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.