Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Lawrence Roberts
In generations past, the American dream for many was a home in the suburbs. That dream served our country and our County well for those who could afford to make that dream a reality.
The growth of the suburbs represented a massive shift of wealth, human capital, employment, education, and innovation away from cities and urban centers that, in turn, saw declines across most measures of urban quality of life.
In recent generations, we have seen continued demand for suburban living matched by a desire by many residents and businesses to be located in urban centers.
Millenials have sought a lifestyle that is less dependent on long commutes and is more focused on transit and urban amenities. Baby boomers who raised families in the suburbs have shown an interest in returning to urban areas to downsize their housing and find walkable communities.
And businesses have shown an increasing interest in locating near transit – in our region that means primarily near Metro stations. This is a competitive advantage for Arlington and is a primary reason for our County to show leadership in improving Metro’s facilities and finally creating a realistic financial plan for system maintenance.
The revitalization of urban and transit-oriented centers need not be at the expense of suburban living. Indeed, the vision of Arlington leaders and taxpayers in supporting high-quality schools and planning for urban corridors near Metro stations, lower density growth along highway corridors, and strong protection of suburban-style neighborhoods has made the County a highly desirable place to live.
But Arlington can’t meet the challenges generated by growth and its own success by striving to keep things just as they are or have been. Keeping the status quo is simply not possible. Retrenchment and disinvestment are even worse.
We must continually move forward or we will inevitably see a decline.
Housing affordability is an issue that requires our attention if we are to move forward. Healthy, vibrant urban centers and nearby suburbs require housing affordability in order to sustain economic growth. A modern economy needs workers across a range of income levels who do not have to commute long distances. When people can afford to live closer to work, then they can free up roads and lessen traffic congestion that constrains an economy.
The unsustainable desire to keep things just as they are has been given the term NIMBY – not in my backyard.
Of course, there have been many times when communities have rejected poorly-conceived projects that would have destroyed neighborhoods, failed to deliver economic returns, or wreaked environmental havoc.
But today, increasing numbers of people view NIMBY actions as preventing the investments in infrastructure and creative housing policies that will be necessary to accommodate the desire of people of all ages to live in settings much like Arlington – urban and close-in suburban areas that have access to multiple transportation options.
Will Arlington continue to achieve a sustainable balance that accommodates growth and preserves neighborhoods? Will we find ways to make housing affordable so that people can live and work in Arlington?
Across the country, communities have done far worse than Arlington in planning for growth and sustainability. The result is a housing crisis with growing demands for building more housing.
The movement is coalescing around the name “YIMBY” – “Yes in My Backyard.”
The epicenter has been in California, which has often been at the forefront of national movements. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are experiencing the most painful housing affordability and displacement problems. But well-organized YIMBY groups have also grown up in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, Austin, and elsewhere – places that are economic competitors of Arlington and the greater Washington region.
The national momentum will build later this month with the first national YIMBY conference, in Boulder, Colorado.
Hopefully, Arlington will find creative solutions that need not be caught up in a NIMBY/YIMBY battle.
For the foreseeable future, people of all ages will want to move to places like Arlington. We can embrace that trend, try to stop it, or be overrun by it.
Arlington’s success has been due in large part to getting ahead of problems, building consensus, and implementing forward-moving change to avert crises.
It is time for us to meet the challenge of housing affordability through creativity, flexibility, consensus, and uniquely Arlington solutions.
