Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

HQ2 Business Boom Strains County — “A full year after Amazon.com Inc. announced that it would set up shop in Arlington, there’s little doubt the company has drawn the sort of surge in business and development interest that local leaders promised as they pursued HQ2 — but all of that activity has also put a strain on the local government as it prepares for the tech giant’s arrival.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tour of Amazon’s Temporary Crystal City Office — “Amazon almost has 200 employees working in leased space in @ArlingtonVA, with more on the way.” [WJLA, Twitter]

‘National Landing’ Name Falls Flat — “It’s been one year since the HQ2 announcement, and with it the coordinated airdrop of the name, ‘National Landing,’ on an unsuspecting and bewildered population… So has National Landing stuck? Not really, at least among the common people, according to the folks I interviewed.” [Washington Business Journal]

Amazon Adjacent Real Estate Skyrockets — “The median home price in the 22202 ZIP code, which encompasses all of HQ2, was $815,000 in October. That’s about a 51% year-to-date increase or a $275,000 difference, according to data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime, based on listing activity from Bright MLS.” [Washington Business Journal, WTOP]

Housing Affordability Increasing? — “With mortgage rates at a three-year low and a healthy job market, housing affordability rose to its highest level in three years in the third quarter of 2019… for the Washington area, high incomes helped to offset the pricey cost of housing, with the resulting regional opportunity index higher than the national average.” [InsideNova]

County Pleased With Water Main Break Response — “How well did Arlington County in Virginia think it handled the water main break that triggered a boil water advisory for more than 100,000 customers in the county and parts of Northwest D.C.? Pretty well, it seems.” [WTOP]

New American Legion Bridge Coming — “Commuters heading to and from Maryland on the Beltway may see some relief from the constant traffic woes. The governors of Virginia and Maryland announced an agreement Tuesday morning that would see the construction of a new American Legion Bridge.” [Tysons Reporter]

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

In one of its first concrete votes under the Housing Arlington umbrella, the County Board will consider a proposal on November 16 to revise its incentive zoning program that gives developers additional density in exchange for community amenities, particularly affordable housing or community facilities.

Within this admirable proposal to increase density, however, is a small but troubling indication that County staff may not trust the market to deliver housing for middle-income households.

Currently, developers can earn up to 25% additional density and up to 6 additional stories by including affordable housing or a community facility in their project. The County staff wants to remove the 25% cap on bonus density, but also eliminate the option to earn additional height.

This means that the County Board could approve buildings with higher density, if the height fits the zoning district or applicable adopted plan. The goal is to encourage more affordable housing and community facilities through site plan developments, while maintaining the height maximums that neighborhoods have come to expect.

The decision to lift the cap on bonus density is laudable, but removing the option for bonus height will not give our land use policies the flexibility to meet current market conditions. Much of Arlington’s land is governed by outdated zoning codes that don’t recognize or accommodate the current housing crisis. This change would perpetuate the “grand bargain” that allows height in narrow Metro corridors but restricts it even in other transit-heavy neighborhoods.

Planning staff want their planning process to take the lead, but this can mean years of work, managed through a community process that over-represents the most affluent, housing-secure residents.

However, more concerning is the less-discussed component of this proposal to modify the definition of “low- to moderate-income” used to determine whether affordable housing in a site plan is eligibility for bonus density. Currently, a project can receive bonus density for housing that is affordable to households making 60% Area Median Income (AMI), or $72,000 for a family of four, for rental units and 80% AMI ($97,000/year) for ownership. Given the emphasis on “missing middle housing,” staff wants to loosen these definitions and explore offering bonus density to projects that offer ownership units affordable to households making up to 120% AMI ($140,000/year).

Arlington County clearly lacks affordable ownership housing for middle-income households, especially those seeking family-sized units. However, the County Board should not use incentive zoning to create housing for families making $100,000 to $140,000 per year. We should allow missing-middle options by-right and let the market provide housing for these relatively affluent households. When we use incentive zoning to achieve housing for higher-income people, we limit the opportunity to produce housing stock that assists lower-income households who are not served by the market.

Expanding the upper income range for zoning incentives tells me that the County may be unwilling to push for market reforms that would make this housing a regular development. Housing for middle-income families is not a gift that developers give us. We should permit the density and housing forms throughout the county that will make this housing profitable to build without any special encouragement. If we can’t get housing for 120% AMI without using these tools, then our zoning is wrong.

