Arlington, VA

Last night, the Arlington County Board denied developer Penzance permission to extend construction hours on a luxury condo project in Rosslyn.

The Board unanimously rejected the request to add an extra hour of work in the mornings, allowing crews to start at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends, after dozens of residents testified about numerous problems they have already endured with the existing schedule.

Board member Katie Cristol introduced the motion denying the request during the Board’s Tuesday night meeting. While she appreciated Penzance’s desire to speed up its construction process, she couldn’t support “literally unprecedented” construction hours that would be, “an awfully extraordinary action given the resounding comments we’ve heard from the neighboring property owners.”

Cristol noted that the request would only shave a few weeks off the construction schedule, which is projected to wrap up in January 2020. Penzance is building a trio of high-rises on the 1500 block of Wilson Blvd — collectively dubbed The Highlands — with 884 luxury housing units and 40,000 square feet of retail space.

Dozens of residents of the Atrium Condominium building, which is located behind the development site, showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to voice their opposition to Penzance’s request.

“I apologize and thank the community on behalf of the county for what sounds like pure hell for some of you, and I can appreciate that that’s no fun,” said Board member Erik Gutshall, after listening to their testimony. “So stick with us. Nobody sell your unit. No one leave. We will get through this. It’s going to be a beautiful great place and I appreciate folks who can see past that.”

Susan Miller, a 30-year resident of the Atrium, said she has “never seen anything like the horror that this project has brought to this community that we are in,” citing noise and dust and dirt that permeate her balcony.

Another long time resident, Pendita Welch, said that the noise is so loud she has to take phone calls in her closet, and worried that vibrations could be causing her walls to crack.

“I live on the back of the building, and I am partially deaf,” said resident Kelly Davidson, who spoke through tears. “And I can tell you that the noise is loud enough, at nearly the top of the building, partially deaf, to wake me in a startle.”

Davidson told the Board she now has to take medication for frequent migraines.

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The Arlington County Board voted last night to advance long-awaited plans for a new public boathouse in Rosslyn.

Members unanimously voted to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to sign an agreement with the National Park Service, which will allow the federal agency to end its environmental assessment of the project and kick off the design phase.

Board Chair Christian Dorsey said the vote “sets the stage” for the next steps in the process, which will be “subject to further testing and analysis.”

The current design plans call for a 14,000-square-foot boathouse and a 300-foot-long dock along with lockers and bathrooms in another building with parking and road access.

Prior to the vote, several residents expressed concerns that building on the proposed site at 1101 Lee Highway would lead to trees being cut down, among other environmental impacts that NPS also initially feared. Three residents asked why Gravelly Point could not be considered as an alternative location, but officials did not directly respond to the question.

Board member Erik Gutshall said the future design process will wrestle with many of those details, so there was no reason not to move forward with the “broad brush” of the project Tuesday night.

Some residents also expressed concern that the boathouse could “turn Key Bridge into a traffic nightmare during rush hour,” as independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement put it.

Environmental & Energy Conservation Commission member Claire O’Dea said the commission did not have an official recommendation to offer, but that “because of the likelihood of significant environmental impact” the group urged the County Board to involve all stakeholders throughout the development process.

Erik Meyers, Arlington resident and president of the Arlington Boathouse Foundation, said the foundation has brainstormed ways to build the boathouse “to sit as lightly as possible on the land and with respect to the river.” He added that signing the agreement would help “a community that has been long separated from its historic shoreline.”

Another resident said she’s travelled to the Georgetown boathouse for the last 12 years to row and would welcome a facility on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

“It would be fantastic to have facilities in Rosslyn,” she said. “It gives Arlington County residents and high school rowing programs closer and safer access to the river.”

The county has been in talks to build the boathouse for over 20 years. NPS’ environmental assessment began in 2012 but stalled soon after before being revived in 2016.

Images via Arlington County

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The Arlington County Board voted to fund several transportation projects this weekend that officials had used to woo Amazon during the tech giant’s search for its second headquarters.

On Saturday, County Board members approved using $33,850,000 in state funds on the projects. The vote comes after Board members and state legislators pledged millions in transportation upgrades near Amazon’s HQ2 site as long as the company meets certain job creation and space occupancy benchmarks.

Per a staff report to the Board, the projects include:

  • $18,850,000 to expand the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway to the Pentagon City, adding 1.1 miles of dedicated bus lanes. The state previously pledged $46.6 million for the project.
  • $10,000,000 for the Army-Navy Drive Complete Street project, which aims to redesign the roadway for easier bike and pedestrian access between the Pentagon, Pentagon City, and Crystal City.
  • $5,000,000 to help build an east entrance at Crystal City Metro station, a project the county has postponed before for lack of funds.