Larry Roberts has lived in Arlington for over 30 years and is an attorney in private practice. He has been active in County civic life. He also chaired two successful statewide campaigns, served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond, and served as Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Groundbreaking for Hotel Project — Developer B.F. Saul broke ground yesterday on a new hotel project. A 10-story Homewood Suites hotel will be replacing the former Colony House Furniture store at 1700 Lee Highway near Rosslyn. Demolition of the store is now proceeding, five years after it closed its doors. [Washington Business Journal]
Kojo Controversy Defused — Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall wasn’t happy with the choice of political operative Ben Tribbett as a call-in guest for a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment on the County Board race — and the candidate made his feelings known via Twitter. Tribbett had done some paid polling work for incumbent Libby Garvey earlier this year, Gutshall pointed out. In the end, Gutshall himself joined the segment as a call-in guest, along with Tribbett and ARLnow.com editor Scott Brodbeck. [Storify]
Arlington Posting FOIA Responses Online — Arlington County is now releasing its responses to Freedom of Information Act requests online, for all to see. The first posted response is documents and emails related to NOVA Armory. Said County Manager Mark Schwartz: “My overarching goal is to increase government transparency. This is one simple way that we can share information that we have already collected… which already has some interest from the community.” [Arlington County]
You’ve heard the term NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — used as a pejorative to describe those who oppose new development near them, even though they might not be opposed to the same project elsewhere. In San Francisco, Seattle, New York and elsewhere, however, YIMBYs are starting to organize.
The Yes In My Backyard movement supports efforts to build more housing, with the goal of building enough housing that supply and demand find an equilibrium and people stop getting priced out of the housing market.
YIMBYs reject typical NIMBY arguments — proposed buildings are too tall, would create too much traffic, would destroy the “character” of a neighborhood — as reactionary impediments to achieving better housing affordability. Instead of worrying about “greedy developers,” YIMBYs say “build, baby, build.”
One thing going for the NIMBYs, who can more charitably be called neighborhood preservationists, is that they are often well organized and mobilize like-minded residents to speak passionately at local government hearings on development. That is one reason why places like San Francisco have struggled to keep up with housing demand: developers face constant roadblocks from community groups who are effective at delaying projects or getting them blocked altogether at the local government level.
The price of housing in Arlington has been rising — not as dramatically as in San Francisco, mind you, but NIMBY vs. YIMBY fights have nonetheless occasionally played out locally.
As the county’s population continues to grow — it’s expected to reach 283,000 by 2040 — more housing will be necessary to keep up with demand. The Arlington community’s reaction to continued development will be a key factor that shapes local neighborhoods and affects local housing affordability.
Generally speaking, where do you stand on the YIMBY vs. Neighborhood Preservationist spectrum?
The Arlington County Board has approved the redevelopment of the Berkeley Apartments near Four Mile Run.
The Berkeley, located at 2910 S. Glebe Road near the Arlington-Alexandria border, currently contains 137 apartments in two four-story buildings. Of those, 110 are committed affordable.
The redevelopment will replace them with two five-story buildings containing 257 apartments, 155 of which are committed affordable. One hundred forty units will be family sized, containing two or more bedrooms.
“This project will add high-quality housing — both market rate and committed affordable — to Four Mile Run,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey, in a press release. “Two older apartment buildings will be replaced, and we will gain a total of 45 affordable units — most of them big enough for families.”
The project’s developer, AHC Inc., will file an application with the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund to help finance the redevelopment. During the financial underwriting process, AHC is hoping to increase the number of committed affordable units from 70 percent to 80 percent.
AHC also committed to achieving Earthcraft Gold green building certification, ensuring that the buildings meet Energy Star requirements. Community benefits of the project include a widening of the Four Mile Run trail from 8 to 12 feet and a $75,000 public art contribution.
The project was met with resistance from the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, which expressed concerns about the size of the new buildings.
Some building residents also expressed concerns a condition imposed by county staff that the property’s fence that runs along the Four Mile Mile Run trail be removed. The fence helps to improve the building’s security, residents said. County staff and others said the fence does not comply with the Four Mile Run Master Plan.
“The proposed fence would completely undercut that effort, and send a message to both Berkeley residents and others that Four Mile Run is a scary place to be avoided,” said Liz Birnbaum of the Four Mile Run Joint Task Force. “Just as we are beginning to achieve the Master Plan vision of an inviting, accessible Four Mile Run, the fence proposal denies that possibility.”
Ultimately, staff softened the language of the condition, instead requiring that the fence be removed no later than Dec. 31, 2026.
