Arlington, VA

The National Landing Business Improvement District is working on a program to support ground-floor restaurants and retailers in Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard.

Dubbed “Love Local,” the marketing campaign will distribute almost $100,000 in grants to eligible retail and dining establishments within the boundaries of the BID, through a partnership with Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

“While the support of businesses is a consistent function of Arlington County’s business improvement districts, the specific needs of businesses has changed as a result of the global health pandemic,” a county report said. “This initiative aims to provide direct financial support to businesses within the BID boundary in response to the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The BID does not yet have a comment, a spokeswoman said.

The $100,000 in funding for the program includes an administrative and marketing fee of $10,000 for RAMW, which will administer the grants.

During its regular meeting on Saturday, the County Board approved the BID’s request to change its work plan for the 2021 Fiscal Year to include this grant program. The amendment allows the business district to provide direct assistance to businesses in the form of a grant, “an action that requires approval by the County Board as the governing body of the BID,” the county said.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is able to review the eligibility requirements to participate in the grant program as well as how the money would be used if not for the relief program, the county said.

This is the first fiscal year that the organization is fully operational as the National Landing BID, according to its 2021 Work Plan. The County Board voted in September 2019 to expand the boundaries of the Crystal City BID to include Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

Image via Google Maps

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A new Maryland law greases the wheels for Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train service to come to the new Crystal City station set to open in 2024.

HB 1236 — First Step for MARC Commuters Act — calls for the Maryland Transit Authority to “engage in good-faith negotiations” for a pilot program that would extend MARC service into Arlington and Alexandria. It could one day allow workers at Amazon’s HQ2 to commute in via rail from Baltimore or the Maryland exurbs.

The National Landing Business Improvement District calls the act a good “first step.”

“Passage of the First Step for MARC Commuters Act is significant progress towards realizing a bold vision for a truly regional commuter rail system,” BID president Tracy Sayegh Gabriel tells ARLnow. “Though National Landing is already well served by WMATA and VRE, the addition of MARC service will greatly enhance access to employment and affordable housing opportunities for residents throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.”

The new Virginia Railway Express station in Crystal City is planning to open in 2024 and is being specifically designed with MARC and Amtrak trains in mind, in hopes that these negotiations bear fruit. Amtrak, too, is “exploring” adding regional service to the station.

Maryland State Delegate Jared Solomon, who co-sponsored the bill, tells ARLnow that it provides “legal authority” for MTA to negotiate with Virginia and train companies. Virginia has been much more “forward-looking” with its rail infrastructure than Maryland, he said, adding the he hopes the bill leads to an agreement in the near future.

“It’s a win-win-win for the region,” Solomon said.

HB 1236 actually passed both houses of the Maryland General Assembly back in March 2020, but Governor Larry Hogan vetoed it. He cited the nearly $3 billion pandemic-related shortfall in the state budget and a bill of this nature being “not financially feasible nor responsible at this time” as reasons.

The veto was overridden by both houses of the Maryland General Assembly within the past two weeks, turning the bill into state law.

The Crystal City BID — now the National Landing BID — and JBG Smith, Crystal City’s predominant property owner, provided testimony in favor of the bill last year.

The BID’s statement cited the arrival of Amazon and projected job growth over the next decade as reasons for why MARC train service needed to extend across state lines. The BID also noted the planned future investments in rail infrastructure, specifically the replacement of Long Bridge.

JBG Smith mentioned that MARC’s existing service prevented residents in Maryland jurisdictions from fully taking advantage of job and economic opportunities in Arlington.

“By providing for a ‘one seat ride’ to National Landing, HB 1236 would substantially improve conditions for existing Maryland commuters,” wrote Andy VanHorn, the company’s Executive Vice President of Development.

The law retroactively took effect on July 1, 2020 and is set to remain on books until June 30, 2022.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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New signage is coming to National Landing and Ballston.

The business improvements districts that serve as boosters for the areas are planning to put hundreds of new banners on light poles. The County Board approved the use of such non-commercial signs in the public right-of-way at its meeting last weekend.

