Arlington, VA

Looking to be closer to the government and defense fields, Boston-based Northeastern University is eyeing some space in Rosslyn.

The university is looking to convert the 14th floor of Arlington Tower (1300 17th Street N.) into a teaching space for graduate-level classes and a research space that will house The Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security.

Matthew Weinstein, a land use attorney with McGuireWoods who represents Northeastern University, said in a letter that the university “seeks to establish an operation at the property as a central location for mission-driven programs including defense-based programs, benefitting from close proximity to government customers.”

Arlington County’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development has determined the research use still classifies as office use, according to a letter included in a staff report. To use the other half of the 14th floor, totaling 8,500 square feet, for teaching, NU needs the approval from the County Board.

The County Board is scheduled to review the school’s request during its regular meeting this Saturday.

Currently, the 18-story, 411,679-square-foot Arlington Tower is zoned for commercial uses, not including higher education, according to the staff report. But converting the space will only involve minor interior renovations, according to the county.

“No objections from the community nor staff have been expressed,” the report said. “As the proposed conversion is not located on the ground floor, it does not remove any retail spaces nor have any impact on the exterior appearance of the building.

The report added that the offshoot of Northeastern will bring “new visitors to the Rosslyn area during off-peak hours, potentially creating new customers for Rosslyn-based business.”

Most of the classes will be held Monday through Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and early afternoon, according to the county.

The 14th floor of Arlington Tower was most recently home to former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign office, which was temporarily shut down last summer due to a coronavirus outbreak. Trump previously bragged that the lease on the office space “was a steal.”

Image via Google Maps

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A real estate company developing an apartment building in Crystal City is looking to “refresh” its holdings nearby with a new retail plaza.

Lowe Enterprises Real Estate, which owns 2450 Crystal Drive and 2641 S. Clark Street, has applied for a minor site plan amendment to help break up the “mega block” along Crystal Drive south of 23rd Street S. Where a low-slung building space is currently sandwiched between two taller office buildings, Lowe envisions a plaza and retail pavilion, according to application documents.

The application comes nearly four years after the Arlington County Board approved Lowe’s “Century Center Residential” development: a yet-to-be-built apartment building to go on top of the Buffalo Wild Wings at the corner of Crystal Drive and 23rd Street S.

Lowe is now proposing a 10,500-square-foot public plaza with ground-level retail improvements to take the place of a chunk of office space. This change “fulfills the ‘market’ public plaza” called for in the Crystal City Sector Plan, the applicant’s attorney, Kedrick Whitmore, told the county in a letter.

“The proposed changes would substantially enhance the existing condition of the area,” boosting the ability for outdoor gatherings and seating, Whitmore said.

The plaza would be an interim installation until the time when an east-west road between Crystal Drive and Clark-Bell Street can be built. For that to happen, however, additional buildings will need to be torn down, which requires some leases to expire.

Members of the public had the chance to engage with the site plan amendment last week as part of a new community engagement process, Arlington Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Jessica Margarit tells ARLnow.

“For this subset, County Planning staff believe additional community input would be beneficial prior to consideration by the County Board,” she said. “While a majority are in fact minor, at times others can have a significant impact on the public realm or garner broad community interest.”

Examples of these minor plans with major impact include public park improvements or reconfigurations and substantial streetscape or road modifications, she said.

The focus on increasing community engagement for “minor” changes follows problems with a recent site plan amendment from JBG Smith to make changes to the Crystal City Water Park. The County Board initially denied its application in January over potential problems and approved the latest iteration of the project last month. During this process, members said this project revealed how technically minor site plan amendments can be major enough to warrant more public engagement.

Since then, the county has solicited public feedback on amendments to the Reed School Stormwater Facility, to Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row), and now, Century Center, Margarit said, adding that the feedback so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

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Morning Notes

Pandemic Doesn’t Change Amazon’s Plans — “Schoettler, who oversees Amazon’s global portfolio of office space, said the past year hasn’t changed the way the company thinks about its office strategy… Amazon still views the office as the best place for work because of the ability for employees to collaborate, and it still envisions its footprint centered around large corporate campuses like its Seattle headquarters and its HQ2 development in Northern Virginia. ” [Bisnow, Twitter]

Sheriff’s Deputy Charged with Fraud — “India Middleton, a deputy sheriff with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, was indicted in Georgia by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Middleton was one of 10 defendants indicted in a multi-state scheme to submit fraudulent loan applications for non-[existent] businesses as part of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), according to a U.S. Department of Justice release.” [Patch, Arlington County]

