The developer looking to transform the Red Top Cab properties in Clarendon into three mixed-use buildings now hopes to cut back on the parking offered on the properties, prompting some worries from neighbors.
The Shooshan Company is asking the County Board for permission to remove one floor from both of the underground lots planned for the site, a reduction of about 178 parking spaces in all. Work is set to begin soon on the long-delayed development, which will replace Red Top’s headquarters (located where Washington Boulevard meets 13th Street N.) and the lot the company once used for vehicle maintenance at 1200 N. Hudson Street.
The three buildings are set to offer a total of 584 multifamily units, with 1,295 square feet of retail space thrown in as well, yet the Ballston-based developer is looking to cut back on parking as a cost-saving measure. In all, the company is proposing dividing 285 spaces between the two garages, compared to the 463 originally approved when the Board signed off on the project a few years back.
County staff seem more than ready to agree to such a change, noting in a report prepared for the Board that the development still “meets and exceeds” the county’s minimum parking requirements, even after the space reduction. The Board passed a plan last November to allow developers to build less parking along Metro corridors, in order to increase the use of public transit, car-sharing and other, greener transportation options.
Shooshan also plans to offer 20 parking spaces specifically reserved for visitors to the development, “which will mitigate overspill parking on surrounding streets from building visitors,” staff predict.
Even still, the Lyon Village Civic Association has made it clear to the county that it harbors concerns about the parking reduction’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods. While the development itself sits on the edge of Clarendon’s main strip, there are a series of single-family homes along streets like N. Kirkwood Road, N. Johnson Street and N. Jackson Street.
“The civic association representatives expressed concern about the potential for overspill parking as a result of the applicant not providing mitigation, such as additional bike parking, in exchange for the lowered parking ratio,” staff wrote in the report.
Yet transportation planners believe Shooshan has enough bike parking built into its plans already, noting just how close the development will be to the Clarendon Metro station and a variety of bus stops as part of the area’s “robust transportation network.”
Staff fully endorsed all these changes, but the Board will have the final say at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). Should it win these remaining approvals, the developer plans to start work on two of the three buildings sometime “in the first quarter of 2019,” staff wrote.
Arlington’s Planning Commission isn’t ready to lend its seal of approval to a major expansion of the Virginia Hospital Center, urging the county’s lone hospital to re-work its plans for the project.
The commission unanimously voted last night (Tuesday) to urge the County Board to delay its consideration of the project, perhaps providing a major speed bump for an expansion the hospital has claimed is essential for serving the county’s growing population in the coming years.
VHC has hoped for roughly a year now to acquire a parcel of land adjacent to the hospital’s campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, and use it to construct a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage. That would enable the hospital to convert some of its existing outpatient space into 101 new hospital beds to better meet local demand, and pave the way for a wholesale redevelopment of the hospital’s campus.
But VHC’s plans have consistently run into opposition over the last few months, with neighbors worried that the new buildings will tower over residential neighborhoods in the area and transit advocates fretting that the large new garage will spur hospital employees to choose driving over more environmentally friendly transportation options.
The hospital addressed the latter concern by slightly shrinking the size of the garage from 2,093 spaces down to about 1,800, but the neighbors’ concerns about density proved persuasive to the Planning Commission. While they can only recommend that the County Board push back its planned Sept. 22 vote on the project, with the final decision resting with the Board itself, the commission forcefully outlined a series of changes they hope to see to the expansion effort before it becomes a reality.
“We all know it’s necessary, but we want to be respectful to the neighbors to north of the property as well as to the south,” said Commission Vice Chair James Schroll.
Specifically, the commission wants to see the hospital move some of the largest buildings toward the center of the land it hopes to acquire, which is bounded by 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street. Commissioners were perturbed that the current plans place some of the tallest structures just across the street from single family homes — Commission Chair Jane Siegel compared the new design to a “wall” between the hospital and the nearby neighborhoods.
“You’re not transitioning to other large buildings, you’re transitioning to single family neighborhoods,” said Commissioner Nancy Iacomini.
Nan Walsh, an attorney representing VHC, argued that the hospital was doing all it could to provide the necessary setbacks and vegetation to help the new structures blend into the neighborhood. However, she stressed that the hospital is fundamentally constrained by the fact it will someday seek to fully redevelop its existing campus and is looking to build on “every single inch of land” it owns in the area.
“We have 10 very, very old buildings there, but we can’t take them down until we construct these new buildings to replace them,” Walsh said. “This is it for us.”
