(Updated 4:40 p.m.) County commissioners welcome Amazon’s latest revisions to plans for the second phase of its HQ2 in Pentagon City — but are pushing for more greenery and accessibility.
Phase 2 will be anchored by a lush, futuristic building, dubbed “The Helix,” and feature three, 22-story office buildings, three retail pavilions, a childcare center, a permanent home for Arlington Community High School, 2.5 acres of public green space, multi-modal pathways and underground parking.
Amazon is massaging out the details with county staff, commissioners and community representatives to ready the plans for Planning Commission and County Board review, possibly in the spring. The tech giant has already updated the three office buildings, pathways and green spaces in response to requests for more architectural diversity and plantings.
“The team has been careful reviewing all comments and believe together, we are making PenPlace a better project for the entire community,” said Joe Chapman, Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities, during a meeting last night. “We are committed to the process and to the community.”
Project designers presented their changes during a Site Plan Review Committee meeting last night (Monday). County staff, commissioners and community members asked for better accessibility for people with disabilities, more pedestrian safety features, increased tree canopy and even more plants.
“In general, everyone really likes the presentation and appreciates the refinements to the design from the [Long Range Planning Committee] to now, and from the comments raised in the online period,” Planning Commission member Elizabeth Gearin said. “There’s very strong and widespread appreciation for changes to the design, for the early incorporation of sustainability, biophilia and art.”
Still, commissioners recommended leveling the entrances to underground parking garages so drivers have clearer views of pedestrians. They and county staff asked Amazon to revisit a set of stairs leading from Army-Navy Drive to an “elevated forest walk” on the northern end of the site.
“We’d really like to see the stairs removed and replaced with ramp that everyone can use equally,” Gearin said.
Those suggestions follow up on changes Amazon made this summer to the Army-Navy frontage, “to greatly improve what was seen as a foreboding frontage,” county planner Peter Schulz said.
Others called for more and taller trees throughout the site — not just in the “elevated forest.”
“Anything less than towering oak will look out of place next to 22-story buildings,” said Arlington Tree Action Group member Anne Bodine.
Amazon has made changes to its plan for the second phase of the company’s HQ2 in Pentagon City.
For the last eight months, Amazon has been hammering out the details of the planned second phase, on the PenPlace site at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S. Today (Thursday) it unveiled some significant tweaks it has made in response to local feedback.
Members from the community have weighed in on everything from transportation to sustainability to architecture, suggesting changes that would make the office campus more walking- and biking-friendly, more verdant and more architecturally interesting.
“We appreciate the ideas and have made changes to enhance the overall connectivity of the site. We also incorporated additional sustainable elements and more greenery into the design, and diversified the architecture within PenPlace,” wrote Joe Chapman, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, in a blog post published this morning.
“These updates make the entire project even better, benefitting our neighbors and all those that will visit HQ2,” he continued.
PenPlace is situated on an 11-acre site near the Pentagon City Metro station, bordered by Army Navy Drive, S. Eads Street, 12rd Street S. and S. Fern Street. It will be anchored by a lush, futuristic building, dubbed “The Helix,” and feature three, 22-story office buildings, retail pavilions, a childcare center and a permanent home for Arlington Community High School. A park drawing inspiration from local waterways will run north-south through the site.
But residents were critical of the multimodal transportation planning Amazon offered at first.
In response, Amazon changed some circulation patterns surrounding and running through the site, widened the paths running east to west to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists and widened certain sidewalks where the heaviest pedestrian traffic is anticipated.
It also added protected bike lanes along S. Eads Street and S. Fern Street to connect PenPlace to the county’s surrounding local bike transit plan.
“All of these adjustments will create more direct, wider pathways through the site and make traversing PenPlace even safer,” Chapman said. “It will also make the public Central Green and urban forest at the center of PenPlace even more accessible for everyone to enjoy.”
At least one transit advocate welcomed the change, but said a protected bike lane along 12th Street S. would further improve circulation.
I'm bowing out of the fight. And this is better!
But it doesn't connect to the Pentagon City Metro like a protected bikelane along 12th St S would. Why does DES treat street parking next to a 2,100 space garage as more important than bike/scooter access to a transit hub? pic.twitter.com/wGVzJGLzlJ
— Car-Free HQ2 (@CarFreeHQ2) October 28, 2021
Per an Amazon blog post, residents who weighed in on the planning process told Amazon to add even more green space and native plant species to its campus. In turn, the tech and ecommerce giant expanded the planted area by 5,500 square feet and reduced the amount of impermeable surfaces, such as paving.
