily buildings in the community, which consists of townhomes and apartments in 2-4 story buildings around S. Abingdon Street in the Shirlington neighborhood. General Manager Gregory Roby told ARLnow his office gets complaints from tenants roughly once a month about tobacco and marijuana smoke drifting from one unit to another.
“This problem was on the decrease, corresponding to the decreasing number of people smoking tobacco products, but has started to turn around with the legalization and ready availability of marijuana,” he said.
On its website and on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, management suggested different tips for smokers and non-smokers to smoke-proof their homes.
2. Place a wet towel at the bottom of your door to prevent the smoke and odor from entering the hallway.
3. For marijuana consumers, consult your prescribing physician to determine whether edibles may be an effective and non-intrusive delivery method in lieu of smoking.
— Fairlington Villages (@NFairlington) August 9, 2023
In the thread, Fairlington Villages thanked residents in advance for any steps they take to mitigate the negative effects of smoking. While cigarette smokers have to find ways to keep the smoke in, or purify what does escape, the message notes marijuana users can talk to a doctor about switching to edibles.
People need a doctor’s note to get medical marijuana from a dispensary. Arlington’s first medical dispensary opened earlier this year — about a year and a half after Virginia legalized marijuana possession. State efforts to build up an industry around the plant have stalled.
Roby attributes the issue of smoke transferring among units to the age of Fairlington Villages, built more than 75 years ago. He said the walls have large gaps behind cabinets and appliances, as well as open spaces between units, through which smoke pass and even seep into common stairwells.
“Sealing these openings, as well as common-wall outlets, etc., can help decrease unit-to-unit transference,” he noted. “Creating negative pressure in the unit, either by opening a window (depending upon outside pressure) or turning on exhaust fans, helps draw fresh air into the stairwells and units, minimizing the possibility of unit-to-hallway transfer.”
(Updated at 5 p.m.) Proposed infill development for the RiverHouse site in Pentagon City is coming into focus with more renderings from the developer.
Reprising long-envisioned intentions to redevelop the expansive property, JBG Smith filed plans last year proposing apartments, senior housing, condos and townhomes on the surface parking lots on the RiverHouse site. Existing apartment towers will stay and more units within them will be set aside for affordable housing.
Arlington County has yet to officially accept JBG Smith’s application, a step that would kick off a formal community engagement and review process, which the developer anticipates will culminate in Arlington County Board review by the end of 2023.
On Thursday, more than 100 residents, neighbors, other community stakeholders attended an open house, in which JBG Smith shared renderings showing how it proposes shorter and fewer buildings than what is allowed in the Pentagon City Sector Plan, a document guiding decades of development in the area.
“As our design team has developed our plans for the RiverHouse Neighborhood, we have benefited from the active participation and input from existing residents, neighbors, and other community stakeholders,” JBG Smith said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate in the coming months as we advance a shared vision for our neighborhood.”
After the meeting, residents tell ARLnow they are hoping for more collaboration to improve “livability” on the site and in the surrounding area, through more community benefits and supporting infrastructure, per the Arlington Ridge Civic Association President Kateri Garcia and the local group Dense That Makes Sense.
“How do we know the infrastructure in place is going to be enough to meet the demand of all these additional people?” Garcia said. “What are the benefits we most need in this area? … We already have a community center and library that is out of date. How can we use the investment to improve those facilities to right-size them for the future population?”
Some Arlington Ridge residents welcome, for instance, the lower heights. Before the Arlington County Board adopted the sector plan in February 2022, some residents rallied against the height maximums the plan would allow on the RiverHouse site, potentially blocking the skyline view some enjoy in the condos and homes that line Arlington Ridge Road.
“The October 2022 plan is a more reasonable plan than what Arlington County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) proposed in its Pentagon City Sector Plan that was accepted by the County Board at its February 12, 2022 meeting,” according to Dense That Makes Sense, a group of residents who organized on this issue.
That said, the group said it does not endorse the 2022 plan, nor does it necessarily endorse plans JBG Smith put forward in 2019, which it says is the best of the three visions for the site. It argues that further study of the site is needed to figure out what supporting infrastructure is needed before JBG Smith moves forward.
Construction of a mid-rise condo building near Rosslyn and Courthouse could be finished this winter.
Dubbed the Avant, the multifamily structure is located at 1201 N. Quinn Street, south of Arlington Blvd, in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood. Housing nearby is mostly comprised of other mid-rise multifamily buildings.
Once completed, the development from Arlington-based Atlas Development Partners, will be four stories with 12 units and a garage. There are two 1-bedroom, seven 2-bedroom and three 3-bedroom condos.
Two of the units have been purchased already, said a spokesperson for The Centurion Group, a division of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, which is marketing the project.
“We expect to list units for sale in November,” he said.
Construction began three years ago and was anticipated to last 30 months, he said.