New Irish Pub Opening Soon — From the social media account of Mattie & Eddie’s, Chef Cathal Armstrong’s new Irish restaurant and bar in Pentagon City: “Practice test! All your grand Irish pints coming soon!” [Facebook]

APS May Cut Magnet High School from Budget — “As part of his proposed budget for the 2022 Arlington Public Schools (APS) fiscal year, Superintendent Francisco Dúran has suggested cutting funding for Arlington students to attend [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology]. Should the proposed cut pass, current Arlington students at Jefferson will be allowed to remain, but all future classes — including this year’s rising 9th graders — will be barred from attending the school.” [TJ Today]

Lopez’s Gun Loophole Bill Signed — “Introduced by House Majority Whip Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), HB 2128 was one of the first pieces of legislation signed into law by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam before the end of the session. The bill expands the amount of time state police and agencies have to conduct a background check on a ‘default proceed’ gun sale, from 3 days to 5 days.” [Press Release]

View of Old Coal Trestle from New Bridge — “A new view of the 1926 W&OD Railroad coal trestle remnants next to the new Lee Hwy bridge.” [Twitter]

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A major redevelopment proposal in Rosslyn is facing pushback from those who think it doesn’t do enough for cyclists and pedestrians.

McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is proposing a 27-story mixed-use residential complex with 424 units at 1901 N. Moore Street, replacing the 1960s-era RCA building. Two towers will be connected at the top by a penthouse and at the base with ground floor retail.

But as the project moves through the public review process, some have expressed concerns a number of transportation-related issues: the proposed unprotected bike lanes along 19th Street N., the project’s parking ratio, and the pedestrian experience along the block.

These three topics are likely to resurface during a follow-up Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Monday, March 15 — and perhaps later this spring, when the project will go before the Planning Commission and the County Board.

“We’ve been identifying issues, responding to citizen comments, and having very good discussions with surrounding community groups,” said Andrew Painter, an attorney with land use firm Walsh Colucci, during the first SPRC meeting last month.

Staff members are considering some protections for the proposed 19th Street bike lanes in response to public input.

“It may be possible to provide an additional level of protection in one direction” on the block from N. Lynn to N. Moore streets, said Principal Planner Dennis Sellin, adding that staffers “don’t see the capacity to do it in both directions.”

Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said 19th Street N. has enough traffic to qualify it for protected or buffered bike lanes.

Another hot issue was the parking ratio of .625 spaces per residential unit. Jefferson is proposing 290 total spaces, split among 265 residential spaces, 15 retail and 10 visitor spaces, according to a staff report.

“The goal is to right-size the garage to meet the market demand but not provide extra that incentivizes people to drive,” Painter said.

Although the proposal is within county guidelines, Sellin said “we would certainly accept a lower ratio.” The minimum is .2 spaces per unit but the lowest Sellin said he has seen proposed is .38 spaces per unit.

North Rosslyn Civic Association representative Terri Prell said people, particularly the elderly, still need cars for tasks such as grocery shopping.

“You have to understand this is a residential community, not a business community,” she said.

Lowering the ratio would attract people who want to lead a car-free lifestyle, Slatt said, asking for data on space utilization rates.

The parking needs to be built partially above ground due to “particularly dense rock” and Metro tunnels. To conceal the parking above the retail and below the residential units — and add public art — the architect is exploring adding graphics by local artists, said architect Shalom Baranes.

The Metro tunnels add another complication: a longer expected demolition process.

As for the pedestrian experience, some members were concerned that the block will be too long and there will be no opportunities for cutting through it. Sellin said the block is comparable to others at 400 feet long.

SPRC Chair Sara Steinberger said knowing the length “may not change the community’s feelings on what feels like a longer stretch of block when you have large buildings covering a greater area.”

In 2017, Weissberg Investment Corp., which developed the RCA building in the 1960s, filed plans to redevelop the RCA site — but those plans were put on hold indefinitely in 2018. Jefferson started filing application materials in May 2020.

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A new co-working and flexible office space has opened in Crystal City.

Hana, a subsidiary of the real estate company CBRE Group, announced on Thursday that it has opened a new location at 2451 Crystal Drive — a stone’s throw away from two of Amazon’s temporary office spaces for HQ2 employees.

The opening announcement comes one year after it was first reported that property owner JBG Smith would be partnering with Hana.

