Arlington, VA

Early stages of construction have started on the future site of a new Harris Teeter, three apartment buildings and a new green space in Ballston.

Utility relocation and demolition of the recently-vacated American Service Center building will soon begin at 600 N. Glebe Road, said Mark Senn, the president of Georgia-based developer Southeastern Real Estate Group, LLC, the developer overseeing the project.

“The project has started, but it’s going to start in full force in the next couple of months,” Senn said.

The construction kicks off the first of three phases of development of the site. In phase one, a new 310-unit apartment building with a new Harris Teeter space on the ground floor will replace the former American Service Center building and Mercedes Benz dealership lot. During this phase, customers will still have access to parking and the current Harris Teeter, which was the company’s first in Virginia.

“Our goal is to keep Harris Teeter up and functioning and convenient for the customer and keep accessibility and parking like it is,” Senn said. “That’s the driving force behind this.”

Southeastern is trying to avoid disruptions especially during the holiday months, which are the busiest for grocery stores, he said.

Phase one will be finished in 2022, Senn said.

During the second phase, the old Harris Teeter will be demolished for new temporary surface parking. The second apartment building, with 195 units, and the public open space will be constructed in phase two.

In the third phase, the temporary parking lot will become the third apartment building: a 227-unit residential building with retail on the ground floor and two levels of below-grade parking.

With architects, mechanical engineers and electrical and plumbing engineers out of the office due to the pandemic, progress on the project has been slower, but people are working hard to keep it on track, Senn said.

“We’re on schedule to do the work as we had anticipated prior to COVID-19,” he said.

The County Board approved the three phases of work at 600 N. Glebe last year. Senn said the entire complex should take six to seven years to build.

“It’s a great project,” Senn said. “Hopefully, after COVID-19, it’ll be social-gathering place for the community.”

The park will include a pedestrian path, a dog run, a picnic area, as well as natural vegetation to support pollinator insects and birds.

In April 2019, the developer bumped the number of housing units in the project from 700 to 732, cut some parking spaces and announced its intention to seek LEED Silver sustainability certification.

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As Election Day nears, Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, took shots at her opponent, County Board Chair Libby Garvey, on the county’s Missing Middle Housing study.

Facing a shortage of moderately-priced housing options in the “missing middle” between apartment buildings and single-family homes, the County is kicking off a study to figure out whether it should open up some areas zoned only for single-family homes to denser housing types.

But Clement, a perennial candidate for the last decade, said Garvey has given outsized importance to the racial-justice component of this plan to gloss over economic problems. One problem is the possibility that these new housing options may still be out-of-reach for Black residents, according to Clement.

“The County has been very successful in persuading people it is a social-justice and racial issue, but the people that they are addressing are not aware of the dynamics of the real-estate market,” Clement said.

In the mid-20th century, Arlington began zoning most of the county for single-family homes and forbade the construction of more compact dwellings, which were more commonly inhabited by the county’s Black population because fewer could afford detached homes. There were also deed covenants that explicitly prevented non-whites from buying homes, even if they could afford them.

Today, 75% of the county is zoned for single-family homes. Given the median income earned by Black Arlingtonians, homes in all but a few neighborhoods are out of reach for most.

“What we’ve got now is the result of very intentional systemic racism,” Garvey said of local housing patterns. “Whether this study is going to fix it or not is hard to say. I don’t think we’re saying that.”

Clement agreed that the effects of Arlington’s exclusionary housing policies in the 20th century remain. She said what is disingenuous is framing duplexes, townhouses or other small-scale, multi-family housing as a way to correct Arlington’s racist past, when some data suggest these new options could be unaffordable due to the county’s inflated land values.

“Due to ever increasing land values no one earning less than area median income will afford the housing built on densified lots,” Clement wrote. “In addition many moderate income residents, including people of color, will be forced to sell when real estate assessments escalate in their up-zoned neighborhoods.”

Garvey did not refute the possibility that the study could find that these alternatives would not necessarily be more affordable, but said it is “way too early” to draw conclusions from a study in its infancy.

