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Arlington Commits to Only Limited Affordable Housing Measures As Part of Amazon Deal

Amid persistent concerns that Amazon’s army of new workers will displace low-income Arlingtonians, county leaders plan to redirect their existing investments in affordable housing to better serve the areas impacted by the new headquarters — but the county won’t be upping its financial commitment to spurring the construction of reasonably priced homes.

While critics of Arlington’s decision to court Amazon’s HQ2 have focused on everything from the headquarters’ potential impact on county schools to its transportation systems, the tech giant’s impact on housing prices has perhaps drawn the most scrutiny of all.

The D.C. region has already seen a housing crunch in recent years, and all manner of experts have theorized that the arrival of Amazon’s thousands of highly paid workers will only worsen the county’s challenges. Accordingly, Virginia’s offer to Amazon includes a frequent emphasis on the region’s commitment to addressing local housing woes, and it touts a $150 million investment in affordable housing by Arlington and Alexandria over the next decade. The state has also pledged massive investments in existing programs through its Virginia Housing Development Authority.

But the details of the proposal contain a bit more nuance. The county won’t achieve that affordable housing investment by increasing its annual contributions to various housing-focused programs; rather, it will earmark about a third of those funds for projects creating affordable homes in Crystal City, Pentagon City and along Columbia Pike.

“We’re hoping that will help us create 1,000 new committed affordable units in that area,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “And that’s joined by the new commitment from the state, so we’re clearly making this a priority.”

The county currently sends about $21 million to affordable housing efforts each year, county economic development spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell said. That includes just over $14 million to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to encourage affordable developments, and contributions to other loan repayment programs for low-income renters.

That means about $7 million each year will be dedicated to housing affordability programs impacting the neighborhoods surrounding Amazon’s new headquarters. Cristol also hopes to increase that amount as new tax revenues from the company flow into county coffers, though Arlington will need a few years to truly feel those revenue impacts.

Michelle Winters, executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, was hoping to see the county step up its total commitment to affordable housing funds immediately, not simply move money around. She points out that, even with the county’s existing efforts, Arlington has seen dramatic declines in the amount of both “committed affordable” homes, where housing prices are controlled, and “market rate” affordable homes, which are designed with prices to match the current housing environment.

“It’s going take additional analysis to determine if this will actually be enough to meet the needs arising from Amazon and other growth in the region,” Winters said.

More intense Amazon skeptics, however, believe that anything short of a full-court press from the communities surrounding the new headquarters will spell disaster for renters in the area. State Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District) fully expects that Arlingtonians priced out of the county will soon flock to outer suburbs like his Manassas-area district, causing a ripple effect throughout the Northern Virginia region.

“I live in a one bedroom apartment in Manassas; my rent’s going to go up, and I’m going to get priced out of my own district,” Carter said. “It speaks to the flawed conventional wisdom around economic development. It says that more jobs are always good: but at what cost?”

County officials don’t see the situation as being quite so dire, however. They note that up to 20 percent of the workers Amazon plans to hire likely already live in the area, and that employees will arrive gradually in Arlington over the next few years, not simply show up all at once and disrupt the housing market overnight.

Arlington leaders also believe they’ll have more tools at their disposal to address housing affordability by the time Amazon starts truly ramping up its hiring.

One key way the county earns money for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) is by forcing developers to make contributions to it as they win local approvals for massive new projects. Amazon won’t be building much in Arlington right away, choosing to move into some existing space in Crystal City to start — that’s an outcome affordable housing advocates feared, as the company won’t be required to chip into the AHIF until it starts sketching out construction plans.

But County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that Amazon has big plans for future construction in the area, which will eventually result in “straight contributions” to the AHIF. Amazon has already purchased large tracts of land in Pentagon City from developer JBG Smith, and could opt to fully re-develop some of the existing buildings it’s leasing someday.

“Over time, everything is going to be new,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “They’re not just going to stay in existing 1960s buildings. Permanently, they’re building new stuff.”

Yet Winters argues that programs like the AHIF can only do so much to create new affordable housing in the county. She credits the county for some of its work to preserve some older, moderately priced homes, but urged officials to do more, with greater urgency.

“While additional subsidy and investment is absolutely needed, it’s not the only thing that it’s needed,” Winters said. “We absolutely need to ramp up the pace housing is added to the county.”

Other urbanists are willing to call for even more transformative changes to make that happen, now that Amazon has arrived.