Walsh doesn’t expect any redevelopment of the existing hospital campus to take place over the next 10 years, but she repeatedly stressed that VHC will eventually need to make such an overhaul happen.
Accordingly, commissioners frequently wondered why they couldn’t pursue a more holistic “phased development site plan” process, similar to the one developers are currently pursuing for the PenPlace project in Pentagon City. Such a planning process would give the county a chance to study each phase of the hospital’s development as it proceeds, and it’s one commissioners urged VHC to consider going forward.
“The hospital is an amazing resource to the community and we want it to be the best it possibly can, and the way to do that’s through a PDSP,” said Commissioner James Lantelme. “That will help it fit into its community as best as it possibly can.”
Plans seem to be taking shape for a full redevelopment of the Harris Teeter and adjacent Mercedes Benz dealership lot in Ballston.
The grocery store’s owners are hoping to team up with a Georgia-based developer to build 700 residential units on the property with 83,600 square feet of retail on the ground floor of two buildings, including a newly renovated Harris Teeter store to replace the existing location.
The plans match the county’s long-term goal of transforming the Glebe Road property into a mixed-use community.
Though the plans are still conceptual at the moment, the developer provided some details to owners at the neighboring Hyde Park Condominiums — an anonymous tipster provided a copy of a presentation sketching out the redevelopment to ARLnow. Helen Duong, a spokeswoman for the county’s planning office, said that there’s a meeting scheduled today (Tuesday) for the developer to submit preliminary plans on the project.
A lawyer working on the development effort declined to comment. But the presentation, dated July 30, shows that the developer is envisioning buildings anywhere from six to eight stories tall, in addition to adding a half-acre park on the site. The plans also call for as many as 974 parking spaces to serve the new buildings.
Back in 2013, the County Board approved some policy changes to allow for more density on the site, in light of Ballston’s rapid development along Wilson Blvd. County staff wrote at the time that redeveloping the area would enhance “the southern gateway of Ballston” and transform N. Glebe Road into “an urban boulevard.”
The Board even approved zoning changes to allow buildings anywhere from 12 to 14 stories tall, so the current proposal, backed by the development firm Southeastern, is less dense than the county envisioned. However, it does call for many of the same transportation improvements the county sketched out at the time, including an extension of N. Tazewell Street from where it meets with N. Carlin Springs Road, running through the property.
Harris Teeter envisions building a new, 70,600-square-foot store on the site, complete with an “improved layout” and “improved customer experience and offerings,” according to the presentation. The old store would remain open as workers built the new one, complete with 390 housing units stacked on top.
Plans are a bit less set in stone for the height of each residential building. One option included in the plan calls for both buildings to be eight stories tall, provided the developer can win some policy changes from the county — another option envisions an eight-story building located on the current pre-owned Mercedes lot, and six-story building where the Harris Teeter is currently, closest to the Hyde Park condos.
Ballston Business Improvement District CEO Tina Leone declined to comment on the exact details of the plans, but said “we are very pleased and supportive to see community-building development happening here.”
Map via Google Maps
Plans for a new parking lot at the large “PenPlace” development in Pentagon City are shaping up to cause a bit of friction between county staff and the project’s developer.
JBG Smith is hoping to build a temporary, 204-space retail parking lot adjacent to the development, located on a nine-acre plot of land along S. Fern Street and just off Army Navy Drive. But Arlington officials would much rather see the developer construct a lot roughly a quarter of that size, over fears that so much parking would contribute to a car-dependent culture in the area.
The real estate firm argues that the parking is necessary to meet demands of the up to 50,000 square feet of retailers who will someday occupy the development, noting that the lot will only be a temporary necessity. Yet county staff have repeatedly insisted on changes, marking another dust-up over the development after officials previously expressed skepticism about JBG’s desire to significantly scale back the size of some buildings planned for the site.
The County Board approved the project back in 2013, when it was proposed by Vornado before the company spun off its D.C. holdings in a merger to form JBG Smith. Original plans called for three office buildings between 20 and 22 stories tall, an 18-story, 300-room hotel and a 300-unit apartment building between 16 and 18 stories tall.
JBG decided earlier this year to spread the residential space among two seven-story buildings instead, shifting the hotel rooms to some of the other buildings on the site, which prompted a new round of county scrutiny of the project.