With the National Landing spot, Hana makes its debut on the East Coast and establishes its third location in the U.S.

CBRE has established other flexible working spaces in Dallas and Irvine, Calif. Three other locations are expected to open in the first quarter of 2021: New York City, Philadelphia and Berkeley Heights, NJ.

Hana has initially opened one floor totaling more than 39,000 square feet. The floor includes private office suites and conference and events spaces, in addition to a traditional co-working spce.

“JBG Smith has worked with Hana to deliver a flex solution that meets the unique needs of the building and National Landing area by providing plug-and-play workspaces, on-demand meeting rooms and overflow accommodations,” said Hana CEO Andrew Kupiec in a statement.

In a statement, JBG executive David Ritchey said Hana’s approach, and its abundance of amenities, complements the other co-working spots in Crystal City while addressing “the need for flexible, ‘on-demand’ office space solutions in a post-COVID-19 business environment.”

The opening also comes amid the announcement that co-working rival WeWork will be closing its Crystal City location, which is just a block or two away.

Other existing co-working spaces in Crystal City include Accelspace and Eastern Foundry.

Images via Hana

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(Updated 3/4/21) McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group has taken over plans to convert the RCA building in Rosslyn into a 27-story mixed-use residential complex.

The next steps for the proposed retail and residential building at 1901 N. Moore Street include community engagement — an online feedback form available through next Wednesday — and site plan reviews in February and March.

In 2017, Weissberg Investment Corp., which developed the RCA building in the 1960s, filed plans to redevelop the RCA site — but those plans were put on hold indefinitely in 2018. Jefferson started filing application materials in May 2020.

Jefferson proposes a building with two towers, 260 feet and 239.5 feet tall, atop a base, connected at the top by a penthouse level, creating “a sky window” in the middle, according to staff and architect presentations. As currently planned, the building will have 424 residential units and nearly 12,000 square feet of retail space.

Though it has some ground-floor retail, the current building is mostly devoid of street-level activity, while the sidewalk around it is shaded by an overhang.

“In 1969, the current RCA building was constructed, and quite unfortunately drained the site of that rich pedestrian environment that formerly occupied the site,” Shalom Baranes, the architect for the project, said in the developer’s presentation. “One of our goals with the proposed project is to restore the street-level retail vitality that existed years ago.”

Parking access will take up most of N. Moore St while retail — dining, entertainment, services and repairs and sales — will be housed on the other three sides of the block: 19th Street N., N. Lynn Street and Lee Highway.

The site will have 290 parking spaces, including 15 retail and 10 visitor spots. Not all of the 265 residential spots can fit below-grade, due to “particularly dense rock” and some Metro tunnels, Baranes said.

Two levels of parking, or 102 spaces, will be inside the building — above the retail and below the residential units.

“We have been very careful to integrate the parking architecturally so that it appears to be part of the overall building composition,” Baranes said.

There will be 171 long-term and 12 short-term bike spaces.

Arlington County principal planner Kristen Walentisch said that increasing the share of housing will make Rosslyn more vibrant and economically competitive.

“Historically, Rosslyn has been dominated by commercial office spaces and hotels, so the Rosslyn Sector Plan adopted in 2015 includes several land use goals aimed to establish a greater balance between commercial and residential uses and activities,” she said during a staff presentation.

Photos (2-3) via Arlington County

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During the pandemic, many who formerly commuted to work are now working from home.

Some are eager to go back to the office full time when it’s safe to do so, while others may be contemplating a switch to either working from home permanently or at least a couple of days per week.

A wide range of companies are moving to or considering moving to a “hybrid workplace” model post-pandemic. Among them is Microsoft, which will let employees opt to work from home up to 50% of the time, or permanently with a manager’s approval.

It seems likely that many office-based employers in Arlington and elsewhere in the D.C. area will be implementing similar policies as the pandemic (hopefully) comes to an end this year. That has made us wonder about the impact on commuting.

More work from home days collectively would mean less commuting, which is generally a good thing for the environment and for traffic. There may be second order effects, as well, especially in cases where an employer offers flexibility in deciding when you go into the office.

Such flexibility, for instance, may have implications for bike commuting

Arlington County has long worked towards the goal of having more people bike to work, thus taking cars off the road during peak commuting times. So far it’s still a niche commuting option: only 1.5% of Arlington residents report biking as their primary means of commuting, compared to 51.1% who drive alone, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

Should you have the ability to pick and choose when you go to the office, it could allow you to go in on good weather days and skip bad weather days, a big deterrent to regular bike commuting. All of a sudden, with bad weather largely out of the equation, the idea of being able to commute for free without worrying about traffic, while getting a workout and fresh air, may become more attractive.