Cristol acknowledged that “the one thing we can’t address through public policy is speculation in the market,” and early estimates suggest that speculation will be no laughing matter — McEarney Associates, a group of Northern Virginia realtors, released a report estimating that overall home prices will rise anywhere from 20 to 30 percent in the wake of Amazon’s announcement, with appreciation rates “north of 15 percent” in the immediate vicinity of the new headquarters.

Accordingly, Cristol does see a need to “meet the supply challenge,” but she’d prefer to double down on some of the county’s existing efforts to loosen zoning rules for “accessory dwelling units” or allow more renovations to older duplexes, rather than pursue more dramatic changes.

“We need to increase our urgency in expanding housing options among that ‘missing middle’ housing stock,” Cristol said.

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Amazon’s Arrival Brings Plans for Transportation Transformation Around New Headquarters

For pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, Crystal City has never been the easiest neighborhood to navigate — and Amazon’s looming arrival in the neighborhood has stoked fears that things could get worse in the area long before they get better.

But now that the tech giant has officially picked Arlington for its new headquarters, county officials are free to unveil their grand plans for allaying those concerns and fundamentally transforming transportation options along the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor.

Virginia’s proposed deal with Amazon calls for the pairing of state dollars with money from both Arlington and Alexandria to make a variety of projects long envisioned for the area a reality — so long as the tech giant holds up its end of the bargain and creates targeted numbers of new jobs, of course.

It adds up to a complex mix of funding sources that defies easy explanation, but would be in service of a massive shift in the transportation network surrounding the newly christened “National Landing.” And, as last week’s nightmarish traffic conditions created by the shutdown of the Crystal City and National Airport Metro stations helped prove, the county is in desperate need of an upgrade in the area.

“All of these plans which been long gestating without a path to realization, they’re all going to come together,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “All the great things we’ve diagrammed on paper now have a path to reality.”

The main transportation projects included in the pitch to Amazon are:

  • A second, eastern entrance to the Crystal City Metro station
  • A second, southwestern entrance to the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station
  • A new pedestrian bridge connecting Crystal City to Reagan National Airport
  • An expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system
  • Improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City

“Many of these we’ve already included in our prior commitments, whether it was our [10-year Capital Improvement Plan] or other long-range planning documents,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But we pulled these together as a way of saying, ‘This is our overarching vision for the area.'”

Certainly, the aforementioned projects were all on various county wish lists over the years — the Crystal City Transitway expansion to Pentagon City is perhaps the most developed of any of the proposals, with the county convening a public meeting on the matter just last week.

The difference is that many of the projects have largely lacked the necessary funding to move forward. The county still needs another $15 million to fund the Transitway project, which is now set to come from the state, and the other efforts need substantially more money than that.

The second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station has been a particularly challenging project for the county.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body doling out funding for transportation projects, recently awarded Arlington only a small shred of the funding it was looking for to move the station forward. The county’s gloomy revenue picture previously forced Arlington to push the project off into the long-term future, and it remained a very open question whether the second entrance would score highly enough on state metrics to win outside funding.

Those concerns vanish virtually all at once for the county, and that could be quite good news for both Crystal City residents and Amazon’s future workers. Though the exact details need to be worked out, the new entrance would be located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., with $82.5 million of the project’s $90 million price tag coming from the state through the Amazon deal.

Cristol hopes the project will “transform the beating heart of Crystal City” and encourage its new residents to rely on Metro. She notes that the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations have seen a combined 29 percent drop in ridership since 2010, as the military and federal agencies moved out of the area, and hopes thoughtful transit strategies around Amazon’s arrival will reverse that trend.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth, added that a second entrance will help the area manage demand as thousands of employees flock to one of Metro’s sleepier stations.

“By having entrances at each end of the platform, you’re reducing the people congestion at escalators and gates, which is huge,” Schwartz said. “And we know that walking distance makes a big difference in how many people use transit. So to the degree we can shorten it, we should do it.”

Schwartz also hopes the new entrance will provide better accessibility to the area’s Virginia Railway Express station (located a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive) for anyone looking to reach the more distant sections of D.C., or Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs. The VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years, which would put an entrance directly across from the second Metro access point.

County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that the proposed bridge to DCA would land in just about the same spot. A feasibility study backed by the Crystal City Business Improvement District suggested that an office building at 2011 Crystal Drive would make the most sense for the pedestrian connection, which Gutshall notes also matches up with an entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail.

