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With Amazon On Board, JBG Smith Prepares to Bet Big on ‘National Landing’

JBG Smith is gearing up to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, arguing that Amazon’s impending arrival could make the “National Landing” area nearly as in-demand as D.C. itself.

In documents delivered to investors last week, the developer revealed its most detailed plans yet for how it expects to work with the tech giant as it moves its 25,000 workers to the county.

Perhaps most notably, JBG revealed for the first time that Amazon will fork over $294 million to buy the company’s “PenPlace” and Metropolitan Park properties in Pentagon City, where it will eventually build new offices. As work on those buildings continue, the company will sign “short-to-medium term” leases at JBG’s buildings at 241 18th Street S. and 1800 S. Bell Street in Crystal City, where JBG is also planning to spend another $15 million to spruce up the properties.

JBG also told its shareholders that Amazon will lease the entirety of a new building planned for 1770 Crystal Drive, which sits at the heart of the developer’s just-approved “Central District” redevelopment project for the entire block. The company expects to spend $80 million redeveloping the building, with the eventual goal of opening it in time for 2020 and making it a more permanent home for Amazon employees.

But those changes represent only the work the developer is planning that’s tied directly to Amazon. By its own estimate, JBG already owns about 71 percent of office buildings in the neighborhood, and it hopes “redeploy the proceeds” of its Amazon windfall “into either new development or income-producing multifamily assets.”

Per the documents, potential projects could include the redevelopment of 1800 S. Bell Street property once Amazon leaves, or the overhaul of some of its other existing Crystal City and Pentagon City properties; 2001 Jefferson Davis Highway, 223 23rd Street S., 101 12th Street S., and the RiverHouse Apartments (1400 S. Joyce Street) are all listed as possibilities.

Essentially, the company is betting that Amazon’s arrival will be a “powerful economic catalyst” and “kick-start the development of a technology ecosystem that has long searched for its footing in the D.C.,” CEO Matt Kelly wrote to shareholders.

“As vacancy in National Landing burns off and technology job growth gains momentum, we expect National Landing to [surpass] Rosslyn as the most valuable Northern Virginia submarket, and approach convergence with Washington, D.C.,” Kelly wrote in a letter to investors.

Those forecasts represent quite the radical change from Crystal City’s previous woes attracting any companies to the area. The departure of federal and military tenants left the neighborhood with a persistently high vacancy rate, shrinking a key tax revenue stream for the county, but officials have long touted Amazon’s impending arrival as a way to solve that problem virtually overnight.

JBG is so bullish on the impending demand in the area that it could very well convert one of its planned apartment redevelopments into more office space instead.

The developer recently began demolition work on a building at 1900 Crystal Drive, space it eventually hoped to transform into two apartment towers with a total of 750 homes between them. JBG plans to start construction by “early 2020,” but notes for investors that “this project could switch to office in the event of a substantial or full building pre-lease.”

The company plans to eventually spend $550 million on that construction and work its other Amazon-related properties, though it expects it will have little trouble affording such expense. Kelly noted in his letter that JBG saw increased demand in the area even before Amazon made its Arlington move official, and has been able to raise rents and property asking prices accordingly.

“We have also seen a dramatic increase in demand from retailers looking to locate in our initial phases of placemaking development,” Kelly wrote. “Since the announcement, we have had a further wave of increased inquiries. We believe that this increase in demand for our holdings in National Landing will continue, and likely amplify, as Amazon grows in the submarket.”

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March of Dimes Moving HQ to Crystal City, Will Get $150,000 in County Incentives

The March of Dimes is officially moving its headquarters to Crystal City, now that county leaders have signed off on a $150,000 incentive package to lure the nonprofit to Arlington.

The County Board approved a deal with the research and advocacy organization at its meeting Saturday (Dec. 17). The March of Dimes will now move its main offices from White Plains, New York to an office building at 1550 Crystal Drive, bringing 80 jobs to the county in the process.

The nonprofit primarily focuses on advocating for the health of mothers and babies, and was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. It currently has an office with 12 employees in Arlington, but it ultimately agreed to a full relocation to the county back in May.

“This organization’s work and legacy is inspiring, and we are honored that the strength of our community, as well as our proximity to the nation’s capital, led the March of Dimes to choose Arlington for its new home,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol wrote in a statement. “We look forward to a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.”

However, the relocation wasn’t official until the Board could formally lend its approval to a deal with the nonprofit supplying it with $150,000 in incentive grants to be handed out between now and 2021, contingent on the group meeting certain targets.

The organization will have to occupy at least 25,000 square feet of office space in the county — its new lease at the JBG Smith-owned property calls for the company to occupy about 28,000 square feet of space — maintain at least 80 jobs, and “hold at least one regional or national event drawing at least 150 people from outside the region to Arlington County each of the three years of the performance agreement,” under the terms of the deal.

County staff estimate that the nonprofit will generate about $1.25 million in tax revenue for Arlington’s coffers over the next decade, justifying the incentive money, which has become an increasingly controversial tool since Amazon first started eyeing the area.

The March of Dimes will move into a building that will be quite close to some of the tech giant’s planned space in Crystal City, and at the center of a major redevelopment of the block set to kick off later this year.

Photo 1 via Google Maps

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New Report Shows County Continues to Lag Behind Affordable Housing Goals

Arlington officials managed to create or preserve 515 homes guaranteed to remain affordable to low-income renters this year — but the size of that number masks the fact that the county still isn’t meeting its own affordable housing goals.

In a report released this week evaluating Arlington’s progress toward fulfilling the standards of its “Affordable Housing Master Plan,” county housing staffers trumpeted the 221 new “committed affordable” units officials helped developers build in Fiscal Year 2018.