The National Landing signs will differentiate the BID’s three distinct neighborhoods — Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — while highlighting the National Landing branding.

The Ballston BID banners, in the neighborhood’s orange, white and black colors, will include slogans like “Skill Full,” Taste Full,” “Power Full” and “Event Full.”

Photos via Arlington County

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After years of delays, plans for half of an undeveloped parcel of land in Potomac Yard, called Land Bay C East, are taking shape.

Two residential buildings with ground-floor retail, bisected by a pedestrian pathway, are planned along Potomac Avenue and Crystal Drive between 29th Street S. and 33rd Street S. In addition to 488 residential units, the plans call for underground parking and open space.

The developer, ZOM Living, has dubbed the project Hazel National Landing. A luxury apartment developer with an office in Tysons, ZOM Living has built The Beacon Clarendon on N. Irving Street and 19Nineteen in Courthouse.

The plans are a long time in coming for the parcel, which is currently used for parking and as a construction staging area, said Adam Watson, a County planner, in a staff presentation from December.

“Despite persistent leasing efforts, the property remains vacant,” said Martin “Art” Walsh, the attorney for the project, said in ZOM Living’s presentation from December. “We’ve worked with economic development to verify our efforts in terms of trying to lease the property.”

The original site plan was approved in 2007 and situated four office buildings over an underground parking garage. It allotted more than 1 million square feet to office space, 41,000 square feet for retail space, as well as a half-acre for a park.

The land is owned by German grocery chain Lidl, which has its U.S. headquarters nearby. In 2017, the County Board gave Lidl a three-year extension to develop the property.

In February 2020, six months before the three-year extension ended, Meridian Development Group seemed poised to swap offices with residential buildings. Two months later, ZOM Living submitted its plans.

ZOM Living’s development covers Land Bay C East, while the western half is still slated for offices.

The first residential building will be 150 feet tall, with 14 floors and 297 residential units. The second building will be 120 feet tall, with 11 floors and 191 units. The towers share 9,181 square feet in retail space and two floors of below-grade parking, with 399 residential spots and 15 retail spots.

Some of the lower-level units will have their own townhouse-style exterior entrances.

Renderings illustrate primarily brick buildings with large patios and greenery on the ground floor and rooftop, overlooking a tree-lined passageway and plaza.

“We’re very excited about the vibrancy and potential of this project, not only for the buildings but the public open space,” said Tom Kerwin, the founding principal of bKL Architecture, during the December presentation.

A public engagement period for the project ended in December 2020. The Site Plan Review Committee will look over the project in February and March, prior to consideration by county commissions and the County Board.

Photos via Arlington County

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A proposed rendering of the new VRE station in Crystal City (Rendering courtesy of National Landing BID)

A new Virginia Railway Express station could bring Amtrak service to Crystal City, says a new report.

The expanded and relocated station is set to open in 2024 and Amtrak is currently “exploring” adding regional service to this station.

This according to a National Landing Business Improvement District report released earlier this month, detailing a number of significant transportation projects scheduled for completion over the decade (many of which long have been in the works).

Responding to inquiries from ARLnow, an Amtrak spokesperson wrote in an email that the planning remains underway “so it’s premature to discuss in depth expansion plans.”

The VRE station station will be built on land owned by real estate developer JBG Smith and will be designed to host Amtrak trains as well as Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains. (Neighboring Alexandria has an existing Amtrak station.)

The $50 million two-track station will be built on Crystal Drive between 12th Street S. and Airport Access Road, about a quarter mile from the current one-track station. That existing station was built about 40 years ago and has been called a “operational bottleneck.”

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, executive director and president of the National Landing BID, says bringing an Amtrak station to Crystal City would “shrink the region” and would enable a “direct one-seat ride between our region by commuter rail.” Some day those heading to New York City might be able to just head to Crystal City to get on a train, rather than trek into D.C. and battle crowds at Union Station.

Gabriel does note that Amtrak has yet to decide about adding a station there.