Documents prepared for the project’s Site Plan Review Committee over the last few months show that county staff remain concerned about the reduced density on the site, citing the “dramatically lower heights and scale” of the seven-story buildings as especially problematic given their potential to house people close to the Pentagon City Metro station. Arlington planners previously called it “highly unusual” that a developer would seek to build something less dense than originally approved, though JBG executives have said the change was meant to “improve the pedestrian experience in the area.”
The newest debate centers around the parking lot proposed for a new segment of 11th Street S., which would sit behind two of the buildings to be built along S. Eads Street.
JBG argues that its plans for copious new retail in the area make the new lot essential, at least until another 1,600 parking spaces become available as the developer builds garages alongside the office buildings it has planned for the area.
“In addition, the applicant has claimed that a larger amount of parking is necessary due to the type of retailers being sought,” county staff wrote in a July 23 SPRC report on PenPlace. A JBG executive did not respond to a request for comment on the exact nature of the developer’s plans.
But to add so much parking for the new buildings, JBG needs an exception from the county’s zoning ordinance, which only lets developers construct one space for every 1,000 square feet of retail space. JBG’s proposal, by contrast, works out to about one space for every 196 square feet.
That’s a problem for county officials, who believe the parking lot “encourages auto traffic to the site, and proliferates surface parking.”
JBG has offered to shrink the size of the lot slightly, adding a 10,000-square-foot temporary dog park to cut the number of spaces to 180. Arlington planners wrote in the July 23 report that such an offer is an “improvement,” but lament that the change “does not address comments from staff regarding confining parking lots to future building footprints.”
So far, the SPRC has met four times to discuss the PenPlace plans, but does not yet have another meeting scheduled to hash out this dispute. Plans will ultimately need to go to the Planning Commission and then the County Board for final approval.
After many long months of debate, county officials are set to have their say next month on an extensive proposal for the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion.
But the county’s business community recently threw its support behind a swift approval of the project, as has another longtime civic leader. Julian Fore, a former president of the Arlington Community Foundation, is also urging the County Board to lend the project a full approval in a letter he shared with ARLnow.
Letter to the Editor:
I am an Arlingtonian and frequent user of Virginia Hospital Center (VHC). This first-rate hospital provides excellent acute care and places an emphasis on needed follow-up services and disease management. VHC is a community jewel and is deserving of our support for its expansion project. I urge the County Board to approve the VHC application.
We should all be in favor of VHC’s desire to improve the efficiency, convenience and accessibility of healthcare. These are important community benefits and should be acknowledged. Moreover, the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center will enable our friends and neighbors who are suffering from mental illness to receive immediate outpatient care. The VHC proposal also expands the number of psychiatric beds based on a community-negotiated formula and subject to State approval.
It is important to note that under the VHC proposal, 1.3 acres of the 5.5 acre Edison Street site are either landscaped or open space to bring visual relief and more greenery to the site. The placement of the landscaping and open space creates a “sense of place” and a welcome oasis to an urban village. This action demonstrates VHC’s commitment to enhancing the appearance and livability of the surrounding neighborhood.
At this point, we need to acknowledge that the cumulative effect of additional requested changes to the VHC proposal will affect the broader community goal of increasing the availability of low-cost, high-quality, patient-centered healthcare. VHC is the only stand-alone community hospital in the greater Washington D.C. Metro area. It is in the public’s interest to enable VHC to contain development costs, so the Hospital has more dollars available for needed state-of-the-art equipment and other patient related services.
I hope the County Board recognizes that the overall public benefits provided by the VHC expansion are too important to be held hostage by the narrow concerns of nearby neighbors.
ARLnow occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
Photo via HDR
Workers began cutting down a 114-foot-tall dawn redwood tree in front of a Williamsburg home today (Tuesday), just a few days after county officials announced they couldn’t find any way to save the tree and meet the demands of local conservationists.
Activists with the Arlington Tree Action Group told ARLnow that workers are now on-site at the property along the 3200 block of N. Ohio Street, removing branches from the massive tree in preparation for removing it entirely.
The developer Richmond Custom Homes plans to demolish the single-family home on the lot, then build two more in its place, prompting the tree’s removal.
Yet environmentalists had hoped that the County Board might intervene to save the tree, recognized as one of the largest of its species by both the county and the state.
The dawn redwood is also located within a “Resource Protection Area,” given the tree’s proximity to a stream that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, giving them further hope that officials might be able to prevent the tree’s removal.
But the Board revealed last week (Aug. 15) that it felt it didn’t have any recourse to stop the tree’s removal and alter the property’s redevelopment, prompting condemnations from county conservationists.