All of that could someday add up to a promising transit hub in the area, which developer (and future Amazon landlord) JBG Smith has already begun advertising in its marketing materials.

“You can bike, walk, ride VRE and ride Metro, all together,” Gutshall said.

The project will need about $36 million to become a reality, with $9.5 million chipped in from the state and the rest coming from Arlington and the NVTA.

The county will need even more cash for the Route 1 improvements: about $250 million in all, with $138.7 million coming from the state’s Amazon deal. The proposal doesn’t include a funding stream for the rest, but the changes could be quite substantial indeed.

The documents don’t lay out details beyond a goal of improving the “pedestrian improvements” on the road, but officials say a guide could be the changes detailed in the county’s Crystal City sector plan. Those plans involve bringing the highway to the same grade as other local roads, eliminating the soaring overpasses that currently block off large sections of the neighborhood.

“This may, in fact, lead to the total reimagining of Route 1,” Dorsey said.

In all, the county expects to spend about $360 million — about $222 million in already committed funding and $137 million in future grants — to fund transportation improvements in the area. The state’s total could one day go as high as $295 million, depending how many workers Amazon ends up hiring for the area.

The county’s commitment is large enough to give some local budget minders heartburn.

“Where will Arlington get $360+ million in transportation bond capacity — since we are bumping up against our credit limit for the next decade or more, without meeting all school needs?” local activist Suzanne Sundberg wrote in an email. “Raising the tax rate would be my first guess. We can probably expect to see our real estate taxes double over the next 15 years.”

County Manager Mark Schwartz has often warned about the strain on the county’s debt limit precipitated by recent fiscal pressures, and taxes may well go up on residents in the coming years, even with the Amazon revenue windfall.

But Dorsey waived those concerns away, noting that the county has long planned for the spending associated with many of these projects, and will have hefty state dollars to rely on for the rest.

“Our investments are already planned,” Dorsey said. “We’re not bringing anything new to the table.”

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Arlington Shouldn’t Fear a ‘Tsunami’ of New Residents With Amazon’s Arrival, Officials Say

Amazon’s new headquarters will fundamentally transform Arlington in the years to come, but county officials are hoping to reassure residents that the area won’t change in the blink of an eye.

Instead, Arlington leaders are painting the arrival of the tech giant — and the 25,000 workers set to someday occupy its new office space — as a development that will shape the county’s economic landscape over time, rather than overnight. And, they hope, that will give the county time to prepare accordingly.

“This is not going to feel like a tsunami of new people on our streets or kids in our schools,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said during a question-and-answer session live-streamed on Facebook last night (Tuesday).

Critics of the county’s courtship of Amazon have long feared the impact that thousands of highly paid workers arriving in the region could have on everything from home prices to school overcrowding. But Arlington leaders have often countered that the region is experiencing dramatic growth at the moment, and seems set to see even more in the future, meaning that Amazon’s arrival might not seem especially out of place.

Now that Jeff Bezos and company have made the big decision, targeting Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for half of its proposed second headquarters, officials remain confident in those predictions. Cristol, for instance, noted Tuesday that the tech company could draw as much as 15 to 20 percent of its new workforce from current county residents.

“They located here because they want access to the tech talent we have here,” Cristol said.

As for the rest of the new Amazon staffers, Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins pointed out that they won’t be arriving on the county’s doorstep next week, or even next month. Under the terms of the company’s proposed deal with the state, Amazon would only hire about 400 workers for the new Arlington campus next year.

That number will ramp up sharply over time, however, leaping to 1,180 new staffers in 2020 and then 1,964 workers the year after. But Hoskins noted that the pace of change would’ve been even more dramatic had Amazon stuck with its original plan to house all 50,000 workers in one city, rather than splitting “HQ2” between Arlington and New York City.

“After February, when the deal is set to be approved [by the Board], you’ll see the first employees arriving,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “Beyond that, I don’t think people will see a lot different in first year… It’ll become more noticeable a few years out.”

For parents nervous about how many kids those new workers will bring with them, Cristol is also optimistic that the school system will be able to handle the influx of students. She expects that the county will only see two to three additional students in each school per year, and that’s only when Amazon fully ramps up hiring in the coming years.