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.

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Just a few months into the county’s “Housing Arlington” initiative, Arlington’s Housing Director is retiring.

David Cristeal is stepping down after 15 years with the county, including six as Housing Director. Cristeal was elevated to the position in 2013 after a nationwide search.

At the time, he won plaudits from then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan for “working successfully with Arlington community members and non-profit partners to plan and preserve affordable housing.”

On Thursday, a county spokeswoman said Cristeal was retiring, after an inquiry from ARLnow about a job ad on the Washington Post website. His last day will be next Friday, the spokeswoman said.

From the job listing:

Arlington County’s Community Planning, Housing and Development is seeking a dynamic, energetic, and innovative Housing Director. This is a unique opportunity to work on a variety of housing solutions for one of the country’s most densely populated and well-educated communities. Recently, Arlington County has attracted new and expanding companies that have or will be bringing tens of thousands of new, high paying jobs to the County over the coming decade. This significant influx of workers will further stress the region’s already competitive housing market.

Duties include:

  • Implementing a new Housing Arlington initiative through a multi-department effort, while remaining responsible for other housing programs and initiatives that serve a diverse community;
  • Providing regional solutions to solve the complex challenge of serving the growing needs of the low and moderate-income residents in the County;
  • Developing strategies to increase supply for low income residents and moderate-income residents who are also impacted by increasing housing prices; and
  • Providing comprehensive approach to meeting housing needs, which is vital for economic sustainability, diversity, and quality of life.

The ad was posted on Thursday and lists an annual salary range of $101,150.40-$197,163.20.

The Housing Arlington initiative aims to create more housing — particularly for low- and middle-income residents — to help accommodate anticipated population growth. Earlier this year Arlington County reported that it had lost 17,000 market-rate affordable housing units since 2005 and was expecting 58,000 more residents by 2045.

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A new historical map of Arlington allows users to explore what the county looked like 100 years ago.

The digital map depicts a mix of new and old pictures, showing the buildings that were standing in Arlington’s neighborhoods in the 1920s. By clicking pinpoints on a county map, users can check out the homes and businesses that are (or were) located on that site and read caption notes.

“I think that this StoryMap, besides being nifty, allows people to play with it, and also give you a real historical sense of what Arlington used to look like besides these fantastic visions of glamour columns,” said Falls Church News-Press columnist and local historian Charlie Clark, who made the map for the Arlington Historical Society.

Clark told ARLnow he was inspired by the Smithsonian’s map last year that depicted John Wilkes Booth’s escape route through the streets of D.C. and down to Fredericksburg. He said the ability to combine a map with on-the-ground photos and text could also help tell Arlington stories.

“I just happen to think of this before the anniversary of Arlington getting its name,” Clark said, referring to the bill in 1920 that allowed the county to change its name from Alexandria County to Arlington County. “So I think this would be a great opportunity to get this out.”

The society hopes to plan several celebrations next year to mark the 100th anniversary of Arlington’s name.

Clark assembled photos from the era from his own records as well as from public archives and friends around town. He said it took months to fact-check the photos and captions against newspaper clippings from the Washington Post or the Alexandria Gazette, and to visit the still-standing homes, driving there as many times as it took to get a picture without modern elements like trash bins or cars out front.

“It’s really amazing the number of homes that were around in that time and how many of them are still around if you look as you walk,” added Hix.

The Historical Society helped fund the project with $500 to help cover costs like the Esri map software, while Arlington-based digital mapping company Blue Raster donated its time to help design it.

Today the map features everything from multi-family homes in the newly re-named Green Valley neighborhood, to houses with sweeping porches in Westover, as well as Ballston churches and Crystal City brick kilns.

“One of the things I like about this is that this is really throughout the county, not just the more fabled homes that we’re all familiar with, like the Glebe House” said Hix.

“We tried to get every neighborhood represented,” said Clark. “We wanted normal houses because a lot of the wealthy historic houses that have names — those are sort of twice-told tales.”

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) More detailed plans for part of JBG Smith’s massive new round of redevelopment near Amazon’s new headquarters are coming into view.