The county also managed to preserve another 294 existing homes to ensure their rent prices remain low enough to be deemed “affordable.” Though the term may seem subjective, officials define it to mean that a home’s monthly rent or mortgage, plus utilities, is “no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income.”

The combined total of 515 units is down slightly from the 556 the county created or preserved last year, though up from 2016’s total of 322 homes.

But the master plan, adopted by the County Board in 2015, calls for Arlington to be making a bit more progress in this area by now.

The document sets a goal that 17.7 percent of the county’s available housing should be affordable by the time 2040 rolls around, meaning that the county will need to create or preserve 15,800 committed affordable units before then. That means the county needs to generate 585 net new affordable homes each year, a standard that Arlington hasn’t been able to hit since passing the master plan three years ago.

And with Amazon on the way, and fears about housing affordability growing, advocates see this latest report as yet more clear evidence that the county needs to take more aggressive steps to solve the problem.

“The county has been off-pace for meeting its AHMP goals since the beginning,” Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, told ARLnow via email. “They need to ramp up the pace in order to meet their own goals.”

Winters also points out that the 2018 numbers may be a bit misleading in considering the county’s progress toward its goals. The 294 affordable homes that the county preserved came courtesy of a loan at the “Park Shirlington” development in Fairlington, which Winters points out “is only guaranteed affordable for three years until the developer comes back with a proposal for long-term affordability (which may include fewer affordable units in the end).”

Of course, Housing Director David Cristeal notes in the report that the “desirability” of Arlington as a community has “made it much harder to find modestly priced housing, which lags behind demand,” complicating any effort to preserve affordable homes. The county has taken some steps to address that issue in recent years, particularly by creating new “Housing Conservation Districts” to protect older homes, and the Board has mulled expanding that program moving forward.

Yet Winters has often urged the county to use those districts to incentivize property owners toward affordable redevelopments, upping the number of affordable homes on the same property. Her group and others on the Board, including newly elected member Matt de Ferranti, have agitated for increased contributions to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund as well, increasing Arlington’s ability to hand out loans and promote affordable developments.

Without taking more drastic steps now, Winters fears that the county will become even more unaffordable for low-income renters. She points out that the report also shows that the number of small, two-bedroom homes in the county continues to decline in favor of new single-family home construction, and that’s before the development boom most observers expect that Amazon will kick off in the area.

“This is evidence of our disappearing, older, more modest and previously affordable homes, replaced by larger high-end new construction,” she wrote.

Photo via Park Shirlington

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Morning Notes

APS Adds Non-Binary Gender Option — “This school year, Arlington Public Schools added a new question on its form for students to indicate a designated gender, including male, female and ‘X.'” [DCist]

ACPD Has New Electronic Sign — “You may see a new electronic signboard around @ArlingtonVA thanks to JAG grant funds provided through the @TheJusticeDept! These signboards help ACPD share important public safety messaging around school zones, events and campaigns… The signboards also display motorists speed so remember to slow down and obey posted speed limits.” [Twitter]

Leak Prompts Early Morning Road Closure — “A water leak has been repaired after causing early morning traffic problems Wednesday in Arlington. The leak was reported along S. Arlington Ridge Road between 23rd St S. and the Interstate 395 Service road.” [Fox 5]

Jail Holds Holiday Party for Inmates’ Kids — “The Arlington County Detention Facility was transformed Tuesday night into the fictional town, Whoville, in anticipation of a few special visitors. Some children were given the opportunity to visit their incarcerated parents.” [WUSA 9]

Amazon News Roundup — Amazon is planning to bring a “Treasure Truck retail vehicle” to the D.C. area. One way to accommodate new HQ2 workers would be to upzone nearby residential neighborhoods like Aurora Highlands to the population density of Capital Hill or San Francisco’s Mission District. Prompted by Amazon’s arrival, George Mason University plans to build a new 400,000 square foot facility on its Virginia Square campus in Arlington to house the Institute for Digital Innovation, “a research enterprise for fields like data analytics, cybersecurity and defense.”

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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Proposed Rosslyn Hotel Redevelopment Could Transform Neighborhood’s ‘Gateway’

The proposed redevelopment of the Rosslyn Holiday Inn could not only bring hundreds of new apartments and revamped hotel rooms to the area, but also lead to a major transformation of the neighborhood’s appearance.

The Vienna-based developer The Dittmar Company has submitted plans to the county calling for a total overhaul of the hotel, located at 1900 Fort Myer Drive. As first reported by the Washington Business Journal, the proposal calls for two new towers of 26 and 38 stories on the site, totaling about 73,200 square feet of residential, hotel and retail space.

In all, the plans call for 490 apartments, 327 hotel rooms, 275,000 square feet of conference and event space and 13,400 square feet of ground-floor retail. Dittmar is asking for a site plan amendment and some zoning changes to complete the work, requiring a lengthy county approval process, but is aiming to kick off work by 2020 and open up the development in 2023.

“Though the hotel remains active and profitable, with very low vacancy rates, redevelopment will be of significant benefit to Arlington County and the surrounding community,” Nan Walsh, a land use attorney representing Dittmar, wrote in an Oct. 19 letter to county planners.

While the redevelopment would see the demolition of a hotel that’s been a part of the neighborhood’s skyline since 1972, it could also prompt a host of other aesthetic changes for the heart of Rosslyn.

Dittmar would demolish the hotel’s sky bridge over Fort Myer Drive as part of the construction, removing a main pedestrian path over one of the area’s busiest roads. However, Walsh argues in her letter that such a change largely meets the vision of the updated “Rosslyn Sector Plan,” which pushes for a move to more street-level pedestrian walkways after “execution of the skywalk concept fell short of expectations.” Plans for the development do call for a new “east-west” pedestrian path through the site, but that would connect N. Nash Street to Fort Myer Drive.

