Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Arlington GOP Not As Interested in Local — “The Arlington County Republican Committee’s efforts to regain a toehold in local governance may continue to suffer from a general disinterest in local affairs from many within the party’s rank and file.” [InsideNova]

Housing Initiative Getting Underway — “Arlington County has a shortage of homes, and with Amazon moving in, that pressure is only increasing. Now the county is asking residents about their housing needs and their ideas to address the crunch as part of its Housing Arlington initiative announced earlier this year.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Women of Vision Winners — Arlington County has named the three honorees of its 2019 Arlington County Women of Vision awards: long-time Arlington County housing staffer Melodee Melin, Clarendon Childcare Center director Sandra Redmore, and Virginia Equal Rights Coalition founder Julia Tanner. [Arlington County]

Bike Theft Reminder — On Friday, two men were taken into custody after a foot pursuit and search on suspicion of stealing bicycles in the Clarendon area, according to Arlington County Police. It serves as a reminder for Arlington residents to register bikes for free with the police department. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Wardian Now Racing Horses — “Michael Wardian has finished the Boston Marathon 18 times. He holds the world record for fastest 50-kilometre run on a treadmill. This year he raced 631 miles across Israel in barely 10 days’ time… The Arlington, Virginia, runner will be one of 650 or so humans and five dozen horses racing against each other in the annual Man Versus Horse Marathon on Saturday.” [National Post]

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Morning Notes

County Auditor Probes Police Overtime — “A performance audit conducted by the County Auditor as part of his Fiscal Year 2018 work plan found that the Arlington County Police Department’s overtime costs exceeded budgeted expenses in Fiscal Years 2016, 2017 and 2018. The audit did not identify any evidence of improper overtime.” [Arlington County]

Few Fireworks in School Board Race — “A relatively low-key race for the Democratic endorsement leading into November’s School Board race is headed to three days of caucus voting, with the two candidates focused more on the issues than landing body blows on each other. ‘I would prefer to talk about how we are going to move in a positive direction in the future,’ challenger David Priddy said when asked to lay out the biggest failures of the School Board during the period incumbent Reid Goldstein has served on it.” [InsideNova]

ACPD and Mental Health Awareness Month — “In 2018, the Arlington County Police Department responded to 2,227 calls for service involving individuals in mental health crisis — a figure that has risen each year since 2015. To increase awareness about Department initiatives and resources, we are sharing information about how we interact with the public, and how we are ensuring that our officers have the resources they need to continue to provide professional police services to our community.” [Arlington County]

School Board Member Endorses Tafti — Arlington School Board member Monique O’Grady has endorsed Commonwealth’s Attorney challenge Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in her race against incumbent Theo Stamos. [Facebook]

Launch of ‘Housing Arlington’ — “Go bigger. Be bolder. We’ve heard from Arlingtonians that housing affordability — rental & ownership — demands even more aggressive solutions. So we’re launching ‘Housing Arlington’ tonight to tackle the challenge — together.” [Twitter]

Arlington Firm Acquires Health Insurance Company — “Arlington health system consultancy Evolent Health Inc. has reached a deal to take majority ownership of a Kentucky health insurance provider… Evolent’s stock price dipped more than 28% to $10.15 per share in Wednesday afternoon trading on the news.” [Washington Business Journal]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After a long renovation, the Windsor at Shirlington Village apartment complex, at 3000 S. Randolph Street, is being rebranded as The Citizen.

The apartment complex is planning a grand reopening celebration on Thursday (May 16) to celebrate the completion of property-wide upgrades at the community. Move-ins for the facility are scheduled to start on May 31.

The Windsor was originally built in the 1990s and was purchased by Chicago firm Waterton for $144 million in 2017, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Renovations include new apartments with new smart home technology, full washer and dryers and new kitchen appliances.

The leasing center, conference area and cyber café were all renovated as well. The small gym in the apartment complex was upgraded into a 7,000 square foot fitness center with a racquetball court and treadmills.

Apartments range from $2,155-$2,800 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Two to three bedroom units are also available.