“The only thing we’ve said is that we have a real issue with sufficient diversity of housing to meet a lot of needs,” she said.

Clement argues that the current unaffordable housing landscape in Arlington is because the county allowed affordable homes to be torn down and replaced with more expensive housing. Renovating existing structures would be a better solution, she said.

This spring, the County Board voted to eliminate a tax credit to landlords who renovate their buildings. Senior Housing Planner Russell Danao-Schroeder said the program had outlived its usefulness: Only large developers were availing themselves of the credit to keep their buildings at the top of the market.

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In 1900, Black people comprised more than a third of Arlington’s population and lived in 12 neighborhoods in the county.

Over the last 100 years, however, the population and the variety of places Black people can afford to live has dwindled, according to a new video from the Alliance for Housing Solutions, a local advocacy organization.

People who identify as Black currently account for 8% of the population, according to Arlington County, and the Alliance video said those who make the median income for Black residents can afford rent in only three census tracts.

The video chronicles the decisions at the local and federal level —  combined with gentrification, rising housing prices and a lack of options — that have forced out much of Arlington’s Black residents.

It ends with a message supportive of Arlington’s Missing Middle Housing Study, which is exploring options for allowing more types of small-scale multifamily housing, in more parts of the county, via zoning changes.

“It’s time to ask ourselves if we are ready to dismantle the walls of indifference once and for all and build an Arlington where people of all walks of life are welcome and can afford to live,” the video says.

The video comes a few weeks before the virtual kick-off event for the “Missing Middle” study on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

The housing patterns seen in Arlington today were set in the first half of the 20th century, the video says. Construction rates for suburban single-family homes and garden apartments boomed, but many deeds in Arlington restricted ownership to white people. In 1938, Arlington banned row houses — the primary type of housing for Black residents, and a common feature in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. — which were deemed distasteful.

Some barriers were legal, while others were physical.

In the 1930s, residents of whites-only communities around the Black neighborhood of Hall’s Hill built a 7-foot cinder block wall to separate their communities. In the 1940s, the federal government evicted Black neighborhoods to build the Pentagon and nearby roadways.

Although the Civil Rights Era ushered in school desegregation as well as open and fair housing laws, both federal and local, the video says many parts of Arlington look no different than when they were building during Jim Crow and legal segregation. Historically Black neighborhoods are characterized by aging homes that do not comply with zoning regulations that were put in place after the homes were built.

“In many ways zoning rules that govern Arlington’s low-density residential areas have become more restrictive over time, while only a small part of the county’s land was made available to meet the growing housing needs of the area,” according to the video.

Today, single-family detached homes account for nearly 75% of zoned property in Arlington, according to the Missing Middle Housing Study. The study partially links the shortage of townhomes, duplex, triplex and quadruplex options — called middle in reference to their size, not their price point — to policies with racist origins.

A reversal of some of Arlington’s restrictive zoning policies is a deliberate choice “the County could make to correct the mistakes of the past and pave a new path for Arlington’s future,” the study’s authors wrote. If Arlington chooses to do nothing, “the structural barriers and institutional racism embedded in the County’s land use policy would remain.”

Screen shots via Alliance for Housing Solutions/YouTube

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After months of planning, Arlington County is preparing to enter the first phase of its “Missing Middle Housing Study.”

The study will look at whether the county should diversify its housing stock by introducing more housing types that have been typically prohibited from many neighborhoods.

Set to kick off on Oct. 29 after an Oct. 13 orientation meeting for community partners, the study’s first phase will focus primarily on community engagement, as county staff solicit ideas about what housing types to study and key priorities and issues to consider going forward.

The county is seeking “enlisting a network of community partners to facilitate broader study participation through the use of their own communication networks,” according to the study’s website.

“The most important consideration for community engagement is equity and ensuring that access and opportunities to participate in this process are equitable and inclusive,” Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development planner Kellie Brown said. “We’re recommending a very distributed community engagement process to make sure that we’re not leaving anyone out.”