The Board’s vote authorizes the Department of Environmental Services to receive the $33,850,000 from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and apply it to the county’s fund for transportation capital projects. The matter was passed as part of the Board’s consent agenda for the Saturday meeting.

Metro stations and transit featured prominently on the maps that developer JBG Smith used to pitch Arlington on building its headquarters in the area. Officials are hoping an eastern Metro entrance could also better connect passengers using the Crystal City VRE station, which itself is set for upgrades.

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Many Arlington homeowners can now build backyard cottages, thanks to a vote from the County Board.

Board members unanimously voted to loosen zoning regulations on so-called detached “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) during their Saturday meeting. The vote came after a contentious discussion with residents who said they feared the impacts of greater density and fewer trees in their neighborhoods.

“I am very pleased to support this motion for the benefits I think we’re going to see,” Board member Erik Gutshall said. “In my view the benefits far outweigh the potential impacts. To me it’s about housing. Period.”

Board members have long eyed small backyard homes as a way to help increase the county’s available affordable housing stock.

The newly amended zoning rules allow Arlington homeowners to build detached ADUs on their property without first seeking county permission to do so — as long as it’s a one-family property. Previously, homeowners could only build an ADU inside their house (such as an English basement) or convert an existing outside structure into one.

Now, homeowners can build an ADU on an interior lot as long as the structure is at least 5 feet away from the property lines. ADUs built on corner lots must sit 5 feet from the side yard line and 10 feet from the rear yard line.

Previously, the County Board debated whether to allow 1-foot setback distances, but members ultimately nixed the idea, citing privacy concerns between neighbors and the fact it would only increase the number of ADU-eligible properties by 2 percent.

The exact distance didn’t matter to Urban Forestry Commission member Phil Klingelhofer, who said Saturday he had “serious concerns” about allowing any detached ADUs because laying sewer lines and footings anywhere could hurt the county’s tree canopy coverage.

“I want to make sure that we’re not… losing the forest for the trees,” Board member Katie Cristol replied. “Nationally, the biggest driver of emission and therefore climate change is sprawl development.”

Previously, several members of the activist Arlington Tree Action Group cited concerns about ADU construction killing trees and adding impervious surfaces to the county, which is already at a higher risk of floods.

Among the opponents was former County Board member John Vihstadt, who said the measure was part of a bigger mismanagement of density and natural resources.

“We must do better with managing our growth,” he said.

County Housing Planner Joel Franklin said since Jan 1, 2018, the county has approved 10 requests to build ADUs, three of which were converting existing structures into detached backyard cottage-style units.

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A Head Start program for the children of low-income families will have a new home in Arlington.

The County Board on Saturday unanimously approved a lease for Northern Virginia Family Service and its Head Start program, which serves more than 200 children. The program will now be based at 2920 S. Glebe Road, an office building purchased by the county and renovated for about $6.6 million.

The Head Start program is moving from 1800 N. George Mason Drive, which was owned by the county but acquired by Virginia Hospital Center in a land swap. It will continue paying about the same rent — around $274,000 per year with 5 percent annual increases.

More from an Arlington County press release:

The Arlington County Board today approved a lease agreement with Northern Virginia Family Service, Inc. (NVFS) to continue operations of the Head Start program at a new location on 2920 S. Glebe Road.

The County acquired the property in 2017 as a new home for the federal program. Head Start promotes school readiness for children ages five and under from low-income families, an important policy goal for the County.

“Ensuring Head Start’s long-term sustainability remains a key priority for the Board. Head Start has achieved remarkable results in readying children to thrive in school,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “This facility will provide an optimal learning environment for children and be conveniently located for most families who participate.”

The property was needed when the program’s home at 1800 N. George Mason Dr. was designated for a land swap between the County and Virginia Hospital Center, which plans to expand its north Arlington campus.

The County budgeted $6.6 million to prepare the South Glebe site for more than 200 children. The build-out is set for completion next month. The County’s lease with NVFS ends in January 2023 with four five-year extension options.

NVFS is to pay the County just under $274,000 a year in rent plus 5 percent annual escalations, essentially the same terms that existed for the prior location on George Mason Drive. The County will provide utilities and janitorial service at no additional charge.

The County Board voted unanimously as part of the consent agenda to approve the lease agreement.

Photo (1) via Arlington County, (2) via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

County Board Roundup — As expected, the Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to approve a contract for Nauck Town Square, a purchase agreement to acquire Virginia Hospital Center-owned property, and a permit to convert former administrative offices next to Washington-Lee High School to classroom space for up to 600 students.