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Morning Notes

Rescuers Searching for Vehicle in the Water — “A vehicle apparently went into the water Sunday night near Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River, and a search was still under way Monday morning, authorities said. The search was being conducted near the island’s parking lot, according to the D.C. Fire and EMS Department. A witness reported that the vehicle went into the water.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Amazon Less Worried About HQ2 Housing Impact — “Amazon said its second headquarters in Arlington will not aggravate housing problems as much as the company has in Seattle because it will be able to plan for growth here in a way that it couldn’t in earlier years in its home base. Jay Carney, a senior vice president with the online retail giant, also said the company chose the Washington region for HQ2 and its 25,000 jobs partly because it is ‘a much more racially diverse area than the Pacific Northwest.'” [Washington Post]

Amazon’s Transformative Effect on Crystal City — “All of this points toward a vision of the future that was far-fetched even a few years ago: Crystal City as a place people would want to remain in after 5 p.m.” [Washingtonian]

County Had Cozy Emails with JBG Smith — “In a Dec. 6 email to Andy VanHorn, the executive vice president at JBG Smith Properties overseeing the development of Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters, Schwartz pledged open and unfettered access to a roster of key county officials charged with overseeing the various pieces of the approval process.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Unemployment Rate: 2.1% — “Arlington will have to share the title of lowest jobless rate in Virginia for at least a month. With 150,932 county residents in the civilian workforce and 3,216 looking for jobs, Arlington’s unemployment rate for March stood at 2.1 percent, unchanged for a month before and tied with the adjacent city of Falls Church as lowest among the commonwealth’s 133 cities and counties.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Man Arrested After Police Chase — “An Arlington resident was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing a Porsche and leading Fairfax County police on a chase through Tysons.” [Tysons Reporter]

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A new county initiative aims to help find ways to solve Arlington’s affordable housing shortage.

County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Housing Arlington” during Thursday night’s Arlington County Board meeting. Billed as an “umbrella initiative” for the county’s existing affordable housing programs, Schwartz said it will help officials and the public brainstorm solutions together.

During presentations Thursday night, county staff said Arlington has lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005. With 58,000 more residents expected by 2045 and current rent for a 2 bedroom apartment averaging $3,000 per month, they said the squeeze for affordable housing is likely to worsen.

“If we are successful in this event, we will create and preserve more housing for Arlington residents,” said the Housing Division Chief David Cristeal.

The county currently creates affordable housing in a couple ways, including by subsidizing its construction with the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF) and by subsidizing rent for low-income residents.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks.

“Housing Arlington is different first because it’s a County Board priority to bring solutions sooner… and the expectations are higher,” said Cristeal, adding that the initiative means the Arlington will be “even more focused on this challenge” and will be “more proactive” in collaborating between public and private sectors.

The initiative will focus on addressing the shortage of affordable homes for low-income and middle-income residents, per its website, and plans to leverage the county’s existing housing programs along with zoning tools and private-public partnerships to accomplish that goal.

Schwartz noted during last night’s meeting that Arlington’s “dilemmas of costly housing can’t, and should not, be solved with AHIF funding.”

He added that the money he and the County Board increased for AHIF’s budget this year “is a really good step” but that “it will never meet the full scope of the need.”

“We know residents across generations are facing pressures from multiple angles, and this interconnected solution allows our community to be responsive and efficient,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey in a press release.  The challenges don’t exist in silos and their solutions don’t either.”

Schwartz says the public has submitted ideas to the county before which are now research-able due to the Housing Arlington initiative. The ideas include:

  • Can publicly-funded housing be created specifically for teachers?
  • Should individuals let public safety staff live in accessory dwellings on their property?

Schwartz mentioned the initiative was also a response to the  “strong headwinds” the county faces in addressing affordable housing with Amazon coming to town.

The hearing to approve Amazon’s incentive package was dogged by activists who fear the company’s “HQ2” will hasten gentrification. Several residents shared how their rent has already increased since the company scouted its new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

“What I’m sensing is a real concern about loss and vulnerability,” Dorsey during the March hearing in between protests.. At the time, Dorsey added that the “the history” of Arlington neighborhoods was that of gentrification and increasing property values.

“We never really had a way to stop it,” Dorsey said.

The Housing Arlington initiative will be housed in the Housing Division of the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department (CPHD), per its website. Funding details for the new initiative were not shared.

The Housing Arlington initiative is scheduled to hold its first public engagement forum at Kenmore Middle School on Wednesday, May 29 from 6-9 p.m.

Flickr photo via woodleywonderworks

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations

Crystal City-based startup 4stay aims to help more students find affordable housing with ambitious plans to quintuple their current reach, thanks to some new funding.