As laid out in a presentation to the Arlington County Board on Sept. 23, the Missing Middle Housing Study has been divided into three phases, concluding in the summer of 2022.

With the first phase expected to run until spring 2021, the second phase would start next summer with more in-depth analyses of the different possible housing types. The third phase will turn those recommendations into specific amendments to its zoning ordinance or comprehensive plan if necessary.

Since it was first presented to the public in January, the study’s scope has been slightly modified based on feedback the county got from various commissions and civic associations, as well as an online survey that drew 494 responses, according to Brown.

In addition to emphasizing the need to align Arlington’s land use and zoning policies with its diversity and inclusivity goals, the new scope highlights potential benefits of middle housing, such as improved walkability of neighborhoods and diversity of housing options, and clarifies that the study will be countywide, not just focused on neighborhoods dominated by single-family detached homes.

The refined scope also states that, while the study’s goals are to increase the supply and choice of housing available in Arlington, affordability can be considered as a potential community priority.

The study scope was developed based on community input, but some Arlington residents remain skeptical of the county’s goals, fearing that introducing duplexes, townhouses, and other forms of middle housing to new neighborhoods will further accelerate development in the county without alleviating affordability concerns.

The advocacy group Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future argues that the county should not ask residents to weigh in on missing middle housing until it also conducts studies of potential impacts on schools, the environment, flooding, the county budget, and other factors.

“I do think that Housing Arlington has not made the case that we really need to study introducing these housing types,” ASF founder Peter Rousselot said. “We think that it’s going to be good for developers to be able to develop and sell these houses, but without doing these environmental and fiscal impacts, it just doesn’t make sense for us.”

Arlington officials say that changing zoning policies to accommodate housing types other than single-family detached homes and high-rise apartment buildings — like duplexes and townhouses — is necessary to add to the county’s housing supply and manage the impact of anticipated regional growth. It could make up for long-standing policies, such as a rowhouse ban enacted in 1938, that contributed to segregating neighborhoods by race and class.

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Morning Notes

Amazon Buys Hotel Next to HQ2 Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has purchased the Residence Inn by Marriott in Pentagon City with plans to demolish it and expand its second headquarters, the company tells the Washington Business Journal. Acorn Development LLC, an Amazon subsidiary, paid $148.5 million for the building and its 1.5-acre site at 550 Army Navy Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Trail Roundabout Now In Use — A new roundabout along the Custis Trail is now in use, improving safety at a formerly hazardous T-intersection in Bon Air Park. [Twitter]

Changes for Missing Middle Housing Study — “Staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) presented to the County Board a revised Missing Middle Housing Study Scope and Charge, which was shaped by community feedback and informed by research.” [Arlington County]

Optimists Now Meeting in Person — “While many other service organizations across Northern Virginia have curtailed operations or moved to an online-only presence due to the public-health situation, the Optimist Club of Arlington is back with in-person meetings. The local club… resumed its twice-monthly meetings in July at Washington Golf & Country Club, with appropriate precautions.” [InsideNova]

Robo Mower Snatched, But Then Returned — “Though not a tale of high crimes and misdemeanors, the brief disappearance Tuesday morning of ‘Shultzy’ the robotic AutoMower caused a degree of excitement for one Maywood family.” [Patch]

ACFD Touts First ‘Whole Blood’ Use — “Crews responded for a person that suffered serious injuries after a long fall on Monday. Medics quickly administered whole blood, helping to stabilize the patient’s vital signs. This was the first use of our innovative whole blood program implemented earlier this month.” [Twitter]

Today: Virtual Pike Progress Luncheon — “Support our community with this year’s virtual ‘luncheon’ benefit! While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Columbia Pike, the region and indeed the world, our community is still strong.” [ARLnow Events, CPRO]