What do you think?

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What was once a watering hole and lunch spot for Rosslyn office workers may itself become an office.

The Arlington County Board last weekend approved a Site Plan Amendment for Commonwealth Tower, at 1300 Wilson Blvd, that will allow the building’s street-level restaurant space to instead be used as an office or a “retail-equivalent use,” like a doctor’s office.

The space — which includes a somewhat inconspicuous outdoor plaza — was last used by Ruby Tuesday, which closed two years ago.

“Since the Ruby Tuesday restaurant vacated the space in December 2018, the applicant has unsuccessfully marketed the space for restaurant or retail use,” a county staff report notes. “In addition to the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on retail viability, the subject space’s elevated frontage above street level and the plaza retaining wall pose challenges related to visibility and accessibility from the street.”

The building’s owner has a prospective office tenant that may be interested in the space, the report says.

“The applicant is proposing flexible use of the subject space and upgrades to the plaza and building entrance to increase attractiveness and viability for future tenants and better engage the street,” county staff wrote. “Currently, the applicant is in negotiations with a sizeable office tenant that would occupy space in Commonwealth Tower, including use of the subject space and plaza.”

The amendment, which was approved unanimously as part of the Board, consent agenda, will also allow the building’s entrance and plaza to be renovated, while making it easier to put up a rooftop sign.

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Few office and retail spaces were approved or completed in the first three quarters of 2020, but Arlington officials say it is too early to attribute the drop to the pandemic or consider it a trend at all.

The 2020 third quarter report on retail, office, hotel and residential development appears to show that the rates at which projects are approved, buildings are demolished, and construction starts and ends have dropped off in 2020. Meanwhile, the demolition and redevelopment of single-family detached homes appears to remain consistent.

No hotel rooms have been approved or built so far in 2020 (though a former hotel was demolished in spectacular fashion on Sunday). About 120,000 square feet of retail has been completed this year, and 40,000 square feet approved, but rates exceeded both those sums in 2019. About 17,000 square feet of office space was approved this year, compared to 2 million last year thanks to Amazon’s HQ2.

“It would be easy to think because of COVID-19 that that might explain the tapering off of development, but it’s too early for us to know,” said county planner Emily Garrett, who led the Q3 Development Tracking Report. “It could be normal to have a slower couple of quarters following large projects.”

In the view of Marc McCauley, the director of real estate for the Arlington Economic Development office, the coronavirus has impacted existing properties more than future projects.

“If you’re in development and considering mixed-use, we haven’t heard a lot of projects significantly delayed or dropped because of concerns, but you may be concerned about getting a hotel financed,” he said. “It has not moved the needle one way or another in terms of development.”

Although these reports look back to the third quarter of 2015, that is not long enough in the scheme of big projects to determine if large-scale office, retail and mixed-use developments are actually slowing down, the two officials agreed.

Rather, such projects could be on four- to five-year cycles, which looks inconsistent compared to the 50 to 60 houses that are approved, demolished and rebuilt each quarter, like clockwork, Garrett said. Before Amazon was granted 2 million square feet in December 2019, the last time a comparable project came around was in the first quarter of 2016, she said.

As for retail, the change reflects the broader trend in Arlington’s development extending beyond the last five years. McCauley said. Retail clusters such as the Ballston Quarter explain the occasional retail spikes, but it is more common to have small amounts of ground-floor retail approved as part of a mixed-use project.

“There’s only so much retail clusters you can support,” he said. “Through long-term market cycles, they get repositioned because it’s about refreshing your concept to be able to compete for customers.”

Meanwhile, the housing development rates reflect the trajectory Arlington has been on for decades, Garrett said, with most new development focusing on denser housing near transit hubs.

“I would definitely say overall the way development trends aligns with the overall demographic trends of Arlington County for decades now,” she said.

The average household size shrank in 1970 and has been stable ever since, with more opting to live in smaller housing units, she said. The report shows that the number of apartment units is growing, while the number of single-family homes remain flat, with detached homes being replaced at a nearly one-to-one rate.

The last three quarters of relative inactivity come as the county is focusing on new and ongoing development plans, including along Lee Highway and in the Clarendon area.

“We’re at that point where we’re looking at studies that have been completed and… seeing where there might be additional potential,” Garrett said.