On the heels of raising $1 million in angel investments, last week the state-funded nonprofit Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) announced that its CIT GAP Funds would be investing in 4stay, according to a press release. The size of the investment was not disclosed.

“As someone who has worked in student housing for almost 10 years and lived the pain of many housing challenges, we have seen firsthand the difficulties and frustrations of looking for housing on college campuses,” Akobir Azamovich, co-founder and CEO of 4stay, said in the press release. “4stay is solving these challenges by providing an online marketplace to book furnished rooms around campuses. We also provide $100K insurance, host pay guarantee, and zero deposit to protect students, parents, and hosts.”

The site’s functionality is similar to rental site Airbnb, with students searching for available off-campus housing based on a variety of factors like the number of roommates or length of stay. Types of homes range from apartments to basement rooms in someone’s house, but all locations are required to be fully furnished with students having a bedroom of their own.

“We are grateful for the support of CIT GAP Funds, whose investment will help us further the acceleration of our product development as well as help spread the word through increased marketing efforts,” said Faridun Nazarov, co-founder and COO.

The company currently partners with over 100 schools, but with the CIT investment announced plans to bring on an additional 500 schools over the next 12-18 months. Part of the expansion plans include opening up in new student housing markets in Canada and Europe.

Upcoming offerings planned for the site include features to match users with other residents and the ability to book with room providers like school dorms or student housing companies.

Photo via Facebook

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Arlington officials now look set to further loosen rules around the creation of “accessory dwelling units” sometime this spring, changing some zoning standards to allow more property owners to build the homes on their land.

County staff are now circulating a draft policy recommending that local leaders allow property owners to build the homes, commonly known as “mother-in-law suites,” with a five-foot setback from the street and property lines.

The County Board has long sought to see more people build “ADUs” around Arlington, viewing them as low-cost way to beef up the county’s housing options. Officials have become especially interested in the homes as they’ve debated ways to improve access to “missing middle” housing, or homes that offer rent prices somewhere in between new, luxury apartments and subsidized affordable homes.

The Board worked in 2017 to loosen regulations on ADUs and expand their creation in Arlington, but those changes only impacted apartments to be created within a single-family home, like in a garage or attic. The rule tweaks also allowed property owners to convert existing detached buildings on their lots into ADUs, but they did not allow anyone to build new ADUs unattached to other buildings on the property.

This latest proposal would change that. County staff examined the potential for one-foot, five-foot and 10-foot setback requirements, and they settled on the middle option as the best way to balance competing priorities.

“The five-foot setback balances privacy and separation concerns, design flexibility and the county’s housing goals regarding increasing housing options,” staff wrote in documents presented at an open house earlier this week.

Staff estimate that altering the setback requirements in that way would allow the owners of 42 percent of all homes in residential zoning districts to build new ADUs. They expect that a five-foot setback would allow some space between property lines and ADUs, and create enough room for direct sunlight to flow into all buildings on a given property.

Officials declined to side with a one-foot setback requirement, noting that it would allow for considerably less privacy, with buildings right up against property lines. Yet they found that it would only slightly increase the number of properties where ADUs could be built — 44 percent of residential properties would be eligible, staff estimated.

They also found that buildings so close to property lines are subject to more stringent fire safety-related building requirements, whereas buildings five feet away are not, “potentially decreasing the cost of construction for the owner.”

As for the 10-foot setback option, staff found it would substantially decrease the percentage of eligible properties — they calculated about 37 percent would qualify — while also creating the potential for buildings on sites to feel more clustered together, creating “the perception of greater massing on the site.”

It helped, too, that staff found that other, similarly sized localities around the country use the five-foot setback standard.

Staff found that Charlottesville, Seattle, Santa Cruz, California and Los Angeles County all use a similar guideline — only Portland uses the 10-foot standard, while no other localities staff examined use the one-foot setback. D.C., however, allows ADUs to be built right up to the property line, as the city has gone through its own efforts in recent years to expand access to the homes.

Staff plan to convene a series of additional meetings on the setback proposals in the coming weeks, with plans to send them to the Planning Commission for debate by May 6. The County Board could then take action by May 18.

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After months of work, Arlington officials are gearing up to advance a new round of regulatory changes designed to encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units around the county.

The county plans to hold an open house on the new regulations tonight (Tuesday), specifically on policies governing how far the homes can be set back from the street.