Walsh also argues in her letter that the new development’s design would help meet the sector plan’s vision of “creating a gateway to Rosslyn from Lee Highway and the Key Bridge.” The building’s offerings could also contribute to “the transformation of Rosslyn from an office-oriented downtown to a true mixed-use community with 24/7 activity,” she wrote.

To that end, Dittmar envisions using about 7,700 square feet of the development to offer a “full-service restaurant,” most likely located closest to Lee Highway to the property’s north. The remain 5,700 square feet of retail space could go to a commercial tenant, or be set aside for “civic space to be used by the county” — the plans suggest a public library could be a decent fit in the space.

Dittmar also plans to contribute cash to the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund as a condition of the development, and could even send the county enough money to complete its long-debated “Corridor of Light” public art project in the area.

As for the hotel portion of the development, Walsh envisions the new establishment as a “four-star, full service hotel.” Of the building’s apartments, 70 will also be set aside as “short term rentals,” designed for people looking to stay for 30 days or less.

The 38-story tower would also include a “6,000-square-foot event space” on its top floor, complete with panoramic views of the area. Rosslyn has increasingly become home to buildings marketing a similar view of the D.C. skyline.

The towers would also sit on top of three levels of underground parking and another four above ground, with 858 parking spaces available in all. A traffic study prepared by Dittmar’s consultants estimates that the project would only create “minor increases in delays” in the congested section of Rosslyn.

The county has yet to schedule any review of the proposed development, but it could eventually require work from the Site Plan Review Committee and Planning Commission before heading to the County Board.

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UPDATED: Large Crowd Reported at Clarendon Cheesecake Factory Amid Free Cheesecake Promotion

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Arlington County police and medics have responded to Clarendon after a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control.

Police were called to the area of the Cheesecake Factory at 2900 Clarendon Blvd earlier today for a report of a large crowd and heavy traffic in the area. Around 1 p.m., another dispatch went out for a fight in progress at the restaurant, though officers did not find an active fight when they arrived.

The culprit: the Cheesecake Factory is giving away free slices of cheesecake in honor of its 40th anniversary, but only to those who order on Doordash. The result, according to an Arlington County Police spokeswoman: an unruly crowd of delivery drivers inside the restaurant, trying to pick up orders, and a rash of double parking around the Clarendon area.

The scene was “a little hectic” and officers were working to bring order and “calm the situation down,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow.com.

During the fracas, according to Savage, one person refused police commands to leave the restaurant and a struggle with officers ensued. That person was arrested and is expected to be charged with disorderly conduct, Savage said. He requested to be transported to a local hospital by medics for evaluation of possible injuries.

Here is what the Cheesecake Factory said about the promotion on its website:

In celebration of our 40th anniversary, on December 5th only starting at 11:30AM local time, we’re giving away 40,000 FREE slices* of cheesecake! Get a free slice* of cheesecake when you order delivery through DoorDash! Use promo code FREESLICE at checkout. Get it while you can because an offer this sweet won’t last long!

As an added bonus, DoorDash is offering $0 delivery fee** on all of The Cheesecake Factory delivery orders from December 5 – 11! No promo code needed!

There are social media reports that the promotion has caused chaotic scenes at other Cheesecake Factories across the country.

Later Wednesday afternoon, photos and video emerged on Twitter that appeared to show the arrest and some of the chaos inside the restaurant.

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Demolition Work Starts on Crystal City Office Building Set for Amazon-Related Redevelopment

(Updated Wednesday at 10:20 a.m.) Demolition work is kicking off ahead of the development of a new apartment complex in Crystal City, set to be located immediately adjacent to some of Amazon’s new office space in the area.

JBG Smith, the area’s dominant property owner, started work yesterday (Monday) to tear down an office building at 1900 Crystal Drive. Eventually, the company hopes to add two buildings to the site, with room for 750 apartments and some ground-floor retail.

JBG is aiming to kick off construction on the project next year, and it specifically identified the effort as one it hopes to accelerate now that Amazon is officially Arlington-bound. Crystal City currently has a slightly higher than average residential vacancy rate, and hasn’t seen much in the way of new apartment development recently, but local property owners are racing to offer new options to the thousands of Amazon workers set to descend on the neighborhood in the coming years.

The developer has yet to secure county approval for the 1900 Crystal Drive project, however. Vornado/Charles E. Smith previously secured permission to build a 24-story building on the property, but that approval lapsed in 2015. The company spun off its local property holdings in a merger with JBG the next year.

But JBG can pursue demolition of the building as “by right” work in the meantime, meaning it doesn’t require any approval from the county until new construction starts.

The Crystal City Business Improvement District is warning that the demolition will prompt a few sidewalk closures, near Crystal Drive’s intersection with both 18th Street S. and 20th Street S. JBG will also build a covered walkway over the sidewalk along Crystal Drive to allow pedestrian access as the work continues.

The BID says the garage entrances on both 18th Street S. and 20th Street S. will remain open during the construction. Additionally, JBG plans to keep offering the collection of basketball hoops and other games it maintains in one of the building’s parking lots, but will move those over to the plaza behind the 1900 Crystal Drive building, along S. Bell Street.

The building’s demolition will also mark the disappearance of one of the most colorful structures in Crystal City. JBG affixed brightly colored artwork to several buildings in the neighborhood as it mulled how to revitalize the area, and do away with its more outdated facades.

Photo 1 via Google Maps

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Amazon-Focused Town Hall Reveals Community Concerns Over Tech Giant’s Power

How might lowly local officials be able to bring one of the world’s largest companies to heel?