“We are excited to be able to deliver 2.5 acres of public open space for everyone to enjoy at PenPlace,” Chapman said.
Currently located next to the Arlington Career Center building, Arlington Community High School is attended by about 300 county residents 16 and older pursuing their high school diploma.
At nearly a century old, it has always moved around “to locations that were not ideally located or tailored to meet the needs of ACHS students,” according to a joint press release from Arlington Public Schools and Arlington County.
APS and the county had been searching for a permanent location in South Arlington, the release said. With Amazon’s HQ2 being built near the Pentagon City Metro station, ACHS will have just that.
“We are excited about what this new building will mean for ACHS students, many of whom work full- or part-time jobs to support their families as they earn their high school diplomas. Having a new home, built to serve their needs in an accessible location, will make a world of difference as they pursue their academic and professional goals,” Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said in a statement.
Amazon will build the facility as part of its 10.5-acre, mixed-use development located at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S., which features the flagship Helix building. ACHS is expected to be completed by the start of the 2026-27 school year, the release said.
But ACHS will have to relocate once more, in 2023, before the permanent location is built, as major renovations are scheduled for the Arlington Career Center. APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says the school system “will begin looking for a temporary space for ACHS in the coming months.”
This project will fulfill a provision from the initial 2013 approval of development on the large PenPlace site — once considered as a location for the Nationals baseball stadium — for a community space up to 20,000 square feet. The plan said a use would be chosen during the final site plan review process, which is ongoing.
“The school will benefit the entire community and advance the County’s commitment to equity, fulfilling the community benefit promised when the original site plan was approved in 2013,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement. “I look forward to working with our schools and Amazon to help make this agreement a wonderful reality for our students and our community.”
The “transit-rich” site is easily accessible to students across the county, and is the ideal size for ACHS’s capacity needs, the release said.
“This school will be an incredible asset to so many local students and their families,” said Joe Chapman, Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities in a statement. “The mission of ACHS is to make success possible for every student, and we are proud to partner with Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools to help provide equitable education opportunities in the Arlington community.”
ACHS provides flexible schedules for its students, who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, as many also work to support their families.
Last school year, 79% of students were Hispanic, 8% were Asian, 7% were Black, and 5% were white, according to the release. More than 80% of students were enrolled in the English Learner program and more than 35% qualified as economically disadvantaged. About 18% of students were age 30 and older.
Meanwhile, review of PenPlace is ongoing. Next Thursday (Oct. 28), the county will host a walking tour and begin a 10-day virtual public engagement period.
Site Plan Review Committee meetings are scheduled for the end the year and early 2022, ahead of Planning Commission and County Board public hearings anticipated for March 2022.
This article was updated to include a more accurate photo of Arlington Community High School’s location
After initially fighting hard for increased density, an amended site plan for Pentagon City’s proposed PenPlace features drastically scaled back development desires.
The initial office-oriented plan called for five buildings between 16 and 22 stories high on a 10.2 acre parcel, including a 300-room hotel. Now, the plan calls for a more minuscule residential development of 300 apartments between two buildings at a height of seven stories.
A west building would have 171 apartments; an eastern building, 129. The density is much less than some on county staff desire, ARLnow.com was told.
“We will have to look at… in terms of height and scale and density, if this is appropriate,” said a county planner, adding that it was “highly unusual to see site plans coming in below an approved or allocated figure.”
According to the county planner, the applicant has said that they will reallocate the density, but has not yet explained how. The company could shift the approved density from one area to another, but will have to be more specific as to the impact on land use before getting county staff approval.
Another county employee familiar with the updated site plan noted that the plan would be less expensive for JBG Smith, which merged with original site plan applicant Vornado, to construct.
The employee explained that since steel reinforcement is only necessary on buildings that are more than five stories high, the building’s framework could be wood. The employee added that the first two floors in the site plan are concrete, so the additional five floors could legally be built atop of that with wood.
Matt Ginivan, JBG Smith’s senior vice president of real estate development, told ARLnow.com in an interview that he wasn’t aware of some county staff’s skepticism of the diminished density and that JBG Smith has not formally received any feedback or questions yet.