Arlington added more homes this spring than it has during any three-month period dating back to last summer, according to a new county report.
Between April 1 and June 30, the county saw construction work wrap up on a total of 278 new homes, including 236 apartments and townhomes and 42 single-family homes. The county totaled up these latest numbers as part of a quarterly analysis of development in Arlington.
That number far outpaces the 103 homes that became available over the same time period a year ago, and represents the most new homes to hit the market since the third quarter of 2017, stretching from July 1 through September 30. The county added 456 homes, including 411 in multifamily structures, during that period, according to county data.
The latest spike in new homes was largely generated by the completion of the 672 Flats project on N. Glebe Road in Ballston, a project that included 173 new apartments. The Key and Nash development in Rosslyn also wrapped up work this quarter, adding 63 new condos.
The completion of the Central Place project in Rosslyn accounted for the bulk of the rest of the construction to wrap up in Arlington this spring. The massive new building includes roughly 570,500 square feet of office space and roughly 11,000 square feet of retail space as well.
The 672 Flats project also included 4,300 square feet of retail space underneath the new apartments. The addition of nearly 4,600 square feet of office space at 383 N. Cathedral Lane, just off S. Glebe Road, rounds out the list of projects completed this spring.
The county’s data show that another 3,700 homes are currently under construction around Arlington, in addition to 910,000 square feet of office space and 334,000 square feet of retail space. During the same time last year, the county projected about 2,025 new homes on the way, with 67,500 square feet of retail and 1.4 million square feet of office space.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bulk of the new development on the books is concentrated in Ballston and Rosslyn, with Crystal City and the Columbia Pike corridor not far behind.
Despite some intense opposition from conservationists and the community, plans to chop down a massive dawn redwood tree in North Arlington are moving ahead.
Since April, a developer has been hoping to remove the 114-foot-tall tree as part of a larger project on a property along the 3200 block of N. Ohio Street in Williamsburg.
The county recently approved a permit to let that work move ahead, according to a community letter sent Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the County Board and provided to ARLnow. A county spokesman confirmed the letter’s veracity, and added that the developer “intends to move forward with removal of the tree.”
Environmentalists had hoped to save the dawn redwood, as it’s recognized as one of the largest of its species by both county and state officials, and it could live to be up to 600 years old if left in place. The tree also sits within a “Resource Protection Area,” known as an “RPA,” giving the county the chance to scrutinize these construction plans quite closely.
But the Board wrote in the letter that it just couldn’t find any way to justify denying the permit, citing the developer’s “considerable rights as a private property owner” to redevelop the site. Richmond Custom Homes is hoping knock down the existing single-family home on the property, and build two in its place, a tactic frequently favored by developers in Arlington’s residential neighborhoods.
“While staff did ask Richmond Custom Homes to explore options to preserve the tree, the developer could not identify a design that both provided for the subdivision of the property and preserved the dawn redwood,” the Board wrote. “Pushing the homes to the rear of the lots would impact other large trees on the property also located within the RPA — and likely still would have jeopardized the dawn redwood during construction.”
The Board did note, however, that the approved plan “does protect multiple large trees on the back end of the property, which provide a significant benefit to the watershed adjacent to the Little Pimmit Run stream,” pointing out that the developer also agreed to replace the trees removed during the construction.
Nevertheless, the whole process has left conservationists feeling like the county isn’t listening to their concerns.
“The county could find ‘no’ way to preserve this living fossil, which had become extinct in North America and worldwide millennia ago, with the exception of a few remaining trees located in China and the few planted here in an effort to save the species,” Suzanne Sundberg, a local activist focused on environmental issues, told ARLnow. “What does that tell you about the county ordinance?…County staff and the Board are not doing all that they could to preserve the mature tree canopy here in Arlington.”
The Arlington Tree Action Group was similarly critical of the Board, arguing in a statement that it “decided not to use the powers at its disposal in its own Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance” to contest the developer’s plans, making this a “landmark case.”
“In failing to make a decision in favor of the environment and the voices of concerned residents, the county puts at risk its own widely touted ‘progressive’ credentials in environmental protection,” the group wrote. “The letter does not provide reassurances of how the RPA, which runs the length of the lot, will be protected once the lot is subdivided. ATAG will be looking for answers.”
The Board noted in its letter that members “share community concerns about the significant pressures on mature trees from redevelopment of properties across the county” and plans to kick off the process of updating the county’s Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan early next year.