Commonly known as “ADUs,” or “mother-in-law suites,” the homes can include everything from basement apartments to those located above a house’s garage. The County Board passed a series of revisions to Arlington’s ADU regulations in 2017, in a bid to prompt more people to create those units and beef up the supply of reasonably priced homes in the county.

Those changes were primarily targeted at allowing homeowners to more easily create ADUs within existing structures, rather than building new ones. The rules changes also allowed property owners to create an ADU in an existing structure detached from a single-family home, like a garage, but they could not build any new structures on properties for such a purpose.

Still, the Board vowed to subsequently consider rules changes allowing people to build free-standing ADUs on properties. The homes are broadly seen as a key way to provide “missing middle” housing, or homes that fall in between luxury apartments and subsidized, affordable homes, and advocates have long championed additional ADU rules changes.

But, to allow for any new construction, officials would need to change the “setback” requirements, which stipulate how far the homes can be located from the street. County Manager Mark Schwartz has been developing proposals for such rules changes, but has yet to unveil them in a public setting.

That is set to change later this afternoon. The exact shape of the proposals remains unclear, however — a county spokeswoman could not immediately provide details on the proposed regulations. Michelle Winters, the executive director of the affordable housing advocacy group the Alliance for Housing Solutions, also said she was unsure when the county will release the details of the proposal publicly.

The ADU meeting is set for the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center (2100 Clarendon Blvd) in conference rooms C and D from 4-8 p.m. Any zoning changes discussed there would likely need to be scrutinized by both the Planning Commission and County Board before they go into effect.

Courtesy photo

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When Amazon first started seriously considering Arlington for a new headquarters, the company went so far as to send employees out to local coffee shops and bars to gauge how people around here felt about the tech giant moving in.

The company’s head of worldwide economic development, Holly Sullivan, says Amazon employees were regularly surveying Crystal City locals about the prospect of becoming the neighborhood’s newest, and largest, occupant. And by the time the tech firm was ready to select Arlington for the project, she had full confidence that Amazon would be greeted with open arms.

“We have a lot of that local knowledge now,” Sullivan assured a crowd of hundreds of business executives and government officials at Bisnow’s HQ2-Apalooza event today (Thursday) in Potomac Yard. “Even before we announced our Arlington plans we felt welcome here.”

That sort of confidence in the community’s response was critical to Sullivan and the rest of the company’s executives — after all, when Amazon officials feared that New York City leaders were insufficiently welcoming for the other half of the company’s headquarters, Jeff Bezos’ firm simply pulled the plug.

“We think we could’ve gotten New York done, but at a certain point you have to ask, at what cost?” Sullivan said. “We want to locate in a community that also supports us.”

The company certainly received a warm welcome at Thursday’s event. Billed as a chance for business leaders to learn “how you can benefit” from Amazon’s arrival in Arlington, the high-priced gathering of executives offered a largely rosy picture of how the company might change the D.C. region.

Of course, not everyone around the county is quite so eager to see Amazon move in, and some of the company’s critics made their presence felt at the otherwise chummy event. A handful of protesters with the “For Us, Not Amazon” coalition temporarily disrupted the proceedings, holding signs and chanting “Pay to play is not okay, we want a public hearing today.”

Sullivan joked that she was glad the event “welcomed some of our friends that like to follow me around the country,” but the demonstration was organized by local activists, who have grown frustrated with Amazon’s approach to engaging with the community.

This is now Sullivan’s second appearance in as many weeks at a ticketed event for local business leaders, and some critics (and even county officials) would rather see the company engage directly with the communities that might be most affected by Amazon’s impact on the region’s housing market.

Sullivan argues, however, that the company has indeed already done some of that outreach work and is committed to doing more. For starters, she says the company plans to create a “steering committee,” pulling together Amazon executives, local government officials and education leaders to discuss the future of the new headquarters and its impact on the region.

Considering that the company has yet to outline any plans for aiding affordable housing efforts in the area, or even what its exact plans for construction in Arlington might look like — the company is still waiting on the County Board to approve an incentive package for the the new headquarters to formalize many of its plans — advocates in the region are enthusiastic to hear that the company is ready to come to the table with local leaders.

“Amazon has an opportunity to create a model of a tech community that is inclusive, that’s different than what we’ve seen in Silicon Valley and Seattle,” said Nina Janopaul, the CEO of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

For officials who have long struggled with working across jurisdictional lines, that sort of collaboration could also be quite meaningful, said Stephen Fuller, one of the region’s preeminent economic forecasters.