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Morning Notes

Parent Group Calls Out APS — From the Black Parents of Arlington: “In addition to tracking incidents of racism, APS needs to implement mandatory anti-racism and implicit bias training for all teachers and staff throughout the system on a regular basis. Moreover, APS must begin to track incidents of racial and ethnic hostility and make these findings public. The time is now. We will no longer wait. Arlington’s Black children deserve better.” [Facebook]

Pizzeria to Open Next Month in Clarendon — “A storied Connecticut pizza shop is making one of its biggest moves, opening a new location in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood next month. Colony Grill is gearing up to debut Oct. 13 with a 5,200-square-foot space, taking over at 2800 Clarendon Blvd. for the Gallery Clarendon art installation pop-up that shuttered in February. The restaurant offers seating for 170 guests in three different areas.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Potomac Bridge Moving Forward — “With the state budget in tatters and commuter levels at record lows, now might hardly seem the right moment for Virginia to embark upon a $1.9 billion rail project. However, the recent conclusion of the Long Bridge’s environmental impact study has cleared the way for the commonwealth to do just that.” [Virginia Mercury]

Eagle Scout Project at Fire Station 5 — “A special project is taking shape to honor the victims of September 11th.
A piece of steel from the World Trade Center was brought to the Arlington County Fire Department nearly ten years ago. Now, a local high school senior and aspiring Eagle Scout wants to transform the area into a place where people can gather.” [WUSA 9]

Arlington Man Jailed in Belarus — “A U.S. diplomat warns that her Belarusian American husband’s health is in ‘immediate danger’ following his late-July arrest by security forces of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Vitali Shkliarov, a political analyst and dual citizen who worked on the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, was detained while visiting his parents in his hometown of Gomel, Belarus, in the runup to the country’s Aug. 9 presidential elections.” [NPR]

County Reaffirms Fair Housing Commitment — “Arlington will continue to follow the federal government’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, despite the federal government’s July 2020 action to rescind that rule within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the County Board said in a resolution approved at its September 15 Recessed Meeting.” [Arlington County]

Local Historian Dies — “It is our sad duty to announce the passing of beloved historian Ed Bearss, one of the legends of the battlefield preservation movement and a long-time member of the American Battlefield Trust board.” [National Parks TravelerTwitter]

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(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) The County Board over the weekend approved a zoning change that will make life a bit easier for owners of a few hundred duplexes in Arlington.

The change affects “non-conforming” duplexes in certain zoning districts, which under existing zoning code were prohibited from any exterior change or expansion without permission of the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Single-family home owners in the same districts are allowed to make such changes by right, without a zoning variance.

County staff and Arlington’s Planning Commission recommended giving those duplex owners the same exterior modification rights as single-family home owners. That will allow “by-right opportunity for reinvestment in aging housing stock, consistent with flexibility provided to single-family homes,” according to a staff presentation.

The County Board approved the change unanimously. More from a county press release:

The Board approved a change to the Zoning Ordinance that will allow by-right expansions and additions to nonconforming duplexes in multi-family districts. There are some 432 such duplexes, located in 14 civic associations across Arlington. Non-conforming buildings do not meet current zoning requirements.

Currently, owners of nonconforming duplexes in multi-family districts must seek a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals to make such changes. They must demonstrate that the nonconformity is unreasonably restricting the utilization of the property and that the variance would alleviate a hardship. The amendment furthers the goals of the Affordable Housing Master Plan, which called for reinvestment in existing housing stock that contributes to the overall diversity of housing countywide and preserves and supports existing affordable housing.

Following a discussion of large, luxury homes being built, the Planning Commission also voted to recommend that county staff study “requiring use permit or site plan approval for construction of new ‘single-family’ dwellings,” in areas zoned primarily for residential apartments.

This fall Arlington is kicking off a Missing Middle Housing Study that will examine whether duplexes, triplexes and other types of lower-density multifamily housing should be allowed in more parts of the county. According to a recent study, 73 percent of the land zoned for residential use in Arlington is zoned exclusively for single-family detached housing.