Ginivan said that rather than maxing out the PenPlace site’s capacity, they wanted to “improve the pedestrian experience” with a mix of ground floor options that aren’t just the larger projects that are already prevalent in Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Photos via Arlington County
PenPlace Plan Revived with Apartments — JBG Smith plans to revive its stalled PenPlace project in Pentagon City by building apartment buildings rather than office buildings in the first phase of the project. The updated plans will be open to community input during a new site plan review process. The original plans were approved in 2013 over the objections of some nearby residents. [Washington Business Journal]
Traffic at DCA to Get Heavier During Construction — “Drivers heading to Reagan National Airport might soon begin to feel the impact of a major project to transform the facility. Construction crews will begin overnight work in the lower-level roadway in the next couple of weeks, and that work will spill into daytime hours come spring.” [WTOP]
More Dirt Coming to DCA — Another portion of the expansion project at Reagan National Airport will bring a big mound of dirt to the airport grounds. The dirt is needed to support the weight of a new regional jet concourse. DCA was built on land reclaimed from the Potomac River. [InsideNova]
Photo by Anna Merod
Pentagon City and Crystal City may be connected by a multi-modal passageway by the end of the year.
The county is working with a private developer to expand 12th Street S. between S. Fern and S. Eads Streets to better connect Pentagon City and Crystal City.
The new extension, built by the private developer, will allow people to bike, walk or drive between the Pentagon City and Crystal City. MetroWay rapid transit buses would also use the new street to get from Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations, according to the Crystal City BID.
Two-way traffic on the new 12th Street S. extension is anticipated to start in 2016.
“This new roadway will become the main connection between Pentagon City and Crystal City. Considered the ‘Primary Transit’ street, 12th Street South has dedicated high-frequency transit service between Pentagon City and Potomac Yard,” according to Arlington County.
The entire project is anticipated to be completed in 2016, according to the project’s website, but a target date has not been set, said county spokesman Eric Balliet.
The southern part of the 12th Street S. extension is mostly complete. The developer still needs to install traffic lights and finish utility work before the road can open to one-way traffic, but Balliet said he did not know when that would happen.
“We expect this part of the street to open to one-way traffic later this year (no set date yet),” he said via email. The road is currently blocked off with gates and traffic cones, but pedestrians are able to use a sidewalk on the right side of the street.
The first half of 12th Street S. was constructed as part of the Metropolitan Park development project. Private developer Vornado is building a new complex with 22 levels, 699 apartments and 41,679 square feet of retail space next to 12th Street S.
A Whole Foods grocery store is also being built on the first level of the apartment building. There is no target opening date for the store, according to Katie Malloy, a PR rep for Whole Foods.
Metropolitan Park “completes the pedestrian streetscape along 12th Street for a seamless, urban experience between Pentagon City and Crystal City,” according to the Crystal City BID.
The northern half of 12th Street S. is expected to be completed next year, and is being constructed as an early part of the PenPlace development, Balliet said.
“I don’t have any updates about the timing of that portion,” he said.
PenPlace will sit next to the Marriott Residence Inn, off of Army Navy Drive and will extend to the new 12th Street S. The development, also being built by Vornado/Charles E. Smith, is projected to be five different buildings. The 16 to 22 story towers are expected to be office buildings, but one may be used for residential uses. A 300-room hotel is part of the five building plan and three connected open spaces are also being planned for the project.
There’s no word yet on when the bulk of the construction on PenPlace might begin.
The Arlington County Board has approved a concept for two acres of open place on the planned PenPlace development in Pentagon City.
The plan calls for three open spaces: two small parks along planned 10th and 12th Street S. connections between S. Fern and Eads Streets and a “Central Green” in the middle of the large development. The Central Green is designed to allow for events like outdoor movies and concerts, according to the space’s designer, and will include a cafe in the northeast corner.
The concept was presented to the County Board during its Thursday meeting last week after three community meetings. The PenPlace development was approved by the County Board last September, with the condition that a concept for the open space be brought back within a year.
The PenPlace development, when completed, is planned to have five buildings, each between 16 and 22 stories tall, that include 1.8 million square feet of office space and a 300-room hotel. It will be adjacent to a planned streetcar station on 12th Street.
As part of the approval, the developer, Vornado/Charles E. Smith, agreed to build about two acres of public space as a component of the community benefit package required for bonus density.
“I think the overarching goal here, that we’ve shared with the public, is to create a vibrant urban space in the heart of Pentagon City,” said Hallie Boyce, a design partner with Olin Landscape Architects, which designed the open space, “that will not only allow people to enjoy the great outdoors but also to enjoy each other’s company, and to really create a sense of community here in Pentagon City.”