Depending on how the county is calculating that figure, such an increase would work out to anywhere from 70 to 105 new students enrolled in Arlington Public Schools each year, at a time when the school system is already struggling with severe financial pressures to match rising enrollment.

“That’s not nothing,” Cristol said. “But compared to the 500 students per year that APS is already adding, it’s really manageable.”

But Schwartz noted that, under the county’s revenue-sharing agreement with APS, roughly half of the tax revenue that Amazon generates will flow into the school system’s coffers. He estimates a $315 million increase in tax revenue over the life of the county’s deal with Amazon, which beats county projections by about $160 million between now and 2030.

Of course, Schwartz says the county will still feel some pain in the short term. Though Amazon represents a tax windfall for Arlington, he warned that it will take time for the county to feel the benefits — and that means that painful measures like layoffs, service reductions and tax increases remain on the table for the county’s new budget.

“We’ve been through several difficult budget years and we have a couple more to bridge to where we’re going to be,” Schwartz said.

Cristol acknowledged that there are some “difficult short-term conversations” on the way in the county, particularly as Arlington tries to prepare for Amazon’s impact without the tax revenues it needs to fund necessary projects and services.

But she also pledged to be open to having those difficult discussions. Some Amazon skeptics have already called on the Board to hold multiple town halls focused on Amazon alone, and Cristol said officials plan to do so, and more.

“Let us know if you want us to come meet with your civic group,” Cristol said. “We plan to have many conversations in the community about this.”

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With Amazon On Board, Leaders Look to Quell Concerns Over Incentives for the Tech Giant

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Concerns about the wisdom of doling out millions in incentives to lure Amazon to Arlington have abounded ever since rumors first kicked up that the company could head to the county — but Tuesday’s celebration of the move in Pentagon City didn’t betray much trepidation among state and local leaders.

Instead, Gov. Ralph Northam and a cadre of others devoted the afternoon to hailing the tech giant’s decision to bring a new headquarters to Arlington as a transformative one for the region.

Crystal City and its surrounding neighborhoods have long struggled with a high office vacancy rate, ever since the military and other federal agencies fled the area years ago, a problem that vanished virtually as soon as Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s leaders tabbed the newly dubbed “National Landing” for half of their planned “HQ2.” Accordingly, the mood among local leaders was positively ebullient — even as they persistently sought to quell a nervous public’s fears about the company’s impact on the region.

“This proposal to Amazon represents a new model for economic development in the 21st century,” Northam told a crowd of more than hundred elected officials, business leaders and members of the media. “This recognizes the need to minimize impacts on the region… and these incentives we’ve proposed will generate a net positive return from day one.”

Certainly, no aspect of the county’s pursuit of the tech giant has attracted quite as much scrutiny as the incentive package it would offer to help Arlington stand out over the bevy of other suitors interested in earning Amazon’s attention. Critics from all along the political spectrum feared that the state and county could well give away so many tax breaks to the company as to make the project’s benefits on the local economy negligible at best.

But with the deal finally out in the open, after Amazon forced officials into silence for months, Arlington leaders are ready to make the case that they help broker a fair deal for the new headquarters.

“There’s a lot of people who had a worst-case scenario for what they expected to happen, and I think any clear, objective analysis shows that has not been realized,” County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow. “I don’t want to make this rosy; we’re going to have housing challenges, transportation challenges, land use challenges, we’re going to have to deal with all of that stuff. But hopefully people recognize the incentives aren’t crippling our commitment to our residents.”

In all, the state and county will combine to give Amazon about $819 million in tax breaks and other investments, with about $23 million in grant money coming from the county over the next 15 years. Arlington will pull that money away from an existing tax on hotel rooms for the $23 million, but all the incentives Amazon receives are contingent on it creating at least 25,000 jobs in the area over the coming years. The company could even reach more than 37,000 jobs by 2034.

However, when the company announced that it would be halving its initial proposal to bring 50,000 jobs to whichever area it selected for a new “HQ2”, cries grew louder that the state might be paying for only half of the investment it was initially promised.

Northam told reporters only that the state “had to make some modifications” in response to that development, but did not elaborate further. But even with Arlington splitting the new headquarters with Long Island City, he praised the deal for its potential to “diversify our economy” away from dependence on the federal government in a transformative way.

Arlington leaders certainly agree with that sentiment.

Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, remembers shouting “yahoo!” when he and his staff received confirmation of the good news last night. He added that the county recently learned that Apple has since started looking elsewhere for its new headquarters, eyeing Fairfax County instead, but that hardly matters given the size of the county’s Amazon deal.

“What’s great about it is it also opens the door to other businesses, because there are other businesses that like to follow Amazon, there are businesses that support Amazon, and there are some businesses that support the community,” Hoskins said. “All of that is going to happen too, and for us that’s the larger opportunity.”

Other officials pointed out that other nearby states put forward incentive packages worth billions, while Virginia’s offer primarily focuses on investments in transportation and education improvements. The deal with Amazon calls for new state investments in everything from Metro infrastructure to new high-tech education programs at Virginia Tech and George Mason University.

“We long ago thought, when we heard New Jersey and Maryland were putting billions of dollars on the table, there’s no way we’re going to compete with that,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “Our package is 95 percent investments that we were going to do already, and there’s a small increment there in the [hotel tax], which is paid by people who visit Arlington and not people who live in Arlington, so we’re pretty happy with what we were able to do.”

Still, Dorsey acknowledged that county officials have plenty of work to do to make the sell to the community. The Board is set sign off on portions of its deal with Amazon in February, leaving plenty of time for critics to have their say.

“The taxpayer funded subsidy offers made to Amazon by the state of Virginia have been completely hidden, and there has yet to be any opportunity for local community input on this deal,” Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington representing a coalition of opponents to Amazon’s plans, wrote in a statement. “We oppose a massive state gift to a company headed by the world’s richest person.”

The General Assembly will also get the chance to scrutinize the deal, though the exact details of how it might do so remain murky. A commission of both state senators and delegates convened to review major economic development proposals has already lent the deal its approval, but Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) says all 140 state lawmakers will get a chance to vote on the incentive package in next year’s legislative session. Some of the budget amendments to power the proposed investments included in the deal will also go before the General Assembly in the coming years, Hope added.

But Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District), an ardent critic of the company’s potential impact on the region, isn’t holding out much hope that his colleagues will do anything other than simply “rubber stamp” the deal Northam helped broker.

“This deal was put together in shady back rooms, not only out of the public’s sight, but out of the sight of most legislators,” Carter said. “That’s why I think the General Assembly needs to act very differently than it has in the past. We need to actually take the reins back and legislate, instead of letting executive branch do this for us.”

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Following Amazon’s Big Announcement, JBG Smith Sketches Out Plans for New ‘National Landing’

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City seems set to completely transform developments already planned for the area.

The company’s big announcement today (Tuesday) that it would split its planned second headquarters between Arlington and New York City represents a major windfall for JBG Smith, the largest property owner across the newly dubbed “National Landing” — an area including Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. The developer had long sought to fill thousands of square feet of vacant office space in the neighborhoods, much of which will now presumably be occupied by Amazon’s 25,000 workers attached to the project.

But renderings posted online suggest that JBG will also tweak developments already in progress to suit the tech giant’s needs. The new “NationalLanding.com” offers a virtual tour of the area, and promises that the developer “intends to accelerate the planning, entitlement, and development of several projects” to meet Amazon’s arrival in the area — the company expects to occupy anywhere from 4 million to 8 million square feet in office space over the life of the new headquarters.

JBG Smith writes on the site that it currently controls 6.2 million square feet of existing office space in the area, with another 7.4 million of “additional development opportunities in National Landing, excluding Amazon’s proposed land purchase.” In all, the company is planning the following moves in the area, from a press release:

  • Lease approximately 500,000 square feet of existing office space at 241 18th Street S., 1800 S. Bell Street, and 1770 Crystal Drive.
  • Purchase Pen Place and Met 6, 7, 8 land in JBG SMITH’s Future Development Pipeline with Estimated Potential Development Density of up to 4.1 million square feet. JBG SMITH has the right to time the expected closings of the land parcel sales to facilitate 1,031 exchange opportunities.
  • Engage JBG SMITH as its development partner, property manager, and retail leasing agent.
  • Commence predevelopment and planning of the first office building in 2018, with construction expected to begin in 2019.

The new renderings include a “multimodal transit hub” located near the pedestrian bridge linking Crystal City to Reagan National Airport, which Amazon has volunteered to help build as part of the project. It’s unclear where exactly the hub will be located.