Adding Amazon Acquisitions in Arlington? — “Keep an eye on what companies Amazon.com Inc. buys next. It could be what fills HQ2. Acquisitions will likely determine what jobs and teams develop at the second headquarters in Arlington, said Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development.” [Washington Business Journal]

Drivers Work to Inflate Prices at DCA — “Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available — creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare.” [WJLA]

Garvey Endorses Stamos — “I believe we could use a healthy debate about equity in Arlington and how our legal justice system works. However, a healthy debate means using facts about what is working and what is not… I hope you will join me in voting for Theo Stamos for Commonwealth’s Attorney on June 11.” [Libby Garvey]

Sun Gazette Endorses Favola, Lopez — “In its endorsements, the paper said neither Nicole Merlene (who is challenging Favola) nor Julius Spain (who is taking on Lopez) has reached the rather high bar set for an endorsement of challengers to sitting office-holders.” [InsideNova]

Merlene on Kojo — “On @kojoshow, @NicoleMerleneVA says a second bridge over the Potomac, perhaps in Loudoun County, is needed, especially in light of the recent Beltway closure. She also expresses support for marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana in Va.” [Twitter]

Arlington Firms in Fortune 1000 — Four Arlington-based companies are in the new Fortune 1000 list: AES, CACI International, Graham Holdings, and AvalonBay Communities. Fairfax County, meanwhile, is home to ten Fortune 500 companies. [Fortune, Twitter]]

Man Sentenced for Threatening Ajit Pai — “Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal. This prosecution shows not only that we take criminal threats seriously, but also that online threats of violence have real world consequences.” [Twitter, USDOJ]

Another Amazon-Adjacent Acquisition — “Amazon’s planned second headquarters continues to attract the interest of major investors to the National Landing area.  Newmark Knight Frank announced Friday it brokered the sale of Presidential Tower at 2511 Jefferson Davis Highway on behalf of the seller, Beacon Capital Partners. The building sold for $123M, according to CoStar information.” [Bisnow]

Photo courtesy @zachzsnapz/Instagram.

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Arlington County has a plan to lure in fitness-lovering tourists with retro sports ads.

The County Board is considering accepting $10,000 in state funds for a marketing campaign designed to attract exercise enthusiasts to Arlington, as the state celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia Is for Lovers” slogan.

staff report to the Board said the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service (ACVS) will use the money to promote sports tourism in the county:

The goal is to attract travelers from at least 50 miles away to stay in Arlington hotels on vacation. Centered on the fall race season and major Arlington-based events like the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon, ACVS’s initiative will appeal to fitness-focused leisure travelers through retro, 1969-style visuals and sports accessories, along with creative storytelling via blogs, videos and national social-media influencers.

The item is included in the Board’s agenda for its meeting this Saturday.

If approved, the county would accept $10,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and apply the funds to the Arlington’s Economic Development Commission.

“This fall, ACVS will use the grant funds to collaborate with local fitness and neighborhood organizations to fuse Virginia’s ’50 Years of Love’ campaign with the idea that ‘Arlington is for Fitness Lovers,'” said the report.

The report also noted the county’s 2018 ranking as the fittest American “city” — a title it won again this week.

Photo via Arlington Sports Hall of Fame

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For years, businesses have come and gone from the retail space on the ground floor of the Eclipse condo building in Potomac Yard. Now relief may be on the way.

The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on a site plan amendment that will allow the landlord of the 3600 and 3650 S. Glebe Road buildings to lease the retail space to “retail equivalent” businesses, defined as:

Uses that have characteristics similar to retail such as the hours of operation, the customer base and the level of activity that provide visual interest and create an active street life, but are not retail uses. Uses include but are not limited to museums, galleries, day care uses, medical and dental offices, colleges and universities and hotel lobbies; as well as certain innovative office elements and residential amenities such as fitness centers, community rooms, etc.

The tiny shopping plaza is located in a roundabout between the two buildings, well off the beaten path — north of the busy Potomac Yard Shopping Center in Alexandria but south of Crystal City. To the west, across Route 1, is Arlington’s sewage plant.

A procession of sit-down restaurants has tried and failed to open and attract customers. One even had to put out a press release after they learned that Google Maps was steering would-be customers to an empty plot of land several blocks away. And that’s not to mention the extended closure of the adjacent Harris Teeter store, the block’s biggest draw, following a major sewage backup in 2012.

“The applicant has experienced sustained difficulty in attracting and retaining retail tenants for certain base retail spaces since 2006, when its Retail Attraction and Marketing Plan (RAMP) was approved,” the staff report for the site plan amendment notes.