That’s the prime question on the minds of many Arlington and Alexandria residents worried about how Amazon might soon reshape their communities.

And while county and city leaders are optimistic that the tech giant will prove to be a reliable partner in the region, they’re also admitting that they don’t have all that many tools to push Jeff Bezos and company around.

“We have to focus on using the policy tools that we do have,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol at an Amazon-focused town hall in Crystal City’s Synetic Theater last night (Monday).

Public speakers at the event, which was hosted by WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, fretted over how localities might address everything from the company’s labor practices to its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce.

Leaders in attendance sought to reassure nervous neighbors that localities will be able to extract community benefits from the company as it builds new space in Pentagon City and Crystal City. County Board member Libby Garvey even expressed optimism that “Amazon is going to affect us, but we’re going to affect Amazon too” when it comes to changing the company’s culture.

But concerns abound that Amazon’s status as the new economic engine for the area will give it unprecedented bargaining power in any dispute with local leaders.

“The County Board works really hard and wants to do the best they can for us, but Amazon, at any point, can say ‘No,'” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington, a progressive group that has opposed the county’s pursuit of Amazon. “They always threaten to pack up and leave, it’s what they always do…  We have very little leverage, particularly at the political level.”

Part of the problem for local leaders is that state law limits their ability to pursue some of the most aggressive pro-worker measures favored by Amazon skeptics. Virginia’s legislature, long dominated by Republicans, has adopted a series of measures designed to make the state more business friendly — perhaps most notably, Virginia is a “right to work” state, limiting the ability of unions to charge workers fees for representing them.

Several members of local unions urged officials to press Amazon to sign “project labor agreements” ahead of any new headquarters construction, or a contract with a union to lay out the working conditions for a project before construction gets started.

But Virginia has laws on the books designed to limit government agencies from requiring such agreements, and Cristol pointed out that “the state has made it very clear that we can’t use those” in many situations.

However, she did pledge to urge Amazon to work with unions and offer fair working conditions on its construction sites — and the question gave her a chance to underscore just how meaningful it might be if her fellow Democrats seized control of the General Assembly in next year’s elections.

Other attendees were similarly nervous that the county won’t be able to force Amazon to fork over cash to spur the development of more affordable housing, particularly as the arrival of the company’s planned 25,000 workers strain the region’s housing market.

On that front, however, Arlington officials are confident that they’ll be able to use their existing development process to require Amazon to chip in more money for its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to incentivize reasonably priced development. Of course, that will have to wait until the company starts building new facilities, which could take years yet.

In the meantime, housing advocates are optimistic that the tech giant is committed to the issue of housing affordability, and could agree to some select contributions on its own.

Carmen Romero, vice president of real estate development with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said both Amazon and its major landlord in Arlington (JBG Smith) have told her they “want to be at the table” when it comes to discussions about creating new affordable developments. She even suggested that JBG could agree to donate some small portion of the large swaths of land it owns in Crystal City and Pentagon City to a nonprofit like her group, allowing for new affordable homes in the immediate vicinity of the headquarters.

“It’s very fair to ask Amazon to join us at the table as part of the philanthropic community,” Cristol said. “If they’re going to be a major player here, we’re very interested in seeing a big commitment from them.”

Alexandria Mayor-elect Justin Wilson added that the mere fact of Amazon’s interest in the region has already changed the conversation at the state level. He noted that state lawmakers were previously reticent to commit to major affordable housing funding, despite Northern Virginia leaders “banging our heads against the wall in Richmond,” but officials agreed to send an additional $15 million to the Virginia Housing Development Authority as part of the offer to Amazon.

“This was important to Amazon,” Wilson said, drawing a few laughs from skeptics in the audience. “But we were able to make the argument to the state government that this was something that had to be part of the package to help us attract a major employer.”

For Amazon opponents, however, it’s not enough that the company and state might voluntarily agree to measures to offset the impending impacts on the county.

Abraham’s group is pushing the concept of a “community benefits agreement,” a deal that a coalition of neighbors would strike directly with the company to ensure it invests in the community’s priorities, as an alternative to government officials haggling on their behalf.

It may not be enough to answer all their concerns, but he expects it may be a better path to pursue than hoping local politicians can win battles with a company owned by the world’s richest man.

“If we get Amazon to make these commitments to our community now, that, I believe, is the best way we have of protecting ourselves,” Abraham said.

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Morning Notes

Police Investigate Stabbing Near Alexandria BorderUpdated at 2:45 p.m. — Arlington County Police are investigating a stabbing that happened last night at S. Arlington Ridge Road and S. Glebe Road. The incident, which started when the victim asked for help finding a ride, was initially believed to be a shooting, but was later determined to be “the result of a sharp weapon.” The victim was found with non-life threatening wounds just across the border in Alexandria. [Twitter, ACPD]

Major Redevelopment in Rosslyn — The Dittmar Co. has filed a preliminary site plan to redevelop the Holiday Inn hotel in Rosslyn, building 26- and 38-story towers housing 490 apartments and 327 hotel rooms. The proposal includes a 6,000 square foot event space on the top floor of the taller tower and the demolition of a skybridge crossing Fort Myer Drive. [Washington Business Journal]

Leonsis Says Build the Gondola — In a joint WaPo op-ed, Caps and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly and former GOP Congressman Tom Davis say the proposed Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola would be a “forward-looking and innovative” investment in our transportation infrastructure. [Washington Post]