In many ways, the Lee Highway corridor is the last part of Arlington that looks like the rest of the Northern Virginia suburbs.
With high rises coming to define both the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal City, and neighborhoods along Columbia Pike becoming ever more dense, Lee Highway has remained persistently suburban in character with its procession of low-slung shopping centers and vast parking lots.
But should it stay that way as the county keeps growing? And if not, how should it change?
Those are the questions the community and county planners will try to answer as they embark on a years-long planning process for Lee Highway in the coming months.
With land-use policies last updated in 1955, Arlington officials have long seen the corridor as ripe for a new round of planning. Now, after years of back-and-forth, the county is set to hire a consulting firm and kick off the process in earnest this fall.
“The next big planning frontier is Lee Highway, from Rosslyn all the way out to East Falls Church,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “The brewing consensus is that it’s appropriate for some increased density. We’re an urbanizing county, but we also have to be sensitive to the neighborhoods that flank Lee Highway.”
Certainly, the question of density along the highway will be among the most contentious issues to be resolved in the planning process. As Vihstadt puts it, “nobody wants to see the Clarendon-ization of Lee Highway,” considering that so many single-family homes sit directly behind the roadway.
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions and a board member for the Lee Highway Alliance, isn’t so sure about that.
The LHA, a coalition of civic associations and community groups along the corridor, helped spur the start of this new round of planning in the first place, largely out of concern that development was likely coming to the highway and needed to be managed appropriately. Winters reasons that there is room for dense, mixed-use developments along some sections of the highway — she feels it was only the “bad math” guiding the area’s current zoning that prevented the right mix of residential and commercial properties from moving to the corridor in the first place.
“Would the community want another Ballston? Maybe not,” Winters said. “But another Clarendon, especially if it looks like the less dense parts of Clarendon? Maybe.”
Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, a principal planner on the county’s comprehensive planning team, allows that the county won’t know the best way to proceed until the process wraps up, noting that planners are “going to test every possible scenario” for the corridor.
But, as Winters suggested, Alfonso-Ahmed expects that certain “nodes” on the highway could be rezoned to allow for more density, perhaps creating more walkable communities on the otherwise car-heavy corridor.
In an initial “visioning study” in 2016, the community identified five such areas that could become home to taller buildings and mixed-use spaces — East Falls Church near the Metro station, the intersection with N. Harrison Street and N. George Mason Drive, the intersection with N. Glebe Road, the Cherrydale neighborhood near N. Quincy Street and Lyon Village near Spout Run. Alfonso-Ahmed believes the county could approach each of those “nodes” differently, allowing more density only where it makes the most sense.
“A lot of the communities in that area…want to be able to walk or bike to places like a restaurant or a coffee shop,” Alfonso-Ahmed said. “At the same time, they want to be able to get in a car and go to the supermarket or the cleaners. They’re not totally independent of the car yet, like in other parts of Arlington…The goal is to balance both.”
But what will become of the existing shopping centers on the highway? As Alfonso-Ahmed points out “it’s not like it’s a blighted corridor,” and is filled with plenty of successful small businesses that the county doesn’t want to lose.
That means Arlington officials will need to think critically about what “sort of incentives or tools will be needed for business owners to even entertain” moving, she added. Or perhaps the county could allow for the expansion of those existing commercial areas, which would then bump up into residential neighborhoods.
“Are they comfortable with the encroachment of the commercial properties?” Alfonso-Ahmed said. “If they are, how much of it are they comfortable with?”
Another possibility that intrigues Vihstadt is the expansion of affordable housing options in the area. County Board Chair Katie Cristol agrees, and suggested one “illustrative example” of a change the county might make is rezoning some areas meant for single-family homes to allow for “by-right duplex development” on the edges of neighborhoods.
But, once more, such a change would surely require extensive community engagement to allay concerns about the corridor’s changing character.
To that end, Alfonso-Ahmed expects the whole process will take three years in total, with both a large “community forum” and a smaller working group constantly weighing in on the effort and lots of chances for the community to see the county’s work.
It should all start “before the end of the year,” she said, once the county can pick a consultant to help guide the effort. Though the Board had to scale back some of the process’s funding, thanks to the county’s constrained finances, Alfonso-Ahmed says planners have everything they need to move forward, and are plenty anxious to do so.
“We really want to get it started,” she said. “We know it’s been too long.”
Arlington’s business community is urging county leaders to approve the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans, arguing the project’s delays have already cost the company dearly.