Along with a new VRE station, a new two-track railway bridge across the Potomac is also being planned. It will replace the 116-year-old Long Bridge and is estimated to be completed by 2030. Gabriel says the existing bridge is also a “bottleneck.”

Other projects highlighted in the report include the $650 million Project Journey at Reagan National Airport set to be completed this year, the continued construction of the new Potomac Yard Metro station, adding a new entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, replacing Route 1 with a “unifying, urban boulevard,” and a pedestrian walkway over the George Washington Memorial Parkway connecting Crystal City to the airport.

According to Gabriel, the airport bridge would create a five-minute walk from the train station to the airport, as opposed to a walk that’s currently long and somewhat dangerous.

All of these projects together, including the possible presence of Amtrak, could transform the neighborhoods collectively known as National Landing, said Gabriel.

“Investments of this scale are really positioning us to be the most connected downtown in the country,” she said.

Full press release about the report is below.

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While VDOT considers lowering a section of Route 1 to a surface boulevard, a group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, recommends going below ground instead.

As development activity in Crystal City and Pentagon City continues, VDOT and Arlington County are looking for ways to improve the pedestrian and transit experience along Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway. The study directly responds to the increased demand for transportation resulting from the construction of Amazon’s HQ2.

VDOT’s study will examine the feasibility of an at-grade boulevard, with the current overpasses removed, comparing it to the current elevated route and the changes prescribed in the Crystal City Sector Plan, according to a presentation from December.

Following online public engagement in the fall and a virtual public meeting, Livability 22202, which represents the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations, published a series of alternatives to an at-grade boulevard — including taking part of Route 1 below-grade.

The group suggests going underground for at least the 18th Street S. and 23rd Street S. intersections, creating patterns similar to those in Washington, D.C., where through-traffic is below-grade and local traffic uses at-grade streets — like Connecticut Avenue NW through Dupont Circle.

For a more extensive below-grade roadway, the group suggests trenched express routes from 23rd Street S. to 15th Street S., flanked by at-grade roads. The underground portion would eventually transition into the 12th Street overpass.

“This concept would solve side-street traffic issues, create far-safer pedestrian crossings, create a brand-new open space in what is now wasteland, and open up myriad redevelopment opportunities,” the group said in its response. An even more extensive “big dig” is also proposed, though the group acknowledges is may be “infeasible.”

Dropping Route 1 to grade and creating more signalized intersections would make pedestrians and cyclists less safe unless significant measures are put in, Liveability 22202 predicted. They suggested lower speeds, bike tunnels, signalized right turns and pedestrian-led crossings.

The group also envisions an at-grade boulevard as a “linear park” with retail, wide sidewalks and an abundance of trees.

If VDOT keeps Route 1 elevated, Livability urged VDOT to consider something like a viaduct. Such a bridge would allow the space below to be activated with open spaces or retail.

In a letter, the presidents of the three civic association said “a study of Route 1 in this area is long overdue,” but until VDOT conducts a broad stakeholder review of multiple alternatives, “we endorse the Crystal City Sector Plan as the best alternative.”

The 2010 sector plan keeps the grade separations at 12th, 15th and 18th streets, reconfigures the 15th Street intersection and takes traffic below-grade at 26th Street S., under a newly-created National Circle, as pictured below.

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Hook Hall Helps, a D.C.-based relief program aimed at helping hospitality industry workers, is coming to Crystal City.

First started in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, the program provides meal kits to those in the local hospitality industry impacted by layoffs, hours reductions, mandatory shutdowns, and capacity restrictions.

In addition to its original D.C. location, the program will also now distribute kits from The Freshman, the yet-to-open cafe at 2011 Crystal Drive.

“Northwest D.C. is not the easiest place to get to for everyone,” Hook Hall Helps founder Anna Valero, who also owns the bar and event space Hook Hall, tells ARLnow. “What was important to us in choosing to expand to another location was accessibility. The hope is being able to provide and meet people more where they are.”