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Morning Notes

More Accessible Parking in Busy Areas — “The County has installed an additional 60 ADA-accessible on-street parking spaces for a total of 212. The spaces — located throughout eight areas of high residential and business density — feature meters with near field communication (NFC), allowing customers to pay by waving a smartphone within a short distance. The adjusted parking areas also allows for easier access to popular areas throughout the County.” [Arlington County]

Ballston Cafe Serves Kids for Free — “When local schools closed in March — and their cafeterias along with them — Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe began offering free weekday lunches to school-age kids on a walk-in basis. As of late July, the restaurant had provided nearly 3,000 such meals.” [Arlington Magazine]

Yglesias on Arlington Housing — “How much study do you need to know that houses are expensive in Arlington and most of the country is zoned to make adding units illegal?” [@mattyglasias/Twitter]

I-66 Lane Closures This Weekend — “Single-lane closures on eastbound I-66 just before the bridge over Lee Highway (Route 29) at Exit 72 will occur (weather permitting) between 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21 and 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 24 for road repairs.” [VDOT]

Reminder: Ballston Taco Bamba Opening — “The new 1,500 square foot restaurant is the fifth Taco Bamba in Virginia. Set to open on Thursday, Aug. 20, the takeout taqueria will feature ‘a bar program, a small patio and a brand-new menu of nuestros tacos, in addition to the taqueria’s traditional favorites.'” [ARLnow]

Flickr pool photo by Vincent

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Morning Notes

Changes Proposed for Rosslyn Development — “The Dittmar Co. is tinkering with it plans for the redevelopment of the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn, shrinking the size of a planned hotel and adding more residential to account for Covid-19’s impact on the hospitality industry. The developer filed revised plans for the project with Arlington County earlier this month, outlining its new designs for a 326-room hotel and a 523-unit apartment building” [Washington Business Journal]

Rainstorm Leads to Vivid Rainbows — “For such an awful year, 2020 has lots of rainbows. This one continued into the grass below me.” [@STATter911/Twitter, @RosslynVA/Twitter]

County Stats on Missing Middle Housing — “So, just how missing is this missing middle? 6%. That’s the percentage of Arlington’s 116,000 homes that the county estimates are townhomes, side-by-side duplexes, or stacked duplexes. If you count low-rise multifamily apartments as missing middle, the percentage increases to a little less than a third of the county’s current housing stock.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Mulch Available for Arlington Residents — “Free wood mulch for pickup is available for the first time since March. Get it while it’s hot. The stuff doesn’t grow on … nevermind.” [@ArlingtonDES/Twitter, Arlington County]

Lebanese Taverna Owners in Beirut — “Monday’s kitchen at full swing from @WCKitchen HQ’s over 11k meals between 9 total kitchens with amazing committed partners and volunteers! Thankful to @lebanesetaverna Abi-Najm family for showing up in person and supporting Beirut operation financially #ChefsForBeirut” [@chefjoseandres/Twitter]

Rep. Beyer’s GOP Challenger — “Jeff Jordan has his work cut out for him. The Republican supports President Donald Trump, and he’s running an uphill battle against Rep. Don Beyer for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District seat, which has remained solidly in Democratic hands for the last 30 years.” [ALXnow]

Hockey: W-L Defeats Yorktown — “It took nearly five months and some intricate planning. Then at last, the popular and annual all-Arlington ice hockey high-school club match between the Washington-Liberty Generals and Yorktown Patriots was played Aug. 1. The Generals won, 5-3, at the Medstar Capitals Iceplex. The season-ending rivalry match was originally scheduled for March 13, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” [InsideNova]

Online Home Lighting Discussion — Sponsored — “Olson Weaver Lighting Design & is hosting a Q & A session to answer lighting questions from designers/architects, contractors, & homeowners” on Friday from 6:30-7:30 p.m. [Eventbrite]

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Morning Notes

Northam Announces COVID Changes — Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesdays that, starting today, Virginia residents can start having nonemergency surgeries and dental procedures again. The governor also announced that the state Dept. of Health will soon start releasing ZIP code-level coronavirus case data. [WTOP, @kamamasters/Twitter]