Local CEO Buys Rosslyn Buildings — “Affiliates belonging to Cogent Communications Holdings Inc. CEO Dave Schaeffer, one of the region’s highest-paid chief executives, have acquired a pair of Rosslyn office buildings (1550 and 1560 Wilson Blvd) recently renovated to include upgraded common-area space and a new boutique boxing-oriented fitness facility.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sheriff’s Office Raises Money for Prostate Cancer — The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office helped to raise money for prostate cancer treatment at Virginia Hospital Center during the month of November via its “Beards with a Badge initiative.” [Virginia Hospital Center, WJLA]

November Sets Weather Record — Last month was the wettest November on record for the Washington area. It was also the second-wettest meteorological fall on record for the area, according to the National Weather Service. [Twitter]

Police Searching for Missing Man Last Seen in Georgetown — Police are still looking for David Stern, a D.C. accountant last seen at Dixie Liquor on M Street in Georgetown. The 29-year-old, who is engaged to be married, hasn’t been seen since buying a bottle of Crown Royal at the store this past Tuesday. [Fox 5]

Photo courtesy @wwwchris

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After Earning Key County Approval, VHC Leaders See Plenty of Work Left on Expansion Plans

The Virginia Hospital Center might’ve finally won the county’s approval on designs for a hefty new expansion of its North Arlington campus, but officials have months of work left to do before neighbors will start seeing any construction in the area.

Years from now, the hospital will add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage to its property at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, after the County Board narrowly approved plans for the $250 million project on Tuesday. The expansion will ultimately help the county’s lone hospital add 101 new beds, in a bid to match rising demand in the area.

But VHC officials say they won’t be able to put shovels in the ground just yet. First, they need to complete a land swap with the county to make the expansion possible.

Arlington officials and the VHC agreed last year that the county would send the hospital a property adjacent to its campus at 1800 N. Edison Street in exchange for one at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road. However, the swap was contingent on the Board signing off on the expansion plans in the first place.

Community concerns over the project’s design meant that the Board repeatedly delayed its consideration of the VHC proposal, but with that green light finally given, hospital executives will now turn to finalizing the terms of the land swap. Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says that process will wrap up around next “May or June” at the latest, teeing up construction to start soon afterward.

“It’s been a good three years we’ve been involved in this process, so absolutely it was a sigh of relief when we got the approval,” Stanton told ARLnow. “We wanted to be in front of the Board back in May because we need the beds today… and there a lot of specifics involved, and a lot left to happen.”

Some of the process of sorting out the details of the land swap agreement are fairly mundane, like basic site inspections. Others are a bit more fraught — for instance, the county and the hospital will have to agree on the Edison Road property’s value.

The terms of the agreement call for the hospital to pay either $12.56 million or the property’s appraised value to acquire the site — it all depends on which amount is larger. County records show the property was valued at about $8.9 million this year. By contrast, the S. Carlin Springs Road land the hospital will send to the county was valued at $38.8 million.

Stanton says that the process of hashing out the land swap could wrap up more quickly than they’re expecting, but the hospital is tentatively planning on kicking off construction by “somewhere around June or July 2019” in his most conservative estimate of the timeframe.

Once that happens, Stanton says the hospital will likely need another approval from state regulators before it can wrap up the construction. VHC previously earned a “Certificate of Public Need” from the Virginia Department of Health, certifying that enough demand exists in the area to add more beds to the facility.

The catch is that state officials only allowed VHC to add 44 beds, rather than the full 101 it’s planning. Stanton says that’s because the state only examines demand in five-year increments, while the hospital is projecting a need for 101 beds by looking at a 10-year timetable.

“We agreed to that smaller number with the acknowledgement that we will be back asking for more,” Stanton said. “Our intent is to be able to get the additional beds we feel we need, and do that before construction is complete.”

As for the construction timeline, Stanton says the hospital’s “guesstimate” is that the new garage will be open by the first few months of 2021. Then, he hopes the new outpatient facility will be ready by the second quarter of 2022.

Once that new “pavilion” is ready, the hospital will begin moving its existing outpatient equipment over to the new facility, opening up space for the 101 new beds. However, Stanton cautions that process will require some complicated renovation work, so it’s difficult to know when it will be ready.

“It shouldn’t take as long [as the new construction], but we’ll be doing construction in the existing patient tower,” Stanton said. “It’s not as easy a construction project because we’re working around our existing operations. So it’s by no means easy.”

Looking even further down the line, hospital leaders eventually hope that this expansion will lay the groundwork for the full redevelopment of the campus. However, Stanton’s “best guess” is that work on that process won’t start for at least 15 years or so.

Stanton hopes that hospital officials can use that time to rebuild trust with the surrounding community.

The expansion’s design process became an acrimonious one at times, with neighbors accusing the hospital of ignoring their concerns or even walling off the surrounding community with its new facilities. And Stanton admits to no small amount of frustration that the process turned so contentious.

He argues that the hospital’s initial outreach to the community was “largely positive,” before the county’s formal site plan review process got started. He believes that VHC officials managed to build plenty of consensus around the project, back when neighbors formed their own ad hoc committee to work with the hospital.

“I thought we had a very strong connection with those communities,” Stanton said. “It doesn’t mean were always in agreement, but we felt we, and the County Board, were getting positive reviews from the community about conversations with the hospital. But that seemed to change when we went through formal process with the county, which was really frustrating to me.”

Accordingly, Stanton is pledging “continual communication” between the hospital and its neighbors, to try and recapture the spirit of those early days of planning the expansion, leading to much more harmonious community conversations around any future redevelopment.

“I would only hope that relationship and communication can be just as good, if not better, than before we started this process,” Stanton said.