The renderings also center around a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, an amenity long sought by the county but once seemed out of reach due to funding constraints. JBG Smith is currently working on a redevelopment of the area dubbed “Central District,” and those plans included a controversial proposal to build retail space over the new Metro entrance. New sketches suggest that the developer may push ahead with those plans, now that the construction of the second entrance is assured.

“The public and private sectors are currently investing billions of dollars in the National Landing area to improve infrastructure, expand on entertainment and retail options, enhance public spaces and introduce new/repositioned buildings,” Tracy Gabriel, president and executive director of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, wrote in a statement. “We believe that Amazon will help accelerate the transformation underway in Virginia’s largest walkable downtown, further growing and diversifying Crystal City’s economy, bolstering our already strong tech presence and attracting additional companies and investment.”

Also on the way for the area is a helipad, according to the county’s memorandum of understanding with the company.

“Arlington County staff will assist Amazon in its efforts to obtain required County Board, commonwealth and federal approvals for the development, construction, and operation (at the company’s expense)” of the project, according to the memo.

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BREAKING: Media Staging Area Being Set Up in Pentagon City

(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) As Arlington and the D.C. area anxiously await the “imminent” announcement that Amazon will be coming to Crystal City, a media staging area is being set up in Pentagon City.

The staging area is on the 1300 block of S. Eads Street, where ARLnow previously saw a large event space being set up then taken away. There is also a police presence on the site and temporary no parking zones — from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today — nearby.

So far no press conferences have been announced. A press conference is scheduled at the site at 1:30 p.m.

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As Pentagon City Transitway Expansion Gains Steam, County Convenes Open House Tonight

Arlington is gearing up to extend its bus rapid transit system to better connect Crystal City to Pentagon City, and county officials are inviting people to learn more about the project at a meeting tonight (Thursday).

The county is holding an open house to show off details of the planned Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension, running from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Crystal City Shops (2100 Crystal Drive).

The Transitway currently operates between the Crystal City Metro station and the Braddock Road station in Alexandria, with dedicated bus lanes and stations covering about 4.5 miles in all. The expansion would add another .75 miles to the route, linking the Pentagon City Metro to the Crystal City stop.

The $27.7 million project is part of ongoing efforts to better connect the two neighborhoods, and the county recently earned millions in regional transportation funding to make it possible. The effort will involve the construction of seven new bus stations by the time it’s wrapped up.

It also includes new dedicated bus lanes set for the following streets, per the county’s website:

  • Crystal Drive from 15th Street S. to 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive (Includes curbside rush hour bus lanes and two stations, one on northbound Crystal Drive at 15th Street S., and one on westbound 12th Street S. at Long Bridge Drive).
  • 12th Street S. from Long Bridge Drive to S. Hayes Street (Includes exclusive bus lanes in the median, mixed traffic lanes, traffic signal upgrades, signage and pavement markings and three stations: east and westbound 12th Street S. at Elm Street, and eastbound 12th Street S. at S. Hayes Street)
  • S. Hayes Street from 12th Street S. to Army Navy Drive (This segment will connect to WMATA’s planned Pentagon City Center bus bays project on Army Navy Drive)

The Crystal Drive segment is currently the farthest along, with transportation planners currently in design discussions for the effort. The county is still in more conceptual discussions about the other two segments.

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HQ2 Watch: The Case of the Mysterious Disappearing Tent

All signs point to Crystal City being a landing spot for at least half of Amazon’s proposed HQ2 — well, all but perhaps one.

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and now NPR are all reporting that Crystal City is likely to be announced as the future home of a major Amazon office campus. The announcement could come as soon as this week.

NPR had perhaps the most direct reporting about Crystal City’s imminent selection, writing:

Amazon is still in the final stages of negotiations, the sources say, but Crystal City, Va., is expected to pick up one-half of the deal, the people told NPR. Crystal City is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

New York City has been reported as a potential second location.

Thus far ARLnow has not, in our own reporting, heard any definitive word that Crystal City will be selected. As part of our reporting, however, we’ve been tracking a tip regarding a temporary event tent.

Over the weekend, according to the tipster, a company called Select Event Group starting constructing a platform for a large, temporary event space on a vacant JBG Smith-owned property along S. Eads Street, near an Amazon-owned Whole Foods store.

“My best guess is that JBG Smith is preparing for an event where they’ll be celebrating HQ2,” said the tipster, whose apartment overlooks the site.