“The proposed change ensures that there will not be a continuous fence along the entire frontage of the Four Mile Run Trail and provides a date certain for removing the fence, while addressing the the applicant’s concerns related to safety and security in the near term,” staff wrote, noting that AHC preferred to keep the fence in place.
Here are some words we do not have an opportunity to write often: a construction project in Arlington is running ahead of schedule.
Construction on the new eight-story, 161-room Hyatt Place hotel in Courthouse is entering the home stretch.
Groundbreaking for the hotel, at 2401 Wilson Blvd, took place on a chilly January day last year. Developer Ray Schupp says construction is expected to wrap up mid-summer.
“We are ahead of schedule and now anticipate moving up our opening to mid-August,” Schupp tells ARLnow.com. The opening was previously planned for mid-September.
Also in the works: an unveiling for a new Vivian Beer sculpture, commissioned as part of the development and to be located at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Adams Street. A date for the unveiling has not yet been set.
Schupp says grand opening festivities are also being planned for the hotel and the local community will be invited. He thanked neighbors for their patience during construction.
“Our neighbors in Lyon Village and the surrounding communities have lived through this process while being positive (and sometimes forgiving),” he said. “We want to thank them in our opening.”
Photos by Jackie Friedman
Big Changes Planned for Ballston Church — The Central United Methodist Church at 4201 Fairfax Drive in Ballston is planning a complete redevelopment of its 30,000 square foot property. Preliminary plans have been filed to build “a new church, a new preschool space, and a seven-story, 132-unit apartment building — 60 percent market-rate and 40 percent dedicated affordable.” [Washington Business Journal]
McAuliffe Signs Bills at Wakefield HS — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed two pieces of education legislation at Wakefield High School yesterday, as pictured above. The new laws “will lead to an overhaul of the state’s high school graduation requirements, aiming to make high school more relevant to the working world” and better supporting students who start a career after high school. [Washington Post, Twitter]
Reagan Airport Bridge Closed This Weekend — Starting at 11 p.m. tonight, through early Monday morning, drivers heading to Reagan National Airport will not be able to access it via the Route 233 bridge over Jefferson Davis Highway. Ongoing construction prompted the planned closure. [Patch]
Solar House for Sale — A “one-of-a-kind luxury home” is for sale in Cherrydale. The five-bedroom house features a 10KW photovoltaic solar panel array, an energy recovery ventilation system, two-story screened porch, two-car garage, third floor loft with wet bar, a 560 square foot rooftop deck, exercise room with yoga/MMA flooring and an outdoor shower. It’s listed at just under $1.9 million. [Truplace]
Reminder: Chamber Hosts Candidate Forum Monday — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is hosting a County Board candidate forum this coming Monday. The forum, featuring a discussion of topics important to the Arlington business community, is taking place from 6-8 p.m. at the Rosslyn Hyatt (1325 Wilson Boulevard). Democrats Libby Garvey and Erik Gutshall, and independent Audrey Clement, are set to participate in the forum, which will be moderated by ARLnow.com editor Scott Brodbeck. Tickets are $10. [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Photo via Arlington County
A Change.org petition called “Help Save the Food Star Supermarket” had 1,817 supporters as of 11 a.m. today.
The petition is a response to the redevelopment of the Food Star strip mall site, which was approved by the Arlington County Board in February. The shopping center is slated to be torn down and replaced by a six-story apartment building with 365 market-rate units and, on the ground floor, an array of retail locations including a 50,000 square foot Harris Teeter store.
The petition paints a picture of Harris Teeter as a “high end” grocery store and Food Star as an affordable, unique neighborhood institution that should be preserved.
I am very concerned that the Food Star grocery store is being targeted for demolition. A well-known business that has been at the same location since 1984, Food Star has become a cultural hub for residents in Arlington County.
- It is centrally located (within walking distance of most of our residents) and caters to our culturally diverse population. Anywhere between fifteen – sixteen thousand residents (maybe even more) will purchase groceries from Food Star every month and even every week.