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Major Pentagon City Redevelopment Nears Opening, Just in Time for Amazon’s Arrival

Update, Nov. 30 at 9 a.m.: After this story was published Kimco spokeswoman Jennifer Maisch contacted ARLnow to clarify that Glazer’s comments regarding the new parking garage were inaccurate. The garage will serve only retail customers, while each residential building will have its parking available on lower floors, she said.

A massive new mixed-development in Pentagon City is nearly ready to open — and its backers hope it’ll be perfectly positioned to serve the thousands of Amazon employees who will start arriving in the area in the next few months.

The first phase of the Pentagon Centre redevelopment project, backed by New York-based developer Kimco Realty, should start leasing apartments as soon as spring 2019, according to a news release.

The company hopes to open “The Witmer,” a 26-story residential tower complete with 440 apartments and 7,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, by the second half of the new year.

The new building will be the first of many new changes to come for the shopping center, located between S. Hayes and Fern Streets and 12th and 15th Streets S., as the developer embarks on a decades-long effort to redevelop the area. Kimco earned the county’s approval for the project back in 2015, but it’s taken on new significance now that Amazon plans to construct a pair of new buildings for its headquarters right next door — the company purchased the “PenPlace” and “Metropolitan Park” developments from JBG Smith as part of its move to the county.

“Our Pentagon Centre ‘Signature Series’ redevelopment is in excellent position to take advantage of the incredible growth Amazon’s National Landing headquarters will bring to the area,” Kimco CEO Conor Flynn wrote in a statement. “With ‘The Witmer’s’ location directly above the Metro Station and its stunning views of the Pentagon, Potomac River and Washington Mall, it will be at the heart of this new center of gravity.”

Geoff Glazer, Kimco’s senior vice president for national development, also told ARLnow that a seven-story parking garage along 15th Street S. is already “complete and operational” as well. The garage will serve residents of the new apartment building, as well as help replace parking lots for Costco customers to be occupied by the next phase of development in the area.

Kimco plans to build a 10-story residential tower, complete with 253 units and 15,541 square feet of ground-floor retail, once the first the building is ready. Glazer says the timeline for that project is a bit unclear just yet, however, calling it a “market-driven decision” with plans to “evaluate timing for the second tower in 2019.”

Real estate watchers expect that the market will demand plenty of new construction in the area as Amazon ramps up hiring, so the company may not need to wait long. Brad Dillman, the chief economist for national real estate developer Cortland, says that data suggest Crystal City and Pentagon City both have slightly higher residential vacancy rates than the D.C. metro area as a whole, but there will still be a huge demand for new development as Amazon’s 25,000 workers descend on the area.

“If you look across the whole market on the multifamily side, there were just under 9,000 new units delivered in the last year,” Dillman said. “It’s pretty clear that just Amazon alone is going to require some above and beyond new housing development.”

However, Kimco’s ambitions for the 17-acre property extend far beyond just residential buildings. Eventually, the company plans to demolish the mall building (the current home of retailers like Best Buy and Nordstrom Rack) and then tear down the Costco as well, replacing them with three new office buildings, 377,000 square feet of retail and commercial space and 180-room hotel.

Those plans are quite ways off yet, though, with Glazer estimating that they’re “many years down the road given our existing lease obligations.” The company’s initial estimates suggest that the first phase of demolitions wouldn’t start for another 20 years yet, with more to come another 20 years after that.

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Despite Persistent Design Complaints, County Board Approves Virginia Hospital Center Expansion

The Arlington County Board narrowly approved the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans yesterday (Tuesday), clearing the way for the $250 million project to move ahead despite persistent concerns over its design and impact on the community.

In a rare 3-2 vote, the Board signed off on designs for the county’s lone hospital to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The additions will help the hospital add another 101 beds to its existing building, a move that VHC officials argued was urgently necessary to meet rising demand in the area. The Board will now send the hospital a piece of county-owned land on N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a some hospital property on S. Carlin Springs Road in exchange.

“We are grateful to have constructively worked with community members to reach a positive solution, and we are committed to remaining good neighbors in the Arlington community,” Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, wrote in a statement. “For 75 years, Virginia Hospital Center’s mission has been to act in the best interest of our patients. We continue to be thankful for our Board, physicians, staff and auxiliary members who are ready to serve for the next 75 years.”

The Board was previously set to approve the expansion plans in September, but opted for a delay instead to give the hospital a chance to tweak its designs a bit. A narrow majority of the Board felt that VHC’s planners managed to meet those standards over the last two months, while Board members Erik Gutshall and John Vihstadt argued that the hospital failed to meet the specific requests the Board previously laid out for design changes.

Others on the Board expressed similar concerns, but none of the other three members were willing join Gutshall and Vihstadt in delaying the project once more.

“I certainly remain troubled to not be able to fully achieve what we envisioned a couple of months ago,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “It’s better today than it was two months ago… We’re at a much better place where this facility interacts with the neighborhood in a way that is going to be a lot more respectful and pleasing for people who will choose to live there for decades to come.”

The Board had also urged VHC executives to do more outreach in the community and ease concerns about everything from traffic to the size of the new facilities. The hospital held several community meetings with nearby civic associations and other neighbors since the Board’s last vote, but the Board still expressed plenty of concern that the hospital didn’t do enough to fully engage the community.

“I’m really feeling frustrated and undernourished here,” Vihstadt said. “Too often, it was a matter of ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, we invite your comments, we invite your critique,’ not, ‘Here’s option A, here’s option B, what do you think works best?'”

But some Board members had specific critiques of the design as well. Those primarily centered on a pedestrian walkway running from north-south through the site, starting at 19th Street N. and running toward 16th Street N., and the traffic pattern on N. George Mason Drive as it runs alongside the hospital.