A preliminary site plan filing reviewed by ARLnow includes a 688,223 square-foot residential development in Crystal City — a pair of towers at 2000 and 2001 S. Bell Street — replacing an existing building at 2001 Richmond Highway and an adjacent parking lot.

That’s in addition to four other new, planned buildings — at 223 23rd Street S., 2300 Crystal Drive, and two towers at 2525 Crystal Drive — that were announced late Tuesday afternoon. In all, JBG Smith announced five new residential buildings and one office building — “all within a half mile of the Metro and Amazon’s new headquarters.”

The two S. Bell Street towers will be located across the street from one another on a new, re-aligned portion of Clark-Bell Street, bounded by 20th Street to the north and the newly renamed Richmond Highway to the west. The proposed buildings include a combined 762 housing units and 54,215 square feet of retail space.

Attorney Kedrick Whitmore of Venable LLC submitted JBG Smith’s site plans. In a letter, Whitmore wrote that the new development will bring an “infusion of new residents and mixed uses” that will “activate the existing fabric of Crystal City.”

Whitmore also noted new residents will create a stronger market for the retail spaces, which are struggling countywide to attract tenants.

One building at 2000 S. Bell Street — the west tower — will stand 29 stories tall. Designs call for 359 housing units in the high-rise, as well as 19,972 square feet of retail space.

The West tower’s units are a mix of one bedrooms (105), two bedrooms (69), and three bedrooms (39) with the majority being a smaller-sized one bedroom unit (145.)

Next door at 2001 S. Bell Street, JGB Smith is planning a 26-story tower with 403 units and 34,243 square feet of retail. This east tower will feature studio apartments (65), smaller-sized one bedrooms (155), regular one bedroom units (84), and two-bedroom units (99.)

Together the buildings will be served by a two-story underground parking garage with 314 spaces for cars.

JBG Smith’s attorney noted that the developer would be demolishing 185 existing parking spaces on the lot and adding 444 for an overall increase of 259 spaces — and resulting in a final parking ratio for cars of 0.34. The garage is also slated to include 330 bicycle parking spaces.

Coming between the two towers would be a new, merged S. Clark and S. Bell street, which is part of the Crystal City Sector Plan’s goal “to form a new north-south street between Jefferson Davis Boulevard and Crystal Drive.”

Arlington began demolishing the the S. Clark Street bridge over 18th Street S. in June as part of a larger $6 million project to bring Clark Street down to ground level and re-align the two streets together.

JBG Smith is proposing a new pedestrian walkway to the new street which wraps around the east tower.

The developer also submitted plans for an additional pair of buildings on the northwest corner of 23rd Street S. and Crystal Drive.

JBG Smith’s attorney wrote that the plan for the buildings will “include significant site improvements, including (but not limited to) partial implementation of realigned Clark-Bell Street, improved onsite circulation, street and sidewalk improvements along segments of 23rd Street and Crystal Drive, new interim public open space, and new infrastructure.”

Whitmore noted that the developments align with the Sector Plan‘s overall goals of transforming the area into an an “18-hour” neighborhood where people can work, live, and go out.

Also included in the new development plan are two towers at a listed address of 2525 Crystal Drive, which seemingly corresponds to the location of the JBG Smith-owned Crystal City sand volleyball courts and workout park, next to an off-ramp from Reagan National Airport.

Additional details on the new developments, however, including renderings and maps, were not immediately available due to confusion at the permit office caused by the county’s new digital permit submission system.

According to two permit staffers, JBG Smith did not correctly submit the site plans to the online system, resulting in the need for re-submission this (Wednesday) afternoon. Renderings of the new buildings and landscaping maps were also not publicly available by Tuesday afternoon.

JBG Smith’s latest slew of projects are in addition to its other plans in Crystal City and Pentagon City — which include redoing an office building (1770 Crystal Drive), adding new apartments to the Riverhouse complex, and building twin apartment towers at 1900 Crystal Drive.

Street View photo and map via Google Maps. Renderings via JBG Smith.

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This weekend the League of Women Voters of Arlington is hosting a workshop to educate residents about the history of racism behind American — and Arlington’s — housing policies.

The free workshop is co-sponsored by the local NAACP branch and the nonprofit Alliance for Housing Solutions, and will run from 1-3 p.m. this Saturday, September 28 at Wakefield High School.