In addition, Vornado plans to include up to 20,000 square feet of community-oriented space in the building at the corner of the planned 10th Street and S. Eads Street intersection. According to Vornado’s presentation to the County Board, the space could be used for educational use or a university, a business incubator, a library or community center, or large entertainment use, such as a bowling alley, movie theater or performance venue.
The concept was submitted and approved as a “base case,” which will now operate as a guiding principle for when the buildings come back before the Board for a full site plan approval. According to Vornado Senior Vice President and Director of Development Mitch Bonanno, there is still no timeline for any construction.
PenPlace was met with numerous resident objections when it first came before the County Board last year. Four speakers came to Thursday’s meeting in protest of a provision that allows Vornado additional density on the site, saying they felt they were caught unaware after the community meetings. The base case includes a provision that, if the open space costs more than the staff’s estimate of $2.65 million, Vornado is entitled to added density.
“The citizen participants were under the mistaken impression that the outdoor space improvements were part of the extremely generous deal Vornado already got,” Pentagon City resident Elizabeth Wirick said. “Those who took part in the workshops feel betrayed. This is a concept, not a plan, we don’t have any data on how much it’s going to cost other than staff estimates, and with regards to staff estimates, I’ll keep it short. Two words: aquatics center.”
(Vornado agreed to partially fund the proposed Long Bridge Park aquatics center project as part of PenPlace’s initial phased development approval. The aquatics center is now stalled after construction bids came in well above staff estimates.)
The motion passed just before midnight, 3-1, with Board member John Vihstadt dissenting and Board member Libby Garvey absent.
Located on a 10.2 acre parcel of vacant land once proposed as a site for the Nationals baseball stadium, the development will include five buildings between 16 and 22 stories high, and more than 2 million square feet of total floor area. The buildings will be mostly commercial office towers — including one secure office building — plus a 300-room hotel and an option for a 300-unit residential building in lieu of one of the office towers.
Despite 25 public meetings on the development proposal, including 17 Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meetings starting in February 2012, a vocal group of residents were still not sold on the project. Mostly hailing from Arlington Ridge and other residential neighborhoods around Pentagon City, they listed a variety of objections to the project, including concerns about additional traffic on neighborhood streets and the new buildings blocking monument views of D.C.
“The SPRC process was a charade — it was more like Chicago and less like Arlington,” said one resident. “The fix was in… it’s been fundamentally unfair. Please help us preserve the character of our neighborhood.”
“The heights are absurd… the 22-story building is going to look ridiculous down there,” said another. “I felt like we’ve been railroaded a bit. We don’t believe that adequate concern was given to Arlington Ridge Road traffic and 23rd Street traffic. We believe those are going to be jammed up.”
A “monumental planning mistake” and “a giveaway,” is how other opponents described the project. One speaker at Saturday’s meeting even proposed renaming the development “Tejada Place,” after the Board chairman, who he said he hoped would be voted out of office.
County staff recommended approval of the project, noting that Pentagon City’s proximity to transit — three Metro stations, a VRE station, local and regional bus routes, I-395 HOV lanes, and the future Crystal City streetcar line — allows it to support high commercial office density. PenPlace will also be next to Metropolitan Park, a 16-acre residential development featuring a future Whole Foods Store, helping to form what county planners envision as a “lively, pedestrian-friendly” retail corridor along a future extension of 12th Street S. between Eads and Fern Streets.
In a first for Arlington, intended to reduce the number of car trips to and from the development, the Board approved a cap on the number of office and retail parking spaces the development may have: a maximum of 1 for every 1,000 square feet of floor area.
Vornado agreed to a host of community benefits in exchange for approval of the development framework. Among those benefits will be a 1.5-2 acre contiguous central green space, a future 20,000 square foot “community facility,” new sidewalks and bike lanes on Eads Street, a new street grid to break up the “superblock,” and a $15 million contribution from Vornado to the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.
Vornado managed to cobble together the additional density needed to supplement that already allowed by zoning via a combination of community benefits, density transfers from Arlington County (in exchange for the $15 million and a parcel of land that will be used for a potential streetcar maintenance facility), and bonuses for LEED Silver and Gold certification and a potential on-site district energy system.
Additional community benefits may be approved in the future. Each of the five buildings in the development will have to go through a final site plan approval and public review process, during which additional benefits may be proposed. The development is expected to be built out over the course of 15-20 years.
