Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Hotel-to-Apartment Project on Hold — “A proposal to convert the Arlington Courts Suites extended-stay hotel in the Courthouse area to apartments is on hold, at least for now. The project had been slated for County Board consideration on July 18, but has been deferred until at least October at the request of the applicant, citing ‘economic concerns about the project due to the COVID-19 emergency.'” [InsideNova]

Controversy Sparks Idea for Fundraiser — A local man has raised more than $140,000 “after starting a GoFundMe page to buy Goya Foods products and donate them to local food pantries after critics called for a boycott over pro-Trump comments from Goya’s CEO. ‘People are seeing in the news a double standard for one political view,’ 27-year-old Casey Harper of Arlington, Va., told FOX Business.” [Fox Business, GoFundMe]

Jury Questionnaire Going Out Soon — “The Arlington Circuit Court, which includes the City of Falls Church, will soon begin its annual juror qualification process.  Juror questionnaires will be mailed in early August to randomly selected residents of Arlington County and Falls Church City.  These questionnaires are used to qualify residents for jury duty which begins Jan. 1, 2021, and ends Dec. 31, 2021.” [Arlington County]

Job Losses Possible at DCA — Among the 36,000 United Airlines workers who may be furloughed starting in October, according to WARN Act notices, are 116 employees at Reagan National Airport. [Virginia Employment Commission]

Swearing In for New County Board Member — “Takis P. Karantonis, elected to the Arlington County Board in a special election on July 7, 2020, will be sworn in at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14 in a virtual ceremony. Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington Paul Ferguson will officiate.” [Arlington County]

Red Hook Lobster Pound Shuts Down — Long-time local food truck operator and concessionaire Red Hook Lobster Pound is selling its trucks and assets as the pandemic forces it out of business. This presumably means that there will be no Red Hook lobster restaurant near Clarendon, either. [Washingtonian]

ACPD Investigating Airbag Theft Along Lee Highway — “At approximately 7:30 a.m. on July 12, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 7:00 p.m. on July 11 and 7:30 a.m. on July 12, an unknown suspect(s) smashed the windows of approximately three vehicles and stole the airbags. There are no suspect(s) descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]

Photo courtesy Mike Cantwell

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Amid the pandemic, Arlington County is sifting through which planning processes are ready to continue moving forward and which ones are being delayed.

The County recently announced that it is still moving forward with plans for updating guidelines for development in Pentagon City, a relatively time-critical issue with Amazon’s permanent HQ2 under construction nearby.

The county’s Lee Highway planning process is also moving forward, with public workshops fortuitously wrapping up before the pandemic hit Arlington. Like the Pentagon City plan, the Lee Highway process is endeavoring to shape how new development takes place along the corridor. The central theme is, over time and through land use policies, replacing the car-focused strip malls along the corridor with clusters of mixed-use development that could bring in more housing, particularly affordable housing.

“Since the Plan Lee Highway public workshop in February, the County’s planning team synthesized what they heard and shared those results with the community late March,” Jessica Margarit, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development said. “Using that input, they have been busy developing the Neighborhood Character Report and the Cultural Resources Survey report. They anticipate publishing these by the end of July.”

Those closely following the Resident Permit Parking (RPP) Review project, though, might be disappointed to learn that project has hit some delays. The RPP restricts on-street parking near Metro corridors and other high-demand areas to residents and their guests during certain times of the day. The program has been criticized for favoring single-family homeowners over apartment dwellers, many of whom don’t have access to the same permits.

Staff had started planning for open houses and discussions early this year, but those plans were waylaid by the pandemic.

“The Residential Permit Parking Review project has been delayed due to the pandemic,” said Katie O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services. “The County had to postpone the deliberative dialogues and open house that were scheduled for early spring 2020. Staff is in discussion with leadership on how best to proceed given the current situation. An update will be posted on the project website once we have more information.”