“This space, along with others, are located on an interior circle drive, off South Glebe Road, and the applicant sites the lack of visibility as an obstacle for retaining retail tenants,” the report adds. “Recently, a physical therapy practice sought to lease a retail space, but could not be certified for occupancy because it is an office use, rather than retail use.”

Currently, the circle is home to a small collection of restaurants and service businesses. Should the County Board approve the change, it may be able to attract other businesses more equipped to survive in the low foot traffic area. No changes are proposed for the Harris Teeter space, the staff report notes.

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(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) New renderings show one of the three luxury condo buildings being built in Rosslyn.

The Pierce is part of the Highlands development of three high-rise housing buildings on 1555 Wilson Blvd, which is slated to include 884 luxury housing units and 40,000 square feet of retail space when it’s completed.

At 27 stories tall, the Pierce will include a total of 104 one-, two-, and three-bedroom condominium residences, according to a spokeswoman for the developer Penzance. The size of the units range between 1,266 to 2,403 square feet.

The project originally faced opposition for replacing what was once recreational space and Arlington Fire Station 10. In exchange, Penzance pledged to build a new fire station on the ground floor of the new development, along with a landscaped public plaza and an extension of N. Pierce Street to 18th Street — a deal the county accepted in 2016.

A new 360-tour using renderings of the luxury units in the Pierce building show 10-foot ceilings, quartz countertops, and windows facing the Potomac or Rosslyn. A spokeswoman added that bathrooms in the units will have heated floors.

Other renderings show such building amenities as a gym, pool, and rooftop space for residents. In total, the building offers 2,250 square feet of outdoor amenity space, and an additional 8,600 square feet of shared amenity space when you include the rooftop pool in the adjacent Evo building.

The project recently generated some controversy after the developer asked the County Board to extend permitted construction hours by one hour in the mornings, to 6 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends, through the end of the year. The developer previously said the project is slated to finish in 2021.

Some in the area are unhappy with the proposed extended hours.

“This will be disruptive to all in the area, including businesses, residents, and the already increasing traffic issues,” one tipster told ARLnow. “I also want to note that this is yet another time Arlington County Board shows a disregard for the community in the area.”

The County Board is scheduled to vote on the new hours during a meeting this Saturday. The item is currently included in the meeting’s consent agenda, which is typically reserved for matters expected to pass without debate.

Images courtesy of Neoscape

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The STEM Preschool at 3120 S. Abingdon Street in Fairlington is planning a sizable capacity increase.

According to an application filed on this Saturday’s Arlington County Board agenda, the facility is proposing an expansion from 66 children to 106 and employee increase from 15 to 22.

The new capacity is nearly double the 55 children originally approved by the County Board in 2014. In October 2015, the board approved a use permit amendment, allowing the facility to expand to its current capacity of 66 children.

In a report on the project, staff said the facility can accommodate the number of children proposed with the expansion.

Staff noted that the facility also has adequate parking under current zoning and has more than it would need under a new zoning ordinance taking effect on July 1, which would shift the parking measurement from one space per staff person to one space per eight children.

In the report, staff recommended approval of the application.

“The operation of the existing child care center has not and is not expected with the increase in capacity to adversely affect the health or safety of persons residing or working in the neighborhood and is not in conflict with the purposes of the master plans of the County,” staff wrote. “Overall, staff believes that the amended use will continue to be a quality addition to the community and have minimal impacts on neighboring areas.”

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Morning Notes

VHC Land Swap Ready to Move Forward — “Nearly six months after a divided Arlington County Board approved a major expansion of Virginia Hospital Center, board members are set to take the next step.” [InsideNova]

Ballston IHOP Reopens — “Good news IHOP fans: the Ballston location is back open and serving customers. Here’s why it closed.” [Twitter]

DEA Finds Temporary Digs — “The Drug Enforcement Administration has found temporary space in Crystal City for its employees while its… headquarters in adjacent Pentagon City gets a major makeover. Representatives for the DEA recently applied to Arlington County for interior alteration permits to renovate three floors at 2200 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Road Closures for Ballston 5K Race — “The 2019 Girls on the Run 5K Race will be held in the Ballston-Virginia Square area on Sunday, May 19, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement the following road closures from approximately 8:15 AM to 10:15 AM to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Carlee Defines the ‘Arlington Way’ — “‘In its most positive framing’ [the Arlington Way] means ‘engaging with the public on issues of importance or concern (not always the same) in an effort to reach community consensus or… a shared understanding and an opportunity for everyone to be heard,’ [former County Manager Ron Carlee] writes. ‘In its negative framing’ the phrase has been ‘derided as a way to talk everything to death so that ideas are killed or that people are so worn-down that by the end, they do not care what happens as long as it is just over.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo courtesy @klk_photography11/Instagram

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