The county’s lone hospital rolled out plans last fall to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage next to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. The County Board approved a land swap last summer to make the expansion possible, trading a parcel of land near the hospital on N. Edison Street for a property along S. Carlin Springs Road, and VHC has spent the ensuing months hammering out designs for the new buildings.
In a letter to the Board on July 23, Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Kate Bates called that decision “very disappointing,” and urged county leaders to lend the project an “expeditious approval.”
“The hospital is doing everything it can to accommodate the requests of neighbors and to honor good planning principles,” Bates wrote. “At this point, however, the cumulative effect of additional changes needs to be evaluated within the broader context of providing convenient, high-quality, patient-centered healthcare in a fiscally prudent way for the next 50 years.”
Bates argued in the letter that the hospital desperately needs the expansion to cope with Arlington’s growing population — VHC expects it’ll need an additional 85 hospital beds over the next five years to handle the county’s growth, and could use another 130 beds over the next 15 years. The hospital currently plans to convert around 120,000 square feet of existing outpatient space to 101 new beds once it can complete the proposed expansion.
Bates adds that “patients and visitors are frequently frustrated and unnecessarily delayed by current parking constraints” at the hospital, making the roughly 1,800 parking spaces in the new garage a key element of the plan as well. However, the garage has attracted some of the fiercest opposition of any element of the project, with neighbors worried about its size and staff and activists worried that it overly encourages driving at the expense of biking or transit options.
Yet Bates points out that VHC has already agreed to shrink the garage by about 200 spaces from its original proposal, bringing down its height to about 67 feet in all.
Furthermore, she wrote that the hospital has worked with the community to add more buffers and greenery to both 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street, demonstrating “a commitment to enhance the appearance and livability of the surrounding neighborhood.”
According to a VHC presentation at a May community meeting, the hospital is planning 27,000 square feet of buffers around the hospital’s perimeter, in addition to lots of green space on the property itself. In all, the hospital hopes to build a 11,000-square-foot entry plaza with a similarly sized “welcome garden” nearby, and a 9,000-square-foot courtyard complete with a “sunken garden” of tiered planters.
The hospital will also sketch out a “master plan” for the site to give the community a roadmap for its designs on future expansion efforts, including a push to someday buy more land for the redevelopment of its older buildings and the construction of a new “central power plant.”
In all, the Chamber sees this work as plenty of evidence that the Board shouldn’t press for any additional changes from the hospital and let the expansion move ahead quickly.
“Since the initial VHC project application, the hospital has made more than 100 modifications to the design in an effort to address issues raised by county staff and community stakeholders,” Bates wrote. “The Chamber respectfully requests that the Board prioritizes this effort and approves the VHC site plan application so this important project can move forward.”
Both the Planning Commission and the County Board are set to hold public hearings on the project in September.
Plans to redevelop the American Legion post in Virginia Square into a seven-story affordable housing complex are inching forward.
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing has drawn up a preliminary proposal for the property at 3445 Washington Blvd, advancing plans to purchase the site and someday build 161 multifamily homes there. APAH would also include about 8,000-square-feet on the bottom floor of the building to let American Legion Post 139 stay on the property, which it’s called home for decades.
The proposal, which was submitted to the county last month according to the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, also calls for an underground parking garage at the site, and a new alley to access the building off Washington Blvd.
County planners started preparing in earnest for big changes in the area starting last year, approving a handful of zoning changes to clear the way for changes at the properties along Washington Blvd.
The adjacent YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is planning to build a new, 100,000-square-foot facility on its property at 3422 13th Street N., while another developer hopes to build a six-story apartment building at the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road.
The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association plans to discuss the American Legion proposal in more detail at its monthly meeting tonight, at 900 N. Taylor Street starting at 7 p.m.
County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey is urging people around Arlington to embrace density in their communities and abandon the idea of “protecting” certain neighborhoods from development.
Without that sort of shift in mentality, Dorsey expects the county will never meet its stated goals of bringing down housing costs and making Arlington more accessible for people of all income levels.
“We have to look inward and look at ourselves and some of the things that are holding us back,” Dorsey told the audience at last month’s annual Leckey Forum put on by Arlington’s Alliance for Housing Solutions. “We can’t kid ourselves into thinking we can have it both ways, to tout our progressive bonafides with housing and affordability while also accepting the framework that certain neighborhoods need to be protected. Ask ourselves: protected from what?”