Image via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Vigil Planned Saturday in Green ValleyUpdated at noon — “Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Black Parents of Arlington and Yolande Kwinana will be hosting a vigil at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School Field, to honor those who have died at the hands of police. Speakers will enlighten the community on what they can do to help enact change in our Arlington.” [Facebook]

Ballston Macy’s Redevelopment Proposal Delayed — “The owner of air rights above the [potentially for sale] Macy’s building in Ballston will have additional time to move forward with a planned redevelopment of the space, if County Board members act on its request June 13. Board members are being asked to extend until July 2023 the ability of the owner to come to the county government with a development plan. The current site plan, which sets out development parameters for the parcel, was set to expire in several weeks.” [InsideNova]

Local CrossFit Gym Speaks Out — “Replacing one CEO for another is not real change. We welcome the retirement of CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman as a step in the right direction, but we find it woefully inadequate. The appointment of Dave Castro as new CEO is unmistakably a tone deaf move that is shying away from making any difficult and meaningful change.” [@crossfitsoutharlington/Instagram]

Op-Ed: Parking Proposal Not Fair to Green Valley — “While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans. A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.” [InsideNova]

Caps Resuming Practices in Ballston — “The Washington Capitals have announced their date for small group activities to resume: Thursday, June 11. The announcement comes a day after MedStar Capitals Iceplex, the team’s practice facility, posted it would begin the state’s Phase 2 reopening plan this weekend. According to the Capitals, MedStar Capitals Iceplex will remain closed to the public.” [Russian Machine Never Breaks, Washington Capitals]

Nearby: Fairfax Co. Expects Office Vacancy Spike — “Fairfax County’s office vacancy rate is likely to suffer as remote meetings continue to be the norm, the county’s economic development chief warned in early June. Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, delivered that warning to the county board of supervisors during a June 2 meeting.” [Washington Business Journal]

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(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) A second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station could be built and opened by the end of 2023, under a proposal under consideration by the Arlington County Board.

Developer JBG Smith, the preeminent property owner in Crystal City, has proposed a public-private partnership that would accelerate the construction of the station entrance by at least 1-2 years. The proposal is set to be discussed at this weekend’s County Board meeting and potentially voted upon in mid-July.

The new entrance — a long-standing goal of county transportation planners — would be located adjacent to JBG property at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street, a block from the existing entrance and across the street from the Virginia Railway Express station.

The unsolicited proposal would have JBG and its contractors first conduct preliminary engineering and design work from October to April 2021. The cost of the work is projected at $3.73 million and would be funded by an existing $5 million Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant.

“The scope of work includes further development of the design from the Basic Concept stage that has been developed by WMATA in coordination with the County to the 30% design of the additional station entrance at 18th Street and Crystal Drive,” notes a county staff report. “The new entrance will include elevators, stairs, a fare payment area with fare vending machines, a kiosk, and a passageway to a new mezzanine.”

Should the County and WMATA then approve the design and cost estimate, JBG would proceed with final design work, before construction of the new entrance starts in the early spring of 2022. Construction is then expected to wrap up by the end of 2023, according to a project schedule.

The staff report notes that the unsolicited proposal from JBG was submitted in May 2019, and the county has not received any competing proposals since.

“The [public-private partnership] process is advantageous because it will move up the overall design process and ultimately the construction by as much as 12-18 months as compared to traditional project delivery methods which can help ensure the Project is completed by 2025 to meet the County’s commitment on the Project to its funding partners,” the staff report says.

The state and federal governments have previously pledged tens of millions of dollars to the project, as part of the incentive package put forth to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

“Funding includes $82.5 million of federal and state transportation grants associated with the State’s Amazon commitment for transportation infrastructure,” the report says.

HQ2 is temporarily located in office space in Crystal City leased from JBG; the company is coordinating the development of Amazon’s permanent campus, which the tech giant will own, in nearby Pentagon City.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Macy’s Property for Sale — “The Macy’s department store in Ballston is being offered for sale and possible redevelopment as the national retailer moves forward with plans to close underperforming locations across the country. Cushman & Wakefield recently began marketing the store at 685-701 N. Glebe Road to buyers on the company’s behalf.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Firms in Fortune List — Five Arlington-based companies are in the latest Fortune 1000 list of the largest companies in the U.S., including: AES (#310), CACI International (#549), E*Trade Financial (#755), Graham Holdings (#795) and AvalonBay Communities (#912). Amazon, which is building its second headquarters in Arlington, is #2. [Fortune]

More Millions for Snag — “Snag Holdings Inc., the Arlington parent company of hourly jobs board Snag, has raised $8 million in new funding, according to a new Securities and Exchange Commission filing… The company had raised about $10 million in debt funding in February 2019 and has raised a total of about $141 million over its lifetime.” [Washington Business Journal]