- It serves as a place of employment. Thirty – forty residents that live in the area work there full-time. The employees are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about the products that are being sold.
- It serves as a “home away from home” for many of its patrons. Food Star sells unique products from all over the world that caters to many different multiethnic groups. Most of these products cannot be found at any other grocery stores.
While it is understandable that Harris Teeter is looking to expand into Alcova Heights area (at the corner of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive), it seems like a very unnecessary business practice that is driven purely by profit and not by necessity. A cursory search on Google Maps indicates that there are at least 7 other high-end grocery stores located within a ten mile radius of the Food Star grocery store. However, if Food Star were to be torn down, most of the residents in the area would not be able to afford the costs associated with traveling to or shopping at these stores.
For the residents of Alcova Heights (Arlington) and other patrons from Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland, The Food Star grocery store is more than just a grocery store. It serves as a cultural icon, valuable resource, and a place of employment. I firmly believe that it should stay open. I am calling on Harris Teeter to reconsider adding a new location at Food Star’s current address, and to cease any actions related building a new store.
Times Lauds Crystal City’s ‘Reboot’ — Arlington’s Crystal City community is “is quietly and persistently reinventing itself,” with tech startups and co-working spaces moving in and taking advantage of office space left vacant by departed federal and military tenants. Crystal City stakeholders are positioning it as a less expensive but still amenity-filled alternative to the District. “Think Brooklyn and Manhattan,” said Mitchell Schear, president of property owner Vornado/Charles E. Smith. [New York Times]
Ballston Named One of the Area’s ‘Hottest Neighborhoods’ — Ballston is among the top 5 “hottest neighborhoods in Washington,” according to Washingtonian. The magazine notes that Ballston’s median home price rose by nearby 10 percent last year, and that the forthcoming renovation of Ballston Common Mall will convert it into “an airy, downtown-like destination, akin to Fairfax’s Mosaic district.” The other four hot neighborhoods are Mount Pleasant, Trinidad, Shaw and Hyattsville. [Washingtonian]
Archaeological Dig Unearths History — An Arlington County-supervised archaeological dig at Dawson Terrace, near Rosslyn, has unearthed “243 ceramic objects, 1,603 glass objects, 74 metal objects and 13 others.” Most of the objects are believed to be from the 18th and 19th centuries. Dawson Terrace is Arlington’s oldest stone house, dating back to around the Revolutionary War. [Falls Church News-Press]
County Recognizes ‘Notable Trees’ — At yesterday’s Arlington County Board meeting, the county recognized this year’s batch of “notable trees.” Among the record 23 trees bestowed the honor for “their importance to our community, our environment and our sense of identity” was a Southern magnolia in Clarendon, planted in 1965 in honor of a fallen firefighter. [Arlington County, InsideNova]
Four Mile Run Initiative Advances — The County Board yesterday appointed a working group, charged with “providing advice, guidance and feedback to the Board and County staff on developing a comprehensive vision for Four Mile Run Valley.” The 95 acre area between Shirlington and Nauck, also known as Shirlington Crescent, is currently home to various light industrial businesses but may be ripe for redevelopment. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
Arlington residents getting displaced from their apartments due to redevelopment, renovations or other work will be getting a bigger payout from their landlords starting July 1.
The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved the county’s first increase in tenant relocation payments since 2004.
The change applies only to those living in unfurnished apartments. County staff say that moving costs have increased substantially since 2004, and the hike in relocation payments will help cover those costs.
Households that qualify as Very Low Income under Dept. of Housing and Urban Development guidelines will receive a payment 50 percent higher than the standard payment.
Residents living in furnished apartments also are eligible for relocation assistance, but those rates are lower — there’s ostensibly no furniture to move, after all — and will not change.
“Tenant displacements result in personal hardship for those directly affected and also impact the surrounding neighborhoods and other communities within the County,” notes a county staff report. “The fundamental goal of the County’s relocation policy is to enable displaced tenants to move directly to decent, structurally safe and affordable replacement housing convenient to their place of employment and/or education.”