The Board’s September motion specifically requested that the north-south walkway be at least 15 feet wide and two stories in height, in order to create a better flow of both pedestrians and light throughout the campus. Yet the revised design presented a path that wasn’t quite that wide, and had a pedestrian bridge running over top of it along one section to restrict the open air standard the Board laid out.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it really meets the gist and the intent of our motion,” Gutshall said.

Nan Walsh, an attorney for the hospital, argued that VHC’s architects did the best they could to meet the Board’s standards, but ran into a series of intractable problems.

Widening the pathway, for instance, could’ve forced the hospital to move its parking garage too close to neighboring homes, or forced the hospital to cut more than 200 spaces from the structure, Walsh said. The latter option was particularly unpalatable for VHC, as it had already removed hundreds of spaces to meet the concerns of transit advocates.

“We have sharpened our pencils for the last two weeks and we really feel we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” Walsh said.

County planner Matthew Ladd did reassure the Board that the walkway struck him as a “major improvement” over the hospital’s original design, and most members were inclined to agree.

“This is breaking up what felt like a superblock and creating a sense of flow of light and air between the two buildings,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I know this leaves disappointment on the part of some of the neighbors… but I did not enter this phase with a lot of optimism that there will be peace in the land.”

Gutshall initially looked for a one-month deferral of the project, as the Board had originally planned to take up the new designs in December — the hospital, backed by its allies in the business community, pressed for the earlier consideration. Vihstadt was inclined to support him, dubbing the new plans “too much of a suburban campus, a suburban design.”

Yet Gutshall couldn’t find a third vote for the delay, and he relented. But he did warn the hospital that, as it considers the full redevelopment of its campus in the coming years now that this expansion has been approved, there may be more painful meetings in its future if it doesn’t change its approach.

“You continually throughout this process pushed the envelope every step of the way…but ultimately I think there’s a cost extracted for that,” Gutshall said. “And I’d strongly encourage you to look at what are the things that you can do to build a stronger relationship with the surrounding community to begin to lay the groundwork for the next time you come back for whatever the next phase of this is going to be.”

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County Expects Amazon’s Arrival Will Spark a Transformation of Crystal City Office Buildings

Crystal City’s bevy of aging office buildings have long been in need of a makeover, and Arlington officials hope Amazon’s arrival will spur some big development changes in the neighborhood.

The tech giant itself will be responsible for a major transformation of the newly christened “National Landing” all on its own, of course. Amazon will start off by leasing space from property owner JBG Smith in Crystal City, with plans to fully renovate those office buildings, and even construct its own facilities on various plots of land in Pentagon City.

And while the company could one day control as much as 8 million square feet of office space in the area, there are plenty of other buildings dotting Crystal City’s landscape that Amazon won’t touch. JBG alone controls another 6.2 million square feet of office space throughout the neighborhood, including a whole variety of buildings constructed decades ago, when Crystal City was primarily a home for the military and federal agencies.

It’s those structures that Arlington leaders are most anxious to see receive a refresh, in order to lure even more businesses to the area. While Amazon’s new headquarters will put a huge dent in the neighborhood’s office vacancy rate, officials say the county still has plenty of work left to do in that department.

“Many of these buildings were purpose-built for the federal government or overflow from the Pentagon,” Anthony Fusarelli, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, said during a question-and-answer session live-streamed on Facebook last night (Monday). “As the economy diversifies, the building stock needs to diversify with it.”

Sally Duran, the chair of the county’s Economic Development Commission, pointed out that business leaders have been strategizing ways to orchestrate such changes in Crystal City for years now, dating back to the immediate aftermath of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure process. But the county lacked any sort of driving factor to spur that change, she noted, making Amazon’s selection of the area quite welcome news indeed.

Fusarelli also observed that many Crystal City property owners, including JBG, were already nearing a critical decision point about how to handle the future of their buildings. Given the age of the structures, he said owners faced one of just a few options: sell their holdings, “reinvest and try to cary the building forward for 10 to 20 more years,” or simply “demolish and redevelop.”

With Amazon about to bring 25,000 jobs to the area, he expects to see plenty of developers choosing the third option.

“We may have these 40-, 50-year-old buildings come off the line and be replaced with residential buildings, or other uses,” Fusarelli said. “We may see the vacancy rate go down over time to the extent that additional activity in this area will lead to redevelopment and changing uses.”

Even before Amazon’s announcement, Fusarelli says the county was projecting an additional 20 million square feet of development in the area he dubbed “the Route 1 corridor,” rather than the controversial “National Landing” moniker, through 2025. Accordingly, he expects that the county will be ready to embrace all that new change, rather than be overwhelmed by it.

“Over the past 14 months, we’ve been evaluating the area and making sure it could manage that growth, and it could,” said Christina Winn, director of Arlington Economic Development’s Business Investment Group. “It was planned for that.”

Of course, there’s plenty of community consternation around just how the area will cope with Amazon-related growth, with apprehension surrounding everything from the company’s impact on transportation networks to home prices.

But county officials remain adamant that the slow pace of the tech giant’s arrival, to be stretched out over the better part of 12 years or so, will help Arlington adjust to the changes gradually. The company plans to add only a few hundred workers in the near term, then bring on about 2,000 staffers a year through 2030.

Officials also stressed that the county will review every step of the assembly of the new headquarters. The County Board will vote no earlier than February on the outlines of the state’s proposed deal with Amazon; then, the company will submit individual applications for each new piece of construction it’s planning, most of which will require the Board’s scrutiny.

Fusarelli says the county doesn’t expect to see any applications from Amazon until early next year, projecting a first Board vote on new Amazon developments by mid-2019 at the earliest.