Synetic Pivots to Plague Play — “Synetic Theater’s final production of the 2019-20 season will feature a work that may be more than 650 years old, but has a certain resonance in the modern day… Written in Italy in response to The Black Plague of 1347-51, ‘The Decameron’ is structured as a collection of 100 tales told by a group of young people sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the pandemic.” [InsideNova]

Pentagon Officer Back Home After COVID Battle — “Patrick Bright is one of the most grateful people in the D.C. region tonight. He’s home from the hospital after a grueling six weeks fighting COVID-19… ​​​​​​​Friday’s homecoming was enough to inspire a hearty greeting from a convoy of Pentagon police officers who welcomed Bright — one of their own — home.” [Fox 5]

Emergency Power Proclamation Modified — “County Board members this week are expected to adopt an updated proclamation of a community emergency.” The new proclamation removes “a provision that potentially would have shunted aside the county government’s Long Range Planning Committee and various review committees that consider the implications of new development.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone

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The Arlington County Board is slated to consider changes to an existing development plan in Ballston.

In 2018 the County Board approved a plan to replace a two-story church and its parking lot at 1031 N. Vermont Street — formerly Grace Community Church and currently Portico Church Arlington — with a 72-unit condo building and 12 townhouses. The development changed hands in 2019 and is now returning to the Board for a site plan amendment.

A county staff report has not yet been posted online, less than 48 hours before Saturday’s Board meeting, but a preview of the item says that about 4,300 square feet of floor space will be added to the project “by removing an on-site alley.”

More from the county’s preview of the site plan amendment:

Proposed changes to the approved redevelopment plan for 11th Street and Vermont Street – The Board will hold a public hearing and consider a requested amendment to the site plan for an approved residential multifamily and townhouse development in North Ballston. If approved, the changes would include adding 4,289 square feet of space to the building by removing an on-site alley and would make other changes to the building architecture, massing, siting, circulation, and location of building services.

Nearby residents opposed the redevelopment ahead of its original approval, saying it was too big. From ARLnow’s 2018 article:

Many residents who spoke during the public comments section took issue with the height of the future residential buildings, as well as the the loss of property value and quality of life from the new building blocking sunlight.

“We will have nine floors of units that… will now be limited to fully dark most of the year — a maximum of one and a half hours during the summer solstice,” said Dana Hofferber, a resident of the nearby Westview condominium tower, citing a shadow study produced by the developer, NVR. Inc.

Another resident, Justin Heminger, noted that the community isn’t against all development, just this particular plan.

“The community is not against the development of this project, the community is against what has been proposed,” said Heminger. “And I think it boils down to: it’s too big, it’s too tall, and it’s too close.”

Many of the 26 public comments were from immediate Ballston neighbors, who wore matching t-shirts and held signs. A number of speakers noted in remarks that they purchased condominiums based on the current General Land Use Plan (GLUP), which the Board was voting to modify. Others said they were concerned about traffic, school overcrowding and the impact of the development on mass transit.

Image (3) via Google Maps

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Construction is starting this week on the mixed-use replacement to American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square.

The project, which was approved in 2019, will build 160-units of affordable housing on the current American Legion site at 3445 Washington Blvd, as well as a new, modern space for Post 139. Half of the apartments will be earmarked for vets.

“Veterans will be given priority placement in half of the building’s 160 apartment homes – making it Virginia’s largest affordable housing project for veterans,” a spokeswoman noted.

The $80 million redevelopment has received $33.8 million in tax credits from the state, a $11.5 million loan from Arlington’s affordable housing fund, and several large donations — including $1.5 million from real estate titan Ron Terwilliger, for whose parents the building will now be named, and $1 million from Amazon.

A groundbreaking ceremony has been postponed due to the pandemic, but the financing has been finalized and construction is slated to start this week. Work is expected to wrap up in 2022.

In preparation for demolition, the flag outside the American Legion post — flown there since the 1950s was recently retired. A video documented the ceremony.

A press release about the groundbreaking is below.

Read More

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The Arlington County Board has voted unanimously to approve a new, 175-unit assisted living facility along Lee Highway.

The elder care center will replace a handful of single-family homes on a large parcel of property at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street. In addition to more homes for seniors in need of memory care and assisted living services, the project includes environmentally-conscious features and a new 10,000+ square foot public open space.

It was approved despite some opposition from those in nearby townhomes and a condo building.