The payments are voluntarily for owners of by-right developments, but are required if a development is a site plan project or receiving a form of financial assistance from the county.
The press release from Arlington County, after the jump.
Rosenthal Arlington Mazda, at 750 N. Glebe Road in Ballston, is holding a store closing sale.
That’s according to an email sent by the dealership to customers, announcing its “last sales event,” which ends after the end of the month.
“A few of us will be around to wind down the accounting operations for a few more days,” he said.
“The applicant proposes to… redevelop the Rosenthal Mazda dealership and adjacent parcels with a 12-story building consisting of 483 dwelling units and 68,185 square feet of retail including a new grocery store and a car rental business,” notes Arlington County’s page on the project. “Building heights will range from 155 feet at Wilson Boulevard and N. Glebe Road, tapering to the south and west to 53 feet along N. Tazewell Street.”
Mary Beth Avedesian, a senior vice president for developer B.F. Saul Company, said that so far no lease has been signed for the grocery store space.
“We have not yet signed a lease with an anchor tenant, but there are a number of prospects who are very interested in our project,” she said.
The county’s Site Plan Review Committee is scheduled to discuss the project on Monday. It’s tentatively scheduled to be considered by the County Board in June.
Today is the final day for online comments on the current draft of the Lee Highway Community Vision.
The draft plan envisions a tree-lined Lee Highway that’s more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, with mid-rise development concentrated in “mixed-use activity nodes.”
The rationale behind the plan, and the community process that helped inform it, is to set an aspirational vision for future development and transportation improvements along the Lee Highway corridor. The community can thus have more of a voice than if it were to just let piecemeal development take place along the corridor without a unified plan.
So, what do you think of the plan?
(Updated at 1 p.m.) A community meeting has been scheduled to discuss the proposed redevelopment of a group of low-slung commercial buildings along Columbia Pike’s main business district.
The trio of buildings at 2330, 2342 and 2406 Columbia Pike is better known as the Rappahannock Coffee site, for the long-time Pike coffee shop housed in one of the buildings, which are slated to be torn down to make way for new apartments or condos.
Developer B.M. Smith, which was also behind the Penrose Square development across the street, is proposing a six-story mixed-use building known as 2400 Columbia Pike, with 105 new residential units, 13,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and a 140-space parking garage.
B.M Smith is also proposing streetscape improvements, 45 reserved bicycle parking spaces and the preservation of the “historic facades” of two existing buildings, according to an Arlington County project information page.
The community meeting about the development is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.).
The Arlington Planning Commission and County Board are expected to consider the proposal at their respective meetings in May.
Vida Fitness Coming to Ballston? — D.C.-based Vida Fitness is reportedly planning a 30,000 square foot gym in Ballston. The plan depends on County Board approval of a site plan amendment for the as-yet-unbuilt final building in the Liberty Center development. Given the high office vacancy rate, local developer Shooshan Co. is proposing to reconfigure what would have been a 20-story office building into a 22-story building that mixes residential, office and retail space. [Washington Business Journal]
‘WeLive’ Close to Opening in Crystal City — WeWork recently opened its new coworking space at 2221 S. Clark Street in Crystal City. Now, the company is nearing an opening for “WeLive,” a communal living space in the same building. WeLive is opening “very soon” and the company is now giving tours to prospective tenants, we hear. A second WeLive location, in Manhattan, recently opened for “beta testing.” [Fast Company]
Rail Was Once Planned for Columbia Pike — In the 1950s planners envisioned Columbia Pike as a rail corridor. That plan was scrapped when Metro was built and the Blue and Yellow lines ran south instead of west. In 2014, of course, a planned streetcar system for the Pike was also nixed. [InsideNova]
County Board Campaign Gets Underway — County Board Chair Libby Garvey and her Democratic primary challenger, Erik Gutshall, both held campaign events on Columbia Pike over the weekend. Garvey said getting out the vote will be the key to victory in the June 14 primary. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