But one observer told ARLnow that work has progressed in fits and starts, wondering whether it will ever be finished. It’s nearly completed, and the reason behind the delays are Covid- and supply chain-related, we’re told.
“There were significant delays and material price increases during Covid,” the spokesman said. “Some materials and appliances were on back order for a year.”
Pricing begins at $485,000 for a 1-bedroom, $765,000 for a 2-bedroom and $975,000 for a 3-bedroom unit, according to the website.
The website says the neighborhood “provides a quiet and private corner separated from the county center.”
Still, situated near Metro stations on the Orange Line, the neighborhood offers “convenient car-free commuting options as well as convenient and walkable access to upscale urban amenities ranging from dining, shopping, bars, nightclubs, theaters, parks, and more,” the website adds.
(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) Arlington County police are conducting a death investigation after an apparent fall from a high-rise condo in Ballston.
Numerous police units could be seen Monday afternoon and evening around The Continental condo building at 851 N. Glebe Road, near the Westin hotel and the P.F. Chang’s restaurant. A photo sent by a reader shows a tent set up by police in an alley next to the building.
Police first responded to the scene shortly after 3:30 p.m. Initial reports suggest that someone had died and an investigation was underway on the ground and on the 17th floor of the building.
“ACPD is conducting a death investigation in the 800 block of N. Glebe Road,” police department spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed Monday night to ARLnow. “This appears to be an isolated incident and the preliminary investigation has not revealed an ongoing threat to the community. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death.”
Savage also confirmed a report that someone had been led away in handcuffs, but said it was on a drug charge.
“An adult female was arrested on a narcotics charge,” she said. “Officers remain on scene investigating.”
No other details were immediately available. A resident of the building said they were kept in the dark about what exactly was happening.
“They are not telling residents anything,” the resident told ARLnow.
An electrical worker is fighting for his or her life after an incident this morning near Pentagon City.
Firefighters were called to The Representative condominium tower at 1101 S. Arlington Ridge Road around 9:30 a.m. for a report of an electrocution and a fire on the roof, according to scanner traffic. The fire was out by the time crews reached the scene but two injured workers were found and taken to the hospital.
On social media, the Arlington County Fire Department described what happened as a “small electrical fire.” The reported injuries, however, were serious, ACFD said — one worker had critical injuries while another had serious but non-life threatening injuries.
The Arlington County fire marshal’s office is investigating what happened alongside occupational safety authorities, ACFD said.
The road in front of the condo building was at least partially blocked earlier today as a result of the sizable emergency response.
#Final – Two patients transported to an area hospital. One patient with critical injuries, and one with serious but non-life threatening injuries. OSHA, @ArlingtonVaPD, and our Fire Marshal’s will remain on the scene to investigate.
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) July 6, 2022
Residents of an apartment complex off Columbia Pike were without water and air conditioning over Memorial Day weekend — and are still waiting on the AC to return.
The air conditioning and hot water stopped functioning on Friday at Dominion Towers Apartments, at 1201 S. Courthouse Road. On Sunday evening, water to the building was shut off completely, residents told ARLnow.
“The main water shut-off valve that is controlled by Arlington County has broken, which is why there’s no water to the building,” an email sent from owner Capital Investment Advisors to residents on Sunday read. “In order to resolve this issue, we will need Arlington County and a plumber. Considering it’s a holiday weekend, Maintenance is doing everything they can to contact emergency personnel to assist.”
Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services said management’s description of the issue was not exactly what happened, however.
The broken valve was inside the building’s boiler room and was not owned by the county, DES spokesman Peter Golkin said, but after the valve failed and the complex was unable to find a replacement during the holiday weekend the county offered one it had.
“The Water, Sewer, Streets Bureau actually had a replacement in its inventory and offered it up as a courtesy with the building agreeing to reimburse for a new valve,” Golkin told ARLnow. “The Bureau shut off the main to the building on Sunday to allow for the repair and restored that service from the public main yesterday.”
Running water was restored Monday evening but hot water and air conditioning were still not functioning as of Tuesday afternoon. An email from management said the AC has not been restored due to low water pressure.
“County staff was only involved in going above and beyond to help the residents of the apartment building get their water service back as soon as possible during a long, hot holiday weekend,” Golkin noted.
In an email to ARLnow on Monday, one resident said the property manager “has not been on site all weekend and there has been no timetable for when water and a/c will be restored.”
Another resident told us that management has told its tenants that it hopes to restore both the air conditioning and the hot water by the end of the day today.
To add a bit of extra drama to the situation, the fire department was called to the building earlier this afternoon for a report of a fire, though in the end they only found burnt food on a stove in an eighth floor apartment.
Dominion Towers previously made headlines in May 2018 after the air conditioning malfunctioned and left residents sweltering during a several day stretch of particularly hot weather.
Meanwhile, another large Arlington residential building suffered a multi-day utility outage last week.