Local nonprofit Challenging Racism will explain how the federal government denied black homebuyers mortgages — a policy known as redlining — and subsidized white suburbs.

Former Wakefield teacher and co-founder of Challenging Racism, Marty Swaim, told ARLnow that the Federal Housing Administration started subsidized mortgages during the Great Depression — but only to whites. In segregated Arlington, this led to developers building suburbs for white buyers who could access the federal program helping them afford the properties.

“It depressed the value of black properties because it made those areas even less desirable,” Swaim said. “It’s a cascade of effects.” 

One 1971 HUD guide for homebuyers in Arlington, retrieved from the Center of Local History’s archives, mapped housing by price. Black neighborhoods like Hall’s Hill and Green Valley were color-coded in red to signify the lowest home values (under $20,000.) Whiter neighborhoods in North Arlington were shaded blue and purple to indicate more attractive homes valued between $40,000 and $50,000.

“A lot of Federal Housing Administration loans went to people who settled in these areas, and they were all white,” said Swaim.

Redlining was in addition to another form of discrimination prevalent in Virginia: restrictive covenants on deeds that prevented homeowners from selling to minority homebuyers. Some such covenants remain on deeds in Arlington, unenforceable but a reminder of the state’s segregated past.

Redlining and restrictive covenants were outlawed in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a bill which took years to gain traction. In 1965, activists in Northern Virginia led a petition drive to support it, garnering signatures from 9,926 Arlingtonians, some of whom reporters from the Arlington Sun described as signing the petition in secret from their husbands or neighbors.

“It is abundantly clear that the Negroes will be welcomed in hundreds of neighborhoods in Northern Virginia,” activist Arthur Hughes told the Sun at the time.

But even after the Fair Housing Act passed, decades of discrimination would affect black neighborhoods in Arlington, and nationwide, for years to come.

“Arlington is not immune,” agreed Carol Brooke, who heads the League’s Affordable Housing Committee.

Brooke said Saturday’s event is an opportunity to highlight how racist policies shaped neighborhoods and determined who has been allowed to call Arlington home.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Burglar Busted — “At approximately 6:41 p.m. on September 15, police were dispatched to the report of a suspicious person. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside her residence when she observed the male suspect allegedly approach the door to the residence and attempt to force entry, causing damage. The suspect attempted to flee on foot prior to police arrival. Officers located the suspect in the area and he was positively identified.” [Arlington County]

N. Va. Locales Team Up to Lure More Employers — “Prompted partly by the success in luring Amazon, 10 Northern Virginia jurisdictions have formed an alliance to market themselves as a region to attract other companies, especially those in the high-tech arena. Instead of trying to poach businesses from each other, or promote themselves at their neighbors’ expense, they will compete mainly as a group against other major metropolitan areas such as Boston and Silicon Valley.” [Washington Post, Washington Business Journal]

Housing Discrimination Forum Planned — “A coalition of organizations will look at the history of housing discrimination in Arlington in an upcoming forum. ‘The Color of Housing: The History of Racism in Housing in Arlington’ will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Wakefield High School.” [InsideNova]

N. Arlington Couple’s Nomadic Adventure — “Journalist Dan Kois and his wife, attorney Alia Smith, felt that their busy, comfortable existence in North Arlington was stifling true connections with their young daughters. So they did what some Washington parents only dream of: They moved far away. Then they moved again. And again.” [Washingtonian]

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Morning Notes

Ovi Visits Local Elementary School — “In conjunction with the launch of Ovi O’s, Alex Ovechkin’s limited-edition breakfast cereal, the Washington Capitals’ captain surprised Arlington Traditional School, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and a local Giant store with a visit on Sept. 10.” [NHL]

9/11 Remembrance Ceremony in Courthouse — “Officials in Northern Virginia held a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Sen Tim Kaine, Rep. Don Beyer, military commanders, local Arlington County officials and members of the Virginia House attended the remembrance ceremony on Arlington County government plaza.” [NBC 4, WUSA 9]

Local Leaders Set Housing Goals — “Local governments around Greater Washington now plan to set targets for housing production over the next decade, as part of a regional initiative to build 320,000 new homes by 2030 and ease the region’s cost pressures.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]