He argued during the event that Amazon’s promised 25,000 jobs may not put a strain on the region’s housing all on their own, but that the tens of thousands of additional jobs that flood into the area to support Amazon may well challenge the area.

For instance, Fuller’s researchers project that new companies moving into the region to support Amazon could induce demand for as much as 41 million square feet of new office space in the area — for context, Amazon plans to build anywhere from 4 million to 8 million on its own.

“The growth is really coming and we need to take a moment to think about this beyond Amazon,” Fuller said.

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County leaders have now given the green light to plans to redevelop the American Legion post in Virginia Square into an affordable housing complex, a project widely hailed as an innovative effort to provide reasonably priced homes to veterans.

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday (Feb. 23) to approve plans from the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to replace the Legion’s current home with a new seven-story structure. The building will have room for 160 apartments — half will be set aside specifically for veterans, and all of them are guaranteed to be affordable to people of more modest means for the next 75 years.

The development, located at 3445 Washington Blvd, will also include 8,000 square feet on its ground floor for American Legion Post 139 to stay on the property. The Legion has owned the roughly 1.3-acre property since the 1930s, but opted to sell it to APAH in 2016 after the nonprofit sketched out plans for a new complex decided to helping local veterans.

“Unfortunately, the high cost of housing has put Arlington out of reach for many,” APAH Board of Directors member Rich Jordan wrote in a statement. “But we are excited that this project, the first collaboration of its kind, will welcome more veterans home to our community.”

The building will include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, all at varying levels of affordability. Most will be designed to be affordable to people making 60 percent or 80 percent of the area median income — that works out to a yearly annual salary of $49,260 and $65,680, respectively.

However, some will be set aside for people making 30 percent of the area median income, a level of affordability that projects around Arlington only rarely achieve. Someone would have to make around $30,000 a year to qualify for the homes.

“We are adding much-needed affordable units to our inventory, and many of them are large enough for families,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey wrote in a statement.

The project will also include an underground parking garage for residents, with a total of 96 spaces. Of those, 20 would be set aside to serve the Legion post specifically.

That represents a smaller number of parking spaces that the county’s zoning laws would typically allow at a development of this size. But county officials opted to sign off on the plans anyway, reasoning that many people living at the building will likely rely on the area’s Metro station and bevy of available bus stops to get around.

Even still, parking was a key concern for some neighbors. Some local leaders worry that the building’s larger apartments will attract families, who will bring cars and take up street parking in the neighborhoods adjoining the development.

The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association and Lyon Village Citizens’ Association both floated the idea of tweaking zoned parking limits in the area — the streets surrounding the development, like N. Kansas Street and 12th Road N., are currently off-limits to people without permits from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Some neighbors proposed a 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. limit instead, but county officials weren’t inclined to grant that request.

In a staff report, the county noted that it’s still in the middle of a lengthy review of the residential parking permit program, with a moratorium on most changes to parking zones while that review moves forward.

That’s now set to wrap up sometime early next year, and county staff told the Planning Commission that they’re hesitant to make any zoned parking changes in the area until then — the County Board did, however, roll back some contentious restrictions in the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill neighborhoods earlier this year.

“In the future, if parking increases along 12th Road N. by non-Zone 6 permit holders, the hours of the RPP restriction could be evaluated based on the program’s guidelines at that time,” staff wrote in the report.

APAH also plans to construct a new section of N. Kansas Street running north-to-south between 13th Street N. and Washington Blvd, a move that staff hope will break up the area’s “superblock” feel. The new road will include some dedicated space for pedestrians and cyclists, and the developer is also planning to widen Washington Blvd near the project.

Eventually, the county also hopes to see 12th Road N. extended to provide an “east-west” connection across the property as well, though that will likely be finished only once the adjacent YMCA redevelops that property to allow for a new recreational facility and some new apartments on the site. A developer is also hoping to add 255 new apartments near the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road in the coming years.

APAH expects to fund the bulk of the $78.4 million project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit cash, though the nonprofit will also work to raise $3 million in private financing.

The Board also approved a $5.79 million loan for the project Saturday from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a key tool designed to spur affordable development in Arlington. APAH expects to ask for another $5.375 million loan from the fund next year.

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