Dorsey would concede that he doesn’t want to “change in any way the notion that neighborhoods are for people who want to grow their families and stay in Arlington for generations.”
But he did challenge people in wealthier neighborhoods to consider that fighting against more dense development often amounts to “preserving a level of unaffordability and segregation” that already exists across the county.
“Often, you hear, ‘We want to mitigate density, we want to concentrate density in certain areas, we want density to be something that we don’t deal with,” Dorsey said. “If that’s our framework and our paradigm, we are losing a key tool to deal with affordability.”
In the past, some critics have charged that the county is facilitating the overdevelopment of affordable housing in places like the western end of Columbia Pike while exempting large swaths of affluent North Arlington from more affordable development.
Dorsey sees the constant churn of redevelopment of small, single-family homes into ever larger homes on the same property as helping to contribute to this problem, arguing that “the whole idea that we have one dwelling per lot and we allow for the increase in footprint on said lots, that absolutely factors into our affordability challenge.”
“It restricts housing supply and increases the pricing of housing on those parcels,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey acknowledges that forcing this sort of shift in attitudes won’t be easy, however, and he lamented that “the pursuit of effective public policies to achieve these outcomes are often thwarted by political considerations.”
Yet he also has hope that “these considerations… are not immutable,” and he believes people in the county will prove to be receptive to his arguments, if they’re framed correctly.
“What I hear as often as, ‘We want to protect our neighborhoods and mitigate density,’ is that ‘I want my neighborhood to be a place where I can interact with people of diverse backgrounds, I want my kids to go to school where they interact with people from diverse communities and diverse life experiences,'” Dorsey said. “We need to hold people to that, and engage them on those levels and expose them to tools to actually make that a reality.”
The Virginia Supreme Court could soon decide the fate of the Highlander Motel near Virginia Square, as the property’s owner continues to push to redevelop the site.
Arlington County has been locked in a legal battle with local businessman Bill Bayne for nearly two years now over the property at 3336 Wilson Blvd, arguing that Bayne shouldn’t be able to use an existing parking lot for the same purpose after replacing the 55-year-old motel with a CVS Pharmacy.
The matter went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2016, and was twice considered by Arlington’s circuit court, with a judge ultimately deciding last year that Bayne should be able to move ahead with his plans. But Bayne says the county is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court, which could drag out any redevelopment of the property indefinitely.
“There is no reason for them to fight it,” said Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns Crystal City Sports Pub. “There’s no upside benefit for them… You’re dealing with an old, outdated property that’s behind its time. It’s much better for a neighborhood to have a CVS than an old, beat-up hotel.”
Bayne hopes the Supreme Court will decide by late August whether or not it will hear the county’s appeal. If the court takes the case, Bayne fears it could drag out the process for “another year” or more, further endangering his already damaged plans to redevelop the property.
But even if the court rejects Arlington’s appeal, Bayne worries his deal with CVS has already likely “fallen apart.” He was set to sign a 50-year lease to bring the pharmacy to the site, bringing him close to $45 million over the term of the lease, and believes he may never engineer a redevelopment of the lot even if he emerges successful in court.
“There would’ve already been a CVS built and open, but they’ve dragged me through a legal process that’s taken years,” Bayne said.
County Attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarity on why the county is appealing the court’s ruling.
The county’s legal filings over the years suggest Arlington officials were concerned with the size of the pharmacy Bayne hoped to build, particularly on a site bordering residential neighborhoods just on the edge of Clarendon, even though county lawyers challenged the project on the basis of some arcane zoning laws.
The legal spat over the Highlander began when Bayne asked for permission from the county to use a parking lot just behind the motel on N. Kenmore Street as parking for the proposed CVS.
A county zoning administrator pointed out that the hotel’s owners received permission when the motel was built back in 1963 to use that lot as “transitional” parking, and never sought any subsequent zoning change. That same lot would help Bayne’s company meet the county’s parking requirement for a retail building of the CVS’s size, a shop that would essentially replace the motel in its entirety.
The county changed its zoning ordinance in 1983 to ban the use of transitional lots for meeting minimum parking requirements, as Arlington moved toward a more transit-focused mentality and officials viewed requests for large parking lots more skeptically. Accordingly, the zoning administrator rejected Bayne’s proposal, setting up a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Board members pressed Bayne’s lawyers on whether he couldn’t simply shrink the proposed CVS and reduce the need for more parking. Land use attorney Evan Pritchard noted in the July 16, 2016 hearing that CVS viewed a smaller location as “no longer worth the trouble” of pursuing.