Major Rosslyn Development Approved — A sweeping five-phase redevelopment of 7.65 acres of prime Rosslyn real estate was approved unanimously by the Arlington County Board on Saturday. The Board approved the framework for the development, though final approval will be necessary for each phase. Developers Vornado and Gould Property Company expect to complete the project over the course of 25 years. [Arlington County]
Gun Store Saga Continues — Who owns NOVA Armory, the gun store that’s planning to open in Lyon Park despite community opposition? The man who speaks on behalf of the business and holds its federal firearms sales license isn’t saying, exactly. Dennis Pratte declined further questions after describing it as “a female, minority-owned business” and stating “I may or may not be the owner.” Meanwhile, county leaders say there’s nothing they can legally do to prevent the store from opening. NOVA Armory is planning to a grand opening on March 26. [Washington Post, InsideNova]
Teen Tourist Scammed at Pentagon City Mall — A California teenager on a school trip to Washington was reportedly scammed out of $97 by an armed man at the Pentagon City mall. The man compelled the teen to give him $97 in exchange for what turned out to be a counterfeit $100 bill. [NBC Washington]
Arlington Natives Live Blog Day at Ballston Common Mall — Two friends who grew up in Arlington’s Bluemont neighborhood decided to spend all of Saturday at Ballston Common Mall, ahead of its imminent demise, and live-blog their experience. The blog mixes nostalgia for time spent shopping and working at the mall with observations about the current mix of largely chain restaurants and small, quirky stores. [Things Remembered: A Day at Ballston]
Other County Board Action — On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding to partner with Virginia Tech and join the national MetroLab Network, and voted to accept $731,813 in state funding to support the county’s permanent supportive housing program. [Arlington County, Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The Arlington County Board this weekend is scheduled to consider a massive 7.65 acre redevelopment project that would reshape the Rosslyn skyline.
Developers Vornado and Gould Property Company are proposing a five-phase project that would eventually replace seven existing buildings — the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater, the London Apartments, the Normandy Apartments and four office buildings.
In its place would be 2.5 million square feet of space across five buildings, including 1.8 million square feet of office, 550 residential units, 200 hotel rooms and 45,000 square feet of retail space. Also planned area new, nearly one acre Rosslyn Plaza Park, an Esplanade and two new east-west streets breaking up the super block between N. Kent Street and N. Arlington Ridge Road.
County staff is recommending approval of a Phased Development Site Plan and a rezoning for the project. Each of the five phases will still need its own final site plan approved by the Board.
“The applicant’s proposed redevelopment of the Rosslyn Plaza property will permit the redevelopment of a critical site in
Rosslyn and introduce new elements of public infrastructure identified in the Rosslyn Sector Plan,” wrote county staff, “including the construction of improvements to Wilson Boulevard and N. Kent Street along with two new streets to break up the superblock, creation of the Rosslyn Plaza Park and other public open space improvements, a reconfigured N. Arlington Ridge Road, and bicycle trail improvements including portions of the Esplanade.”
The developers are also proposing a public pedestrian and bicycle bridge over I-66 and the GW Parkway, connecting one of the new roads with the Mt. Vernon Trail.
“The Mount Vernon Trail is used by over 3,000 cyclists on an average day, and provides a trail exit and connection to Rosslyn at Lee Highway near North Lynn Street,” county staff wrote. “The PDSP envisions a pedestrian and bicycle connection to the Mount Vernon Trail, via a bridge at the end of 18th or 19th Street over Interstate 66 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Its feasibility has not been determined and will be discussed during future final site plan applications.”
Currently, the apartments in the Rosslyn Plaza site supply fewer than 10 students to Arlington Public Schools. County staff estimate that once completed, the new development will generate a total of 42 APS students — attending Key Elementary School or Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Williamsburg Middle School and Yorktown High School.
The first phase of the project would demolish the London Apartments, the Spectrum Theater and one of the office buildings. County commissions and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District have been supportive of the project, although some local neighborhood groups have expressed concerns about the height of the proposed buildings and the impact on traffic.
The Board is set to consider the development plan at its meeting on Saturday.