“Residents from Tazewell Place, a townhouse development located directly to the south of the site, have expressed concerns regarding parking along Lee Highway, light pollution, noise pollution and construction,” noted a county staff report. “Residents from Yorktown Condominium building directly to the west of the site have noted concerns regarding the rezoning request and also parking and traffic on Lee Highway.”

Plans for the facility were first reported in early 2019. Its approval at the Board’s Saturday meeting was made possible by zoning changes, allowing elder care facilities in more parts of the county, that were approved unanimously this past December.

More on the project and its approval from an Arlington County Press release:

The Board approved a plan for an assisted living facility, Artis Senior Living, at the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street, in the Waverly Hills neighborhood. The six-story, 175-unit facility will include 80 units for memory care and 95 for assisted living, and a parking garage with 112 spaces. The project’s architecture will embrace biophilic principles, including bird-safe glass windows. The project will obtain LEED silver certification under the U.S. Green Building Council for sustainable design, construction materials, and energy efficiency.

Community benefits will include a 10,174-sq. ft. public open space on the southwest corner of the site that the developer will landscape with a lawn, flowering tree grove, benches, and rain garden, and maintain. A walking path through the public space will connect to Lee Highway and N. Taylor Street. The developer also will contribute $356,528 to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund and will contribute to the County’s Utilities Underground Fund, and Public Art Fund.

“We know that Arlington needs more assisted living facilities to accommodate our growing number of residents who are seniors,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “This project will provide much-needed quality assisted living for our seniors and new open space for the entire community.”

The Board voted 4-0 to approve a rezoning and the proposed Site Plan for the redevelopment. […]

The 2.79-acre site is currently comprised mostly of vacant lots and some vacant single-family homes. The new facility will be U-shaped, with two wings framing a private interior courtyard that will cover the parking deck. The building will include community rooms, medical, physical therapy and exercise rooms, locker rooms, kitchen and dining rooms, beauty salons, game and tv rooms, and three outdoor terraces for residents.

The Board, at its socially-distanced Saturday meeting, also approved a number of other notable items:

  • Renaming the Crystal City Business Improvement Service District to reflect its expanded boundaries… ‘The Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard at National Landing Business Improvement Service District.'”
  • Naming a new park after Selina Norris Gray, an enslaved woman who preserved Washington family heirlooms left behind in Arlington House by the fleeing Lee family during the Civil War.”
  • “A $1.33 million contract with Ardent Company LLC to improve pedestrian access and safety on both sides of 23rd Street South between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway, in Crystal City.”
  • Two agreements with the federal government related to the Southern Expansion Project for Arlington National Cemetery.”

Satellite image via Google Maps

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Some changes might be made to a planned redevelopment project in the Virginia Square area.

The Arlington County Board is set to consider a request to add 15 apartment units to the 7-story building approved by the Board last June. The project, which has yet to start major construction, will replace a State Farm insurance office and other small commercial buildings near the corner of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road.

The developer says it can squeeze in the additional apartments by reconfiguring the courtyard and parking garage, and making some minor changes to the building facade and rooftop area.

“While the height, building footprint and massing remain unchanged, approximately 8,649 square feet of gross floor area (GFA) will be added as a result of a minor reduction of the internal courtyard and more efficient use of space previously allocated to parking and mechanical uses,” a county staff report says.

In exchange for adding the new apartments, the developer has agreed to designate four additional units as committed affordable housing. The plan has critics, however, notably residents of the townhouses across the street.

“Issues raised by members of the community, including the Bromptons at Clarendon Homeowners Association (HOA), include concerns around additional density, increased parking demand on local streets, reduction of on-site greenspace and the design of the corner façade,” said the staff report.

County staffers are recommending approval of the site plan amendment. The Board is expected to take up the request at its upcoming Saturday meeting.

More from the staff report, below.

The applicant is requesting a site plan amendment to make interior and exterior modifications to accommodate an additional 15 dwelling units, a revised parking garage layout, minor changes to the building façade and changes to the rooftop area. While the height, building footprint and massing remain unchanged, approximately 8,649 square feet of GFA will be added as a result of a minor reduction of the internal courtyard (from approximately 8,000 square feet to approximately 7,380 square feet) and more efficient use of space previously allocated to parking and mechanical uses (Figure 4). To further accommodate the additional 15 units, the average unit size based on total GFA will decrease from 1,021 square feet to 994 square feet. The number of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units will all increase, with the number of studios remaining the same.