“We don’t expect a flood of Amazon-specific building proposals in the first quarter of next year,” Fusarelli said. “What we do expect is a gradual submission of projects over time that align well with their need to house workers.”

File photo

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With Design Tweaks Made, Virginia Hospital Center Expansion Could Move Ahead This Week

Virginia Hospital Center executives believe they’ve satisfied all the demands of Arlington officials in drawing up revised plans for the facility’s $250 million expansion, setting the stage for the project to move ahead as soon as this week.

The County Board is set to consider the matter once again tomorrow (Tuesday), after delaying a decision on the hospital’s expansion back in September. The Board laid out a series of specific changes it hoped to see from the hospital as it embarks on the project, which is designed to add 101 hospital beds and a new outpatient facility to match rising demand in the county, and urged VHC leaders to smooth over its rocky relationship with some people living near the existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The Board initially envisioned taking up the matter next month, but VHC leaders were enthusiastic enough about their progress that they pushed for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting instead.

Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says VHC officials have spent last few months convening “a series of public meetings with community members, as well as with neighborhood civic associations adjacent to the hospital,” to craft new designs for the expansion, leading to his renewed optimism for the project’s prospects.

“These discussions have been open, honest, and productive,” Stanton wrote in a statement. “As a result of this progress, we asked to present a revised plan to the Board during its scheduled Nov. 27 meeting. We are grateful that we have been granted that opportunity, and remain hopeful that we will be presenting a plan that is acceptable to all parties involved.”

The chief concern of the hospital’s neighborhoods, county planners and Board members alike is how the VHC’s new buildings will fit into the community. The hospital is hoping to add a 230,000-square-foot, seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage, and critics of the original design worried those additions would effectively wall off the hospital from the single-family homes surrounding it.

Accordingly, the Board’s requests for changes centered around improving the facade of the garage and adding more pedestrian connections to (and through) the site, to make it feel more accessible. And, per details laid out in a new report prepared by county staff, the hospital seems to have made all the tweaks the Board was envisioning.

For the new parking garage, the hospital now plans to add “vertical mesh screens” and vary its “brick colors and pattern to provide visual interest,” the report says. The hospital also will eliminate one of the garage’s entrances from along a service road running horizontally through the property, and relocate a sidewalk to the south side of that road to provide a more accessible “east-west” connection through the site.

VHC officials also hope to provide a better north-south pedestrian walkway through the property, creating a corridor that runs from 19th Street N. to connect to both the garage and the new outpatient building. In tandem with that change, the hospital proposes “rounding the corner of the outpatient building to improve sight lines for pedestrians and to soften the edge of the building” so that there’s “no longer a continuous line of buildings for the entire length of 19th Street N.,” staff wrote.

According to the report, representatives with the John M. Langston Citizens Association initially expressed some concern that the walkway revisions still weren’t quite what the Board had requested, but the hospital altered its plans slightly to meet those worries.

Additionally, the hospital will add other features neighbors requested over the last few months of meetings, including new pedestrian safety devices like a rapid flashing beacon at the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and 19th Street N.

All of the hospital’s proposed changes will slightly reduce the capacity of the new parking garage, however, after it already agreed to a hefty cutback in spaces in a bid to ease the concerns of transit advocates. In all, the garage is set to see a reduction about 46 spaces if the Board signs off on these changes, for a total of about 1,694 spaces.

While the design changes may well meet the Board’s standards, they’re unlikely to satisfy all the hospital’s critics. Many neighbors remain concerned about the height of the new buildings, and county planners have urged the Board to require the hospital to adhere to a more robust long-range planning process — the hospital is planning a full redevelopment of its campus in the long term, but can only kick off those plans once it executes this expansion.

The Board will get a chance to have its final say on the matter Tuesday — the public hearing on the issue is closed, setting the stage for an up-or-down vote. Should the Board approve the plans, at long last, the county will sign over a parcel of land along N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a coveted property on S. Carlin Springs Road from the hospital.

The Board will also review a $500,000 grant to set up a new pilot program and expand mental health services at the hospital. The program would empower a new specialist to divert kids and teens arriving at the hospital with behavioral health issues into treatment programs, in order to prevent them from experiencing more serious problems in the future or getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

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Morning Notes

McChrystal Speaks Out Against Lee — Amid the furor over changing the name of Washington-Lee High School, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who attended W-L, says it’s time to set aside icons like Robert E. Lee and “combat our desire to mythologize our history and our leaders.” [Washington Post]

Soft Opening for Shirlington Ice Cream Shop — Rolled ice cream shop I-CE-NY is scheduled to hold a soft opening tonight in Shirlington from 4:30-9:30 p.m. [Instagram]

Fill the Cruiser Tonight — The Arlington County Police Department is holding one of its three planned “Fill the Cruiser” holiday toy drive events today from 2-6 p.m. at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. “A cruiser will be located in the food court next to the Christmas tree,” ACPD notes. [Arlington County]

E-CARE Stats — This month’s Arlington E-CARE disposal and recycling event collected more than 100,000 pounds of hazardous household materials and used electronics products. [Twitter]

AFAC Helps Less Fortunate Celebrate Thanksgiving — The Arlington Food Assistance Center gave away 2,500 turkeys, along with other Thanksgiving staples, over the past week. Hunger remains an unresolved issue at a time when Amazon’s future arrival will likely exacerbate inequality and housing unaffordability in Arlington. [Washington Post]

Nearby: Big New Development in Falls Church — “The development team of EYA, PN Hoffman and Regency Centers was chosen by the Falls Church City Council Monday night to orchestrate a dense and diverse $500 million development of 10.3 acres of City-owned land where its George Mason High School currently sits,” near the West Falls Church Metro station. [Falls Church News-Press]

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