Meal kit distribution is happening every Thursday from 3-5 p.m., starting this week, “while there’s a need,” says Valero.

What made The Freshman attractive as the program’s second outpost is that it is on different Metro and bus lines as Hook Hall, while providing more parking. Plus, Valero says, restaurant owner Nick Freshman’s “values aligned, he’s a fantastic individual in the hospitality community, and he generously offered his space.”

Despite announcing its opening nearly two years ago, The Freshman has yet to open due to the pandemic. Nick Freshman is also a co-owner of Clarendon’s Spider Kelly’s.

The meal kits are made up of three ready-made meals and a “supply” kit with canned soup, granola bars, fruit, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products.

The kits are being crafted by Valero and a rotating list of local restaurants, including nearby Indian eatery Rasa. Beyond providing meals, the program also helps restaurateurs keep staff employed.

From last March to the end of June, Hook Hall was providing meals on a daily basis, supported by donations to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. The program raised more than $600,000 and provided more than 10,000 meals during that time frame.

They paused operations in the summer due to patios reopening and restaurants able to increase staffing and operations because of outdoor dining.

However, Valero knew that the winter was coming.

“We made a strategic decision… to essentially hold back as much of the funds that had been raised to that point, knowing that when winter came, it was going to be difficult,” she says.

They re-started the program at Hook Hall at the end of December with distribution on Mondays while adding an Arlington location.

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Financed by Amazon, a D.C. area housing nonprofit bought and will stabilize rent at a luxury apartment building in Crystal City.

The tech giant announced on Wednesday that it is contributing $381.9 million to Washington Housing Conservancy to create and preserve 1,300 affordable housing units at Crystal House (1900 S. Eads St), as rents rise amid Amazon’s expansion into the area.

“Amazon’s investment in affordable housing in Arlington is transformational — and couldn’t come at a better time,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement. “We are delighted to further strengthen our partnership with Amazon and to work together to serve our shared commitment to equity and economic opportunity for all of our residents.”

The funding for WHC includes a $339.9 million below-market loan and $42 million in grants. With the money, and a $6.7 million loan from WHC’s financing partner, JBG Smith, the nonprofit purchased Crystal House, a luxury apartment complex one block from Amazon’s future HQ2.

“Washington Housing Conservancy disrupts a market cycle that leads to displacement and offers the kind of stability that lets residents focus on their future, instead of the uncertainty of escalating rents,” WHC Executive Director Kimberly Driggins said in a statement.

The conversion of existing market-rate apartments into dedicated affordable apartments started on Jan. 1 and will continue over the next five years. Rents at the building, to be managed by JBG Smith, will target households earning less than 80% of the area median income. The agreement is for 99 years.

Residents were notified about the changes on Dec. 31 in a letter, obtained by Washington Business Journal.

“With Amazon’s support, we are advancing our vision for inclusive, mixed-income communities of racially diverse middle-income and low-income families and individuals, to live near their employment and access high-performing schools and community amenities,” Driggins said.

Although another purchase was in the works last year, the purchase of Crystal House marks Washington Housing Conservancy’s first finalized purchase since the nonprofit was established in 2019.

The contributions are part of Amazon’s new Housing Equity Fund, a more than $2 billion commitment to create and preserve more than 20,000 units in Amazon’s three footholds: Arlington, the Seattle area, and Nashville.

“Amazon has a long-standing commitment to helping people in need,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “This new $2 billion Housing Equity Fund will create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes in all three of our headquarters regions — Arlington, Puget Sound, and Nashville. It will also help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities.”

The contribution comes after nearly a decade of climbing housing costs that have outpaced the growth of household incomes.

Arlington County has lost approximately 14,400 privately-owned, affordably priced housing units since 2000, according to Amazon’s press release.

Between 2010 and 2018, the median home value climbed approximately 20% (after adjusting for inflation) and median rents climbed 11%, while median household incomes climbed only 7%, the release said.