County Announces New Housing Director — “Arlington County has selected Anne Venezia to be the County’s new Housing Director… She most recently served six months as the Acting Housing Director and was the Housing Finance Manager for four years prior. Venezia joined Arlington County in 2008.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Pushing for More Census Participation — “Arlington government officials say the county’s census-response rate has passed 60 percent, and local efforts will now be made to reach out to low-response hotspots across the community… the 2010 response rate of 74 percent [was] slightly below the overall Virginia average that year.” [InsideNova]

County’s Memorial Page for Erik Gutshall — Arlington County has established a “Remembering Erik” page on its website, memorializing the late County Board member Erik Gutshall, who passed away earlier this month from brain cancer. [Arlington County]

Library Seeks Material for New Archive — “Arlington Public Library announces the COVID-19 Archives project, designed to create a comprehensive picture of Arlington during an extraordinary period in our history. The Center for Local History (CLH) seeks donations of journals, photos, and objects to help document this time of difficulty and struggle, but also of resilience and hope.” [Arlington County]

Overnight Crash on Carlin Springs RoadUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — “Video appears to show a car crash took down electric lines on Carlin Springs Rd near 7th St. S.” [@statter911/Twitter]

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It is impossible to follow Virginia’s “stay-at-home” order if you do not have a home.

The emerging economic crisis across the country, as layoffs skyrocket, could leave millions of people with unaffordable housing, or even homeless. It goes without saying that increased homelessness and crowding within homes puts our community at risk for an even worse outbreak than we are already experiencing. For this most obvious reason, the County Manager’s proposed budget for FY 2021 puts a high priority on funding acute housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arlington’s FY21 budget had to undergo a complete makeover in the past month, given the expectation of lower tax revenue and higher costs from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the County Manager has wisely prioritized support for housing in the coming year. This includes:

  • Maintaining the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), Arlington’s revolving loan program for creating and preserving long-term housing for low-income families, at its FY 2020 level of $16 million.
  • Increasing the funding for Arlington’s housing grants, which provides rent vouchers to eligible low-income residents.
  • Increasing the funds for permanent supportive housing, which helps residents coming out of homelessness.

The County Manager also introduced a new contingency fund to address emerging needs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Crucially, this fund designates $2.7 million “to ensure that the basic needs of food and shelter are met for our residents, particularly those who have lost their jobs.”

This is a critical area of need that will not only help residents in the greatest need, but support overall public health by giving vulnerable residents a home to shelter in during the pandemic. In the original FY 2021 budget, the County Manager proposed an increase the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. However, shifting this money to address acute needs is prudent giving the current crisis.

It is unfortunate that this budget does not include new funding to support the Housing Arlington initiative, that held promise for addressing the systemic issues limiting our housing supply and prohibiting moderate-priced housing. We must increase our production of housing, both market-rate and subsidized, in order to keep people in housing that is affordable at their income. An ample supply of housing at all price points is a public health priority.

Disease spreads in conditions of crowding, not density. And while programs like the Missing Middle Study cost money now to fund staff time and community engagement, they could lead to new tools for increased housing affordability without county funds, such as reducing permitting burdens and updating zoning regulations.

In the immediate term, however, we need to help people stay in the housing they already have. That is why the County also needs to consider expanding the qualifications for the Housing Grants program. Restrictions on these funds prevent them from assisting some of Arlington’s most vulnerable residents.

The County should work with the Department of Human Services and other relevant stakeholders to find ways to include immigrant households that lack documentation and individuals who have never had a prior lease in their name, which could include young people aging out of foster care or people experiencing domestic violence.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her husband and son. By day, she is the Development Director for Greater Greater Washington and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

Housing is critical to public health. Arlington needs to be judicious with its funds and continue to look for ways to support housing for our neighbors in the midst of this pandemic. The Arlington County Board will vote on the FY 2021 budget on Thursday, April 30. Let us keep everyone housed and beat the virus together.

 

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