Garrett said it “could be a year, or years” before the County sees the true impact of the pandemic on development. “We’ll just have to see.”

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Developer JBG Smith is advancing plans to turn a grassy plot of land it owns in northern Crystal City into a new office building.

The project at 101 12th Street S. is one of the projects added to the company’s extensive development pipeline in the area following the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2. The County Board is slated to review the proposed development this Saturday.

“The project, known as ‘Crystal Gateway,’ includes a 109-foot tall (nine-story) office building with 234,427 square feet of office space and 5,195 square feet of ground floor retail,” a county staff report says.

Proposed community benefits from JBG, as part of the project, include achieving LEED Gold certification, constructing a new connector street, and contributing land and money for a new “Gateway Park” to the east of the site. Other environmental features include bird-friendly glass, since the building would be near a wildlife preserve, and a vegetated roof.

For the park, JBG will contribute about 70,000 square feet of land and $300,000 in funding for the initial park design.

“The Sector Plan envisions this open space to be approximately 54,500 square feet and is anticipated to tie into the existing esplanade path for Long Bridge Park,” the county staff report says. “The vision for this park is to include neighborhood serving recreational facilities such as tennis or volleyball courts, a playground, benches, and picnic tables. The exact design and planning for Gateway Park will be done through a County-led planning process.”

The project surprised those who were familiar with the Crystal City Sector Plan, which has for years kept the property on which the office building will sit as a green space, said William Ross, chairman of the Park and Recreation Commission.

“This apparent shift in design purpose was not anticipated, given the engagement promotions,” he wrote in a letter to Board Chair Libby Garvey. “But it is not a crisis either.”

Rather, he continued, it creates “an opportunity and an obligation to the community that the small open area between the structure and the public pathway be designed as a natural gateway, providing the transition and place identity that is important to all.”

Members of the Transportation Commission unanimously supported the development, wrote Chairman Chris Slatt. They support the new S. Ball Street connector road, between 10th and 12th streets, because the area lacks access options for emergency vehicles, but have asked staff to design a driveway apron or similar feature to deter drivers looking for a shortcut.

In a Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 4, however, two speakers denounced the connector road and predicted it would become a a dangerous cut-through regardless.

“If the commission lived in the community, they would see how cars speed down Long Bridge Drive,” Annemarie Spadafore said. “People will be killed, and the blood will be on the commission’s hands.”

Speaking on behalf of the Crystal City Civic Association, Carol Fuller said the new S. Ball Street — which is called for in the sector plan — will not benefit the community.

“First, the community has never wanted this connection,” she said. “Second, commuters will use this extension to cut through to I-395… Exiting at this intersection is hazardous and the proposed extension will make it worse.”

Staff is recommending that the County Board approve a rezoning, a site plan and other actions required for the project to proceed.

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Morning Notes

Nonprofit Won’t Return to Arlington Office — “The American Diabetes Association isn’t planning a return to the Crystal City headquarters it left Alexandria for a few years back, not even when a Covid-19 vaccine is readily available and it’s safe to go back to the office again. The nonprofit is seeking to sublease all of its space at 2451 Crystal Drive, about 80,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Voter Registration Open Until Midnight — “A judge on Wednesday granted a request from civil rights groups to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline until Oct. 15 after the state’s online system crashed on the final day of the registration period, according to Virginia’s attorney general.” [Axios, Press Release]

Oh, Deer — The regional deer population has been increasing during the pandemic, which is making driving more dangerous this fall as deer potentially become “too comfortable” around roads. [NBC 4]

Park Rangers Patrolling for Rogue Mountain Bikers — “Park rangers have been patrolling the parks to keep the mountain bike riders off the natural trails. ‘We put up barriers in places where we can. We put up signs … in key areas we put up some things to block their access … but we’re focusing on education,’ Abugattas said.” [WTOP]

Voting Lines Should Move Quickly — “Arlington election officials are advising the public not to be dissuaded if lines for voting, either in advance of Nov. 3 or on Election Day itself, seem long. ‘You can expect to see a pretty long line, but that’s because of the spacing we’re trying to put between voters,’ county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” Also, the Reinemeyer said the county is already fully staffed with volunteer poll workers. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Certification for Sheriff’s Office — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier this year.” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Planning Meeting Tonight — “Participate in a virtual workshop about Arlington’s community planning process for Pentagon City! The first workshop will include small group discussions about the community’s vision for the Pentagon City Area.” [Arlington County]

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