The Board unanimously denied Bayne’s appeal, arguing that the zoning administrator’s interpretation of the law was the correct one, even if such a distinction over parking lots seemed trivial.
“I’m not saying the proposed commercial use is a bad one, or that it even isn’t in the interest of Arlington County, but the County Board has written the zoning ordinance this way,” Board member Peter Owen said during the hearing.
Bayne appealed that ruling to the county’s circuit court, arguing in an Aug. 11, 2016 complaint that simply using the parking lot for a different establishment would not “change the character or intensity” of the property.
But in motions opposing Bayne’s appeal, county attorneys reiterated their historical zoning arguments and repeatedly cited the size of Bayne’s proposed CVS as a troublesome factor.
“It is as a result of the size of the CVS that all required parking can’t be located on the site,” assistant county attorney Christine Sanders argued in a trial on the matter.
In an Oct. 26, 2017 motion, Sanders also dubbed Bayne’s effort “an end run around the public process of a rezoning” from a residential designation to a commercial one, which “continues to foist upon the neighborhood a noxious use” of the property.
Retired Judge Alfred Swersky sided with Bayne, and denied the county’s subsequent request for another hearing, setting up a potential state Supreme Court fight.
Bayne says he “fully expects” to emerge victorious in the end, whether he’s ultimately able to realize his vision of a CVS on the property or not. He simply remains frustrated that this process has even dragged on for so long in the first place.
“It’s a good thing for the county, how can you argue with it?” Bayne said. “They’ve been told they’re wrong twice by a judge, why do you need to be told a third time?”
Motorcycle Crash Closes Columbia Pike — Columbia Pike was closed in both directions for just over two hours this morning while police investigated a serious accident. A motorcycle reportedly crashed into a minivan between S. Frederick and Dinwiddie street, near the Arlington Mill Community Center. The motorcycle rider was seriously hurt and two people in the van were also taken to the hospital. [WJLA, Twitter]
Man Arrested for Threatening FCC Chair’s Family — A California man has been arrested and charged with sending emails that threatened to murder FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s family, over his support of the rollback of net neutrality rules. Pai has two children and lives in Arlington. Per an affidavit, one of the emails “listed the names and addresses of three preschools located in or around Arlington, Virginia, followed by the following sentence: ‘I will find your children and I will kill them.'” [Gizmodo, Washington Post]
Car Fire in Cherrydale — A car caught on fire in the garage of an apartment building in Cherrydale early this morning. No one was hurt. The cause of the fire is under investigation. [Twitter, Twitter]
Plane Evacuated on DCA Tarmac — “Passengers were forced to evacuate a United Airlines plane at Reagan National Airport on Sunday after smoke was reported in the cabin… The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said that about 1 p.m. Sunday, Houston-bound flight 6122 was taxiing for takeoff when emergency crews were called for a report of smoke in the cabin. The plane’s emergency slides were deployed, and all passengers and crew members exited ‘without incident.'” [Washington Post, Fox News]
Lee Highway Planning to Move Forward? — “It’s been delayed, delayed and delayed some more. But, Arlington’s top elected official promises, the long-awaited study of development options along the Lee Highway corridor will be up and running by the end of the year.” [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy R. Johnson
RCA Building Redevelopment Nixed — Plans to tear down the aging RCA office building at 1901 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn and replace it with a 24-story residential tower have been placed on hold “indefinitely.” Instead, owner Weissberg Investment Corp. is now seeking to lease up vacant spaces in the building. [Washington Business Journal]
New County Board Clerk Announced — “The Arlington County Board today named Kendra M. Jacobs the Clerk to the County Board. She will join the County Board Office in her new role on Monday, July 9. Jacobs comes to Arlington County Government from the City of Alexandria, where she has managed the Department of Planning and Zoning’s Boards and Commission Unit since 2003.” [Arlington County]
LWV to Host Gerrymandering Forum — The Arlington League of Women Voters is hosting a forum entitled “Gerrymandering in America and the Future of Popular Sovereignty” on Thursday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center. [League of Women Voters, InsideNova]
More ART Mechanical Issues — The bus serving the ART 43 route today “died on [Route] 50 right before the Crystal City exit,” a rider reports. Per the transit agency, which has been plagued by problems recently: “Due to mechanical issues ART 43 to Court House Metro from Crystal City Metro at 8:51 AM will not operate. We apologize for your inconvenience.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Eric