JBG Smith is the preeminent property owner in Crystal City and has been gussying up the neighborhood to, according to the Washington Business Journal, impress visiting Amazon executives. The painted bicycles the company has placed around the area are on a fence in front of where the event space was been set up.

Whatever the event space was intended for, it appears that plans might have changed. Today an ARLnow reporter saw the materials for the tent being packed up, loaded onto two rental tractor trailers and driven out of the area. Workers wearing blue Select Event Group hoodies oversaw the work.

Asked about the half-built event space and whether it was HQ2-related, a PR rep for JBG Smith dismissed it as “regular construction activity.”

Reached by phone, a man named Alex, who identified himself as the president of Select Event Group but did not give his last name, declined to answer ARLnow’s questions.

“We don’t comment about any of our open contracts,” he said, before hanging up.

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Aabee Express Now Open at Pentagon Row

A new restaurant has opened at the Pentagon Row shopping center in Pentagon City.

Aabee Express is now serving Mediterranean cuisine in the former Nkd Pizza storefront. The diminutive restaurant, next to the F45 gym, opened on Nov. 1.

More from a press release:

Federal Realty Investment Trust (NYSE: FRT), recognized leader in the ownership, operation and redevelopment of high-quality retail based properties, announces today the opening of Aabee Express at Pentagon Row, a 300,000-square foot open-air shopping destination with a unique combination of specialty retailers, modern fitness concepts, best-in class spas and exciting restaurants. The new Mediterranean fusion style dining (Grab n’ Go) option will be open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. starting on November 1, 2018 and is located on 1101 S. Joyce Street.

Aabee Express is a chef driven restaurant with over 27 years’ experiences in gourmet food. The menu is produced homemade to order or pre-packaged prepared from whole food and unprocessed ingredients. Aabee Express accommodates vegetarian, vegan and gluten free customers with zero added preservatives, additives or MSG. The menu includes fresh soups, salads, kabobs, fresh baked flatbread, family portion platters, desserts and more. The restaurant will accommodate pick up (carry out), curbside pickup, catering, and delivery.

“Pentagon Row is truly a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. We largely credit that to our amazing dining and shopping tenants that provide an array of services to the community. We are thrilled to continue to build upon those options with the opening of Aabee Express,” said Kari Glinski, Director of Asset Management for Federal Realty Investment Trust.

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Pentagon City Ice Rink Opening for the Season This Week

Fall foliage may be MIA so far, but there’s another sure sign of the season that signals that sweatshirt weather is here to stay for awhile: the opening of the ice skating rink at Pentagon Row.

The rink, at 1101 S. Joyce Street, is set to open for the season on Thursday, Oct. 25. It will remain open until March 24.

Renovated in 2013, the outdoor skating rink is billed as the largest in Northern Virginia, at 6,840 square feet. It hosts thousands of skaters each year during the cold weather months, even when it’s not particularly cold.

The rink is open seven days a week, including on holidays. Hours and pricing are posted on the rink’s website.

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Video: Soldier on Scooter Menaced by Driver in Pentagon City

A man in Army fatigues who was riding a motorized scooter down an alley in Pentagon City was nearly run into by an impatient driver.

The road rage incident happened Friday afternoon along the driveway between the Pentagon Row shopping center and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. An apartment resident witnessed it and managed to take video of the final seconds, as the soldier scooted just out of the way of the tailgating driver.

“Heard some honking outside my apartment and went over to my balcony that overlooks Pentagon Row, right next to the Pentagon City Mall parking garage,” the tipster said via email. “Saw a car right on the heels of a gentleman on a motorized scooter. Gentleman was wearing military fatigues. The military figure yelled ‘Stop!’ Car proceeds to hit scooter after the rider hopped off. Driver then continues on their way.”

No injuries were reported.

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Morning Notes

More Housing Coming to Pentagon City — Developer LCOR is working on plans for a new apartment building in Pentagon City, to be built on a site that currently houses a blocky, low-slung building containing Verizon telecommunications infrastructure. Arlington has seen “a rising demand for luxury rentals,” including at a recently-completed LCOR building in Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal, Washington Business Journal]

Woman Charged With Bringing Gun to DCA — “The TSA said an Arlington, Virginia, woman was stopped at a checkpoint at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday with a loaded 9 mm handgun in her carry-on bag. There were 14 bullets in the handgun, including one in the chamber. She was cited by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police.” [WTOP]

New Pastor for Local Church — “St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will host ‘A Celebration of New Ministry’ to salute the arrival of the church’s new rector, Rev. Dorota Pruski, on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. at the church, 4000 Lorcom Lane.” [InsideNova]

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New Restaurant Serving Up Indian, Nepalese Food Coming to Pentagon Row

(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) A new restaurant offering Indian and Nepalese cuisine is on the way for the Pentagon Row shopping center.