The applicant is proposing a revised parking garage layout with changes to both below-grade parking levels and ramps. The parking garage entrance will remain in the same location but will be reoriented with a maximum slope of 20%. While the total number of parking spaces (including tandem spaces) for the site is reduced from 198 spaces to 194 spaces, all 20 tandem spaces will be converted to non-tandem spaces. The number of parking spaces increases from 63 to 99 spaces on garage Level 02 and decreases from 135 to 95 on garage Level 01. Overall, the parking ratio increases from 0.64 spaces to 0.67 spaces per unit, not including visitor spaces. The visitor parking ratio remains at 0.05 spaces per unit. The site will also accommodate 114 bicycle spaces at the same bicycle parking ratio as previously approved.

To accommodate the new units on the ground floor along the north and west alleys, there will be changes to the façade including replacing the louvers and mechanical vents that previously served the parking garage ramp with new windows (Figures 5, 6, 7, 8). The applicant is also proposing minor modifications to the layout of the rooftop amenity space and decreasing the size from approximately 920 square feet to approximately 850 square feet.

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Update at 1:40 p.m. — The County Board meeting scheduled for this weekend has been delayed until Saturday, April 25.

At its Saturday meeting, the Arlington County Board is set to consider a construction contract for upgrades to a portion of 23rd Street S. in Crystal City.

As part of the first phase of a two-phase project, the county is planning to “widen the sidewalk and retail parking areas on the south side of 23rd Street” between Route 1 and S. Eads Street. That will mean improved pedestrian safety and better ease of use for the existing parking lot that serves Young Chow restaurant, the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club, and 7-Eleven.

“Lane widths will be reduced, but the number of travel lanes will remain the same as today,” a county staff report says. “The new curb re-alignment will create more room for vehicles in the shopping plaza to maneuver without encroaching onto the sidewalk.”

Additionally, the $1.33 million construction contract will add new landscaping, crosswalks, ADA-accessible curb ramps and upgraded traffic signals at the intersection of 23rd and Eads. The overall project cost for Phase 1 is about $2.1 million, which will be funded by a regional Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant.

“Upon approval by the county board, construction is expected to begin Summer of 2020 and to be complete in Winter of 2021,” says the staff report.

Phase 2 of the project is still in design but is expected to upgrade 23rd Street S. between Route 1 and Crystal Drive, with new sidewalks and trees on either side, while removing the grassy median in the middle. That project being planned in conjunction with JBG Smith’s major redevelopment project on the north side of 23rd Street.

“Phase 2 of the project is anticipated to implement similar improvements on 23rd Street South east of Richmond Highway to Crystal Drive,” the staff report notes. “Phase 2 is currently in 30% design and is being coordinated with private sector redevelopment efforts along 23rd Street South.”

The stretch of 23rd Street S. between Arlington Ridge Road and Crystal Drive, which includes the Crystal City’s well-known restaurant row, is seeing a series of infrastructure changes as Amazon arrives in the neighborhood. A project to replace a major water main along 23rd Street is currently underway, and the county recently finished closing an underground pedestrian tunnel under Route 1.

Separately, the County Board on Saturday will also take up the renaming of the Crystal City Business Improvement District to the “The Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard at National Landing Business Improvement Service District.”

Street view via Google Maps

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The long-delayed redevelopment of the Rappahannock Coffee property along Columbia Pike is still alive — but is getting pushed back.

The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to consider a request by developer B.M. Smith to push the expiration date of its already-approved use permit back from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2023.

The project will tear down the existing, low-slung commercial buildings on the site and replace them with a six-story apartment building featuring ground floor retail and an underground, 140-space parking garage.

“This is a request to renew the use permit for the 2400 Columbia Pike project that will include 105 multi-family dwelling units and retail uses ranging from approximately 14,562 to 14,736 square feet,” the county staff report notes. “The property is currently developed with three, one-story buildings and a surface parking lot. The buildings contain approximately 11,700 square feet of retail uses which includes Rappahannock Coffee, L.A. Nails, Laptop Repair, and Morris Van’s Hair Design.”

The “historic facades” of two existing buildings will be preserved in the new development.

B.M. Smith, which was also behind the Penrose Square development across the street, initially won approval for the project in 2016.

The County Board is also set to consider an ordinance to give up its claim to a 20-foot section of driveway on the property that the county discovered in land records after the project’s approval.

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