As currently proposed, the development will include five buildings and 2.1 million square feet of total floor area. The buildings include a 22-story office building, a 22-story secure office building (for military and/or contractor use), a 20-story office building, an 18-story, 300-room hotel and either a 16-story office building or an 18-story, 300-unit residential building. The project will also feature 50,000 square feet of retail space, a 20,000 square foot “community facility,” and about 2 acres of public open space.
County staff is expected to recommend the Board approve the project, though the official recommendation will not be made until after the county’s Planning Commission weighs in on the project. The commission is holding a carryover meeting to discuss the project at 7:00 tonight (Monday), after the discussion at its meeting on Sept. 11 went too late.
PenPlace has drawn opposition from residents who live in the neighborhoods that border Pentagon City. Members of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association have been particularly vocal, saying the traffic generated by PenPlace will be disruptive to the community.
To help reduce the number of car trips to and from the development, staff has proposed capping the number of office and retail parking spaces at 1,859 — or 1 for every 1,000 square feet of floor area. Setting a parking maximum would be a first for Arlington, which has traditionally focused on setting a minimum number of parking spaces for developments, according to county planning director Bob Duffy. Opponents of the project, however, would like to see even an even lower parking space cap.
“We have listened to the community, but there are still outstanding issues,” Duffy said.
Also proposed in order to reduce car trips: a traffic demand management system, new bike lanes, and a streetcar stop. One side of the development faces the future streetcar tracks that will run along 12th Street S. The project is also a block away from the Pentagon City Metro station.
PenPlace has gone through an extensive community process, including some 25 public meetings, possibly a record for Arlington. The county’s Site Plan Review Committee alone met 17 times between February 2012 and July 2013 to discuss the project and help find a middle ground between developer Vornado and local residents.
The project will be able to achieve its high density of office buildings thanks to a proposed transfer of development rights from Arlington County-owned Long Bridge Park. If approved by the County Board, Arlington will transfer 610,000 square feet of development rights to the project from its Long Bridge Park holdings in exchange for a $15 million contribution from Vornado to the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility.
Even if approved this coming weekend, Vornado isn’t expected to start building the PenPlace right away. It could be 15-20 years until the company completes all the proposed buildings in the development, said Duffy.
The large-scale PenPlace development proposed for Pentagon City is now going on its 10th Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meeting, but the project is expected to reach the Arlington County Board for a vote as soon as May.
Developer Vornado is proposing five buildings for the project: two secure office buildings, two standard office buildings, and one 300-room hotel, on a currently vacant parcel of land along Army Navy Drive, near the Pentagon. The 9.2 acre parcel is large enough that it was once considered as a possible site for the Nationals baseball stadium.
The buildings would be between 16 and 22 stories, and in all, the project would consist of 1.8 million square feet of office space and 25,000 square feet of retail space, mostly along the future extension of 12th Street S. between Eads and Fern Streets.
It appears likely that there will be more SPRC meetings on PenPlace even beyond the 10th meeting, scheduled for Feb. 4. The SPRC will eventually make non-binding recommendations to the Planning Commission, which will then consider and vote on whether to recommend the project for County Board approval. We’re told the Board is likely to take up the matter in May or June.
While actual Pentagon City residents have been relatively quiet about PenPlace, members of the nearby Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA) are among the project’s biggest critics. The project is not within the civic association’s boundaries, but residents there have circulated petitions, held meetings and posted flyers listing various objections to the project.
ARCA’s compaints include building height (nearly 300 feet); the proposed number of parking spaces (2,235) and the potential for increased traffic; a lack of public open space and insufficient community benefits; and the security measures necessary for the secure office buildings.
“Build a community not a compound,” said an ARCA presentation given on Nov. 15, 2012. Project critics say the secure office buildings will prevent full “activation” of the area for public use. They call for reducing the number of secure office buildings in the project to one, and placing that building along Army Navy Drive instead of the middle of the parcel.
ARCA has also proposed shorter buildings (<200 feet), replacing an office building with a residential building, and limiting parking. The association is also calling on Vornado to include an acre of contiguous public open space on the site, including a play area for children, recreation ares for adults and a dog park.
Molly Watson, who has been leading ARCA’s opposition to PenPlace, said jokingly at a SPRC meeting in December that she would prefer a baseball stadium to PenPlace as proposed. ARCA fought a proposal in 2003 to build the new Nationals baseball stadium on the current PenPlace parcel, which was vacant at the time and has remained so since.
“I would take the baseball stadium with only 80 games per year” over the traffic PenPlace would generate on a daily basis, she said.