Namaste Everest plans to open its doors in spring 2019, according to a release from Pentagon Row owner Federal Realty Investment Trust.

Chef Nabin Paudel, a Nepal native, operates another restaurant under the name “Namaste” in Alexandria. The new eatery will be his first expansion into Arlington.

The menu will include an array of curries and tandoor cooking, as well as dumplings, biryani, kabobs and more. The restaurant also plans to offer a full bar, the release said.

“It has been a priority to continue to expand dining options at this location for the local community,” Kari Glinski, director of asset management for Federal Realty, wrote in a statement. “With the addition of Indian and Nepalese cuisine, diners certainly have several diverse choices to choose from.”

Other recent additions to Pentagon Row include a pop-up taco bar and a new location for local chain Basic Burger.

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Morning Notes

Judge Dismisses Dewey Horse Punch Case — A man who was accused of punching a police horse in Dewey Beach is now trying to clear his name after the case was dismissed. Surveillance video reportedly exonerated the man, who might not actually be from Arlington as originally reported. [Cape Gazette]

Rosslyn Transportation Meeting Tonight — “Join Arlington County and the Rosslyn BID to provide feedback at this public meeting that will focus on the Core of Rosslyn Transportation Study. This study will examine the feasibility and potential impacts of permanent changes to the street network in the core of Rosslyn, with the goals of improving safety and accessibility for all users, including those walking, biking, using transit and driving.” [Rosslyn]

Another Commute Alternative: Running — As Metro continues on a downward ridership spiral, some are finding running to be an attractive commuting alternative, providing exercise and fresh air while eliminating costs and unpredictable delays. [Runners World]

Angels of the Battlefield Gala Tonight — The Armed Services YMCA will present its annual Angels of the Battlefield awards tonight during a gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. Among the 2018 recipients of the prestigious awards are Senior Airman Linda Wilson, who helped save lives during the Las Vegas mass shooting last year. [ASYMCA, Air Force Times]

New Film Fest Coming to Clarendon — “Georgetown’s Halcyon and Arlington’s Clarendon Ballroom will be the venues for a new film festival – Flicks4Change — that links the entertainment world with charitable activism. The film festival first started in Los Angeles, expanded to Australia and now comes to the DC area.” [Georgetown Dish]

Nearby: Pete’s Apizza Closes in Md. — Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza has closed its Silver Spring location. The D.C. and Clarendon locations remain open. [Bethesda Beat]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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UPDATE: Artist Emerges for Mysterious Street Art in Pentagon City, Crystal City

(Update at 4:25 p.m.) After this article was published, Carol Fuller, president of the Crystal City Civic Association, reached out with some clarity on the origin of the street art:

The art projects are the work of JBG Smith, the major developer in Crystal and Pentagon Cities.  They have so many projects in the works, including PenPlace where the bikes are now located on the wall, that they wanted to “beautify” the project areas. They did this as a “small mini intervention” project to link Pentagon and Crystal Cities and create some “buzz” for their development projects in an interesting and more attractive way. The work was done by Ground Swell, a company of architects, landscapers, and artists from Philadelphia.

The mysterious street art cropping up around Pentagon City and Crystal City seems to be evolving.

Readers first alerted to ARLnow to a series of spray-painted flowers popping up all along 12th Street S. and S. Eads Street earlier this month. Several colorful bikes adorned with flowers appeared on street corners soon afterward, though no one in the county government or local business community had any idea who was responsible for the art.

This week, the bikes remain, but have migrated slightly. Many are now mounted on the wall of a bike and pedestrian trail running along 12th Street S., between S. Fern Street and S. Eads Street, not far from the Pentagon City Metro station. Others are affixed to walls alongside S. Eads Street itself.

Some readers say they’ve spotted a pick-up truck full of workers dropping off the bikes, though it remains unclear who is backing the public art effort. Reader Christine Brown was able to snap a picture of the truck, which is labeled “The Property Coach.”

State records show no indication of any business with such a name, and an internet search was fruitless as well.

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