ACPD Plans ‘Coffee With a Cop’ — “Wednesday, October 2 is National Coffee with a Cop Day and the Arlington County Police Department is hosting four events with our Community Outreach Teams to celebrate. Community members are invited to join police at these informal events to ask questions, voice concerns, get to know their neighbors, interact with the Community Outreach Teams and meet officers from other sections of the department.” [Arlington County]

Orthopaedic Office Celebrates Grand Opening — “Ortho OIC Orthopaedic Immediate Care, the area’s first independent orthopaedic specialty urgent care… will be holding a grand opening event on September 19 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The event is open to the public and will feature a ribbon cutting ceremony.” [Press Release]

Farewell, Subway-Centric Paper — “The Washington Post is closing down its free daily commuter paper, Express, this week. The final edition of Express will be published on Thursday. The staff learned of the news at a meeting at noon on Wednesday.” [DCist]

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Arlington County’s zoning office is undertaking a study to find new ways to encourage affordable housing growth in the county.

The study aims to update the Housing Conservation District (HCD) report — a document which lays out measures to preserve units of affordable housing in several, specially-designated areas across the county.

Zoning staff are currently considering several new “zoning and financial incentives,” like:

  • Allowing developers to add more units to a building, or construct a second building on a property, if the developer reserves some units for affordable housing
  • Changing some zoning rules about setbacks or maximum building heights to make it easier to replace older affordable housing buildings
  • Adopting tax benefits for properties with affordable housing

The 12 areas in Arlington that form the HCD include Leeway Overlee, Glebewood, Waverly Hills, Spout Run/Lyon Village, North Highlands, Westover, Lyon Park, Penrose, Shirlington, and Long Branch Creek.

The original draft of the HCD in 2017 aimed to prevent developers from tearing down older homes in favor of new townhouses.

Earlier this year, the county announced a new “Housing Arlington” initiative to help the county meets its goal of creating 15,800 affordable units by 2040. At the time, staff noted lower-income residents face a housing squeeze given that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,000, and Arlington lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005.

The new study is expected to be completed by early 2020.

County staff are also currently undertaking a study about ways to make it easier to build new elder care facilities, such as allowing developers to build the facilities in more places around Arlington than currently permitted via zoning.

Image (top) via Arlington TV

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Developer JBG Smith says it has submitted new plans for a major redevelopment of its RiverHouse apartment property in Pentagon City, four blocks from Amazon’s new HQ2.

The developer announced today (Monday) that it submitted a site plan application to Arlington County to build about 1,000 new housing units along S. Joyce Street. The units will be in two, six-story apartment buildings, as well as traditional townhouses and maisonettes, per the press release, and about 260 of the units will be available for purchase.

The six-story buildings will have mix of units, including studios and three-bedroom units, for a combined total of 750 units. These two buildings will be constructed on the parkings lots in the northern end of the site and will feature central courtyards, and 30,000 square feet of “community-oriented street-level retail, including a potential daycare center and medical office, at the base of the two new buildings.”

The townhouses will be built on “underutilized” surface parking lots in the southern end of the site, facing the Aurora Highlands neighborhood and its single-family homes, JBG said

The extensive, 36-acre RiverHouse property is on a long lot bordered by Army Navy Drive, S. Joyce Street, 16th Street S., S. Arlington Ridge Road, and S. Lynn Street, at the edge of what’s being called “National Landing” — the recently-created term for the Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods.

Currently, RiverHouse has three apartment towers built in the 1950s and 1960s, with a combined 1,670 apartment units. JBG Smith intends to keep the three towers, per the press release, and will instead construct the new buildings around the existing towers.

JBG Smith Executive Vice President Andy Van Horn said in a statement that the developer aimed to design a plan that “respects and complements the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhoods while creating a more cohesive sense of community.”

“We also focused on providing a wide range of rental and for-sale housing opportunities that meet the differing needs of Arlington’s diverse and growing residential population,” he said. “It is our goal to deliver additional housing units concurrent with Amazon’s occupancy of its new headquarters to help meet anticipated new housing demand and mitigate upward pressure on rents in National Landing.”

Vornado — which was later acquired by JBG Smith — had planned to redevelop RiverHouse with more than 1,000 rental apartments in three, mid-rise towers. The new submission, which JBG Smith says is “consistent with the Crystal City/Pentagon City Sector Plan which calls for 7,500 additional housing units by 2040,” supersedes the previous, pre-HQ2 plan.

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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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