Hundreds of residents in The Brittany condominium complex at 4500 S. Four Mile Run Drive found themselves in a similar situation heading into the weekend, without running water for 2+ days last week. For them, it was resolved by Friday afternoon.
The Arlington County Fire Department extinguished a small fire in a Fairlington condominium Wednesday afternoon.
Firefighters responded to the 3300 block of S. Wakefield Drive around noon for the report of a fire inside a residence at Fairlington Commons condo community. Police closed the street due to the large emergency response, which is ACFD’s standard operating procedure for any structure fire call.
The fire was extinguished quickly and no injuries were reported, spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner said. Firefighters worked to ventilate smoke from the building after the flames were brought under control.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Hiner said.
(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Firefighters from Arlington and neighboring jurisdictions battled a house fire near Shirlington.
Fire companies were initially dispatched to the Windgate townhouse development on the 2500 block of S. Arlington Mill Road for a reported electrical fire. The fire turned out to be at the nextdoor Heatherlea condo complex, along 28th Road S.
Flames were visible from the outside of the residence when the first firefighters arrived on scene, according to radio traffic. The fire was mostly contained to the home’s exterior and was extinguished before it could spread further.
Everyone was able to get out of the home and so far no injuries have been reported.
Arlington County is looking to restart an initiative aimed at helping condominium owners stay in their condos that was halted by the pandemic.
The Condominium Initiative, which is part of the county’s Housing Arlington program, is focused on strengthening condo associations. A series of workshops this fall will include information on when capital improvement assessments should be performed and who should do them.
“We are currently working with the City of Alexandria, with whom we had co-sponsored the previous workshops, to schedule more events,” said Elise Cleva, the acting spokeswoman for Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.
County staff involved with the Condo Initiative are considering some ideas such as small loans to help low- and moderate-income and elderly condo owners pay for repairs and assessments.
“No specific program has been developed and no funding source has been identified,” Cleva said. “Instead, staff is focusing on outreach at this time, with a goal of becoming more familiar with the issues that are of greatest concern for condominium developments; particularly those that are considered ‘affordable’ homeownership.”
Condo affordability and safety have been on County Board member Christian Dorsey’s radar since 2019 — but the issues have been on the back-burner due to other Housing Arlington initiatives, such as the ongoing study of “Missing Middle” housing stock, which will examine how Arlington can increase the supply of townhomes and duplexes, among other issues.
Dorsey tells ARLnow the county needs to get the ball rolling on its condo initiative if it wants to get ahead of problems that are bound to befall aging condos later on. The issue took on a greater sense of urgency after news broke of a condo building collapsing in the Miami area late last month.
Dorsey said he is not worried about a disaster of that scale happening in Arlington, but he is worried about deferred maintenance. Condo owners are responsible for regular assessments and for maintenance, but when the costs become too great, the work often gets put off. Eventually, it compounds, he said, and people opt to sell rather than fix their building.
“I think it’s an emerging problem — one thing that doesn’t reveal itself to you until it becomes catastrophic,” Dorsey said.
In 2016, the county sent surveys to 134 condo association contacts. Of the 16 that responded, 11 were deemed “potentially affordable,” with sale prices less than $500,000. According to a survey summary, one building was less than 20 years old and three were less than 50 years old, and the most common capital needs were aging or deteriorating roofs, structural issues and old mechanical systems.
At the time, however, the 16 respondents expressed “minimal interest” in workshops or technical assistance, and only one development said it did not have the money to make repairs, the summary said.
“These results suggest the need to intensify efforts to contact condo associations and engage them in identifying needs and interests and planning for a program of services, activities and financial assistance,” the summary said.
But conditions have changed since that survey, Dorsey said. Over the last couple of years, the County Board has received a growing number of accounts of deferred maintenance in certain condo communities, a trend that he predicted will continue as wages stagnate and fees climb.
He added that the work should start now because sustainable solutions will require federal policies, which could take a few years to hammer out, he said. The board member said he wants monthly fees and assessments to be tax deductible just as interest on mortgages for homes is tax deductible.
“The reason I think the federal government has a role here is first, equity — not disadvantaging by homeownership type — and second, the level of government subsidy that would be required is significant,” he said.
Federal low-interest loans — such as those done during natural disasters — could also help condo associations pay for assessments, he said.
(Updated at 9:25 p.m.) Firefighters responded to the high-end Turnberry Tower condo building in Rosslyn to battle a reported fire on the roof Tuesday afternoon.
An HVAC unit caught fire atop the high-rise building, sending a small column of dark smoke rising in the air. The fire was quickly extinguished after firefighters made it onto the roof.
Police closed at least one street around the complex due to the large initial fire department response.
#Update Units isolated the fire to an air handler on the roof with no impact to the floors below. Units are going in service shortly after cleaning up.
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) March 9, 2021