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Morning Notes

NY Man Arrested for NYE Gunfire — “The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating the discharge of a firearm which occurred in the Rosslyn area on the morning of January 1, 2021. At approximately 1:48 a.m., police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun in the 1500 block of Clarendon Boulevard… officers observed the suspect on the sidewalk holding a firearm as they arrived on scene. The suspect was compliant and taken into custody without incident.” [ACPD]

First Arlington Baby of 2021 — “What a way to ring in the #newyear! Welcome to the world, Mohamed! Our first [Virginia Hospital Center] #newborn of #2021 was born at 1:18 am this morning. Congratulations to the family, and thank you for letting us celebrate the new year with your bundle of joy!” [Twitter]

Parent Files Suit Against APS — “An Arlington Public Schools parent wants his daughter back in class so badly, he plans to file a lawsuit against the district. ‘We started the fundraising today, and we’ve already gotten a lot of great contributions from fellow parents,’ Russell Laird told Fox 5 Wednesday, referring to a GoFundMe campaign launched in an effort to raise $10,000 that would be used to sue Arlington Public Schools.” [Fox 5]

Nat’l Landing Touts Transpo Projects — “National Landing, the renamed neighborhood of Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yards in Arlington and Alexandria, will become the country’s most connected urban center sometime in the next decade, its business boosters say. Eight major transportation projects are underway in the area, with the aim of turning what is often seen as a busy pass-through into a truly urban neighborhood where residents, office workers and visitors have easy access to local and regional amenities as well as long-distance travel.” [Washington Post]

Local Nonprofit Sees Surge in Aid — “The financial assistance nonprofit Arlington Thrive is helping four times as many people as families are devastated by COVID-19. ‘I was never thinking this would happen in America. I was working hard. I was working three jobs. I lost all three jobs,’ one client, a cook, waiter and ride-share driver, told News4’s Pat Collins.” [NBC 4]

Bikeshare Station Work — “Pardon our dust! In Jan & Feb, some @bikeshare stations in Crystal City, Pentagon City, & Potomac Yard will be replaced, expanded, moved, or removed and may be OFFLINE for a few hours or days.” [Twitter]

Reminder: Bus Changes in Effect — “Riders on the Arlington, Virginia, bus system will once again have to pay fares and enter the bus through the front door starting on Sunday. Arlington County said that both practices were suspended by Arlington Transit (ART) last March, but fares can now be paid by either using the SmarTrip card, SmarTrip app or by exact change at the fare box, while plastic glass barriers have been installed to protect the drivers at the front of the bus.” [WTOP]

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Morning Notes

Va. Supreme Court Passes on Pot Prosecution Case — “The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Arlington’s chief prosecutor to rein in judges who are skeptical of her refusal to prosecute marijuana possession. But the court did not resolve the conflict, saying it could not weigh in because it had not been asked to consider any specific case.” [Washington Post]

Big Response to Mailbox — “‘We’ve collected at least probably 500 letters in the two weeks that we’ve had the [Santa] mailbox out,’ Rachael Tolman, the Park Manager at Gulf Branch Park said. ‘It’s a lot of letters.’ The lists some children put in the mailbox looked different, with requests for masks and good health.” [WUSA 9]

Nonprofit Merger Complete — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at-risk families and individuals, has finalized its merger with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [InsideNova]

Pedestrian Struck in Ballston — “Police and medics on scene of a pedestrian struck by a driver in front of the Ballston Harris Teeter on N. Glebe Road. So far, the victim’s injuries sound minor.” [Twitter]

Holiday Pop-Ups in National Landing — “As part of National Landing’s mission to activate public spaces, the BID has unveiled ‘Turn Up the Love,’ a winterlong campaign featuring a series of engaging outdoor pop-ups. These festive installations include a larger-than-life boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments, three shareable photo frames and even more surprises to be announced after the holidays.” [National Landing BID]

Nearby: BB Gun Shootings in FC — “Police investigated calls of vandalism and found a teen who confessed to at least 50 incidents of shooting vehicles and people. Some victims have been identified, but police believe there may be more.” [City of Falls Church]

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