Artisphere Executive Director Left in Feb. — Jose Ortiz, executive director of Artisphere, quietly left the position in February. Ortiz is now working as the deputy director of the Bronx Museum in New York City. Artisphere programming director Josh Stoltzfus, meanwhile, has been promoted to acting executive director of the cultural center, which is on the county’s budgetary chopping block.
CivFed: No Tax Hike — Members of the Arlington County Civic Federation approved a resolution this week urging the County Board not to approve any increase in Arlington’s real estate tax rate. Fiscal conservatives on the Civic Federation argued that the county has plenty of reserves and surpluses to tap without the need to further tax struggling homeowners. [InsideNova]
Planning Comm. Rejects Wilson School Historic Status — Arlington’s Planning Commission on Monday voted to oppose a historic designation for the Wilson School in Rosslyn, by a vote of 5-4. That follows the School Board’s unanimous vote again a historic designation for the school, which was built in 1910 but was subsequently renovated significantly from its original form. The school system says trying to preserve parts of the school would require additional time and expense as it plans to build a new facility for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on the site. [InsideNova]
Urban Igloo Debuts Clarendon Page — Local apartment matchmaking service Urban Igloo, an ARLnow.com advertiser, has debuted a number of neighborhood information pages, including one for Clarendon. The company says its recently revamped website makes it “one of the first real estate companies to take an online hyperlocal approach to connect renters to specific neighborhoods.” [Urban Igloo]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is planning on building two, eight-story apartment buildings near the western end of Columbia Pike.
APAH is planning on replacing a surface parking lot at 1010 S. Frederick Street with the two buildings, which will contain 229 units of committed affordable housing. All of the units will be affordable up to 60 percent of area median income, with some units as low as 40 percent AMI.
To replace the surface parking, a three-level underground garage will be built.
The development is on this month’s agendas for the county’s planning and housing commissions, and is expected to go before the Arlington County Board at its meetings later this month. The project would be one of the first of its kind to go before the County Board under the Columbia Pike neighborhoods form-based code, approved in 2013.
Some in the community have expressed concern about a concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike, where this project is situated. County Board member John Vihstadt addressed some of those concerns at the Arlington Civic Federation meeting on Tuesday night.
“Certain people have concerns about an over-concentration [of affordable housing] on the west end of the Pike and not enough on the east end,” Vihstadt said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to come to grips with. I think we all want a mix of income in all neighborhoods as much as possible.”
APAH CEO Nina Janopaul told ARLnow.com that those concerns pale in comparison when compared to the concerns over the lack of affordable housing overall in the county. She said the civic association in which the new project is located, Columbia Forest, has lost 750 units of affordable housing in the last 15 years.
“The Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan calls for preserving or replacing the 6,200 affordable units, most of which are market-rate affordable and vulnerable to redevelopment,” she said. “We need to take advantage of the moment now, when the interest rates are low, to build affordable housing that will still be there in 60 years.”
The development, if approved, would add the 229 affordable units right next to APAH’s expansive, 208-unit Columbia Grove apartments. Of those units — on the 8-acre, 14-building campus — 131 are committed affordable housing. Janopaul said the buildings are Columbia Forest’s only affordable housing “at all.”
The project, dubbed “Columbia Hills,” will cost an estimated $85 million, according to APAH’s application to the county. APAH is requesting the county contribute $18.5 million from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which, along with the form-based code application, the County Board is expected to debate granting this month.
APAH is also planning to submit a Low Income Housing Tax Credit application next month. If all goes as Janopaul hopes, the federal government would approve the loan in the first quarter of 2016, after which construction can begin.
Image (top) via Arlington County. Photo (bottom) via Google Maps
The initiative, launched this year by County Manager Barbara Donnellan, is intended to identify county-owned land where affordable housing could be built. That could include parks, community centers and public safety facilities, such as fire stations.
The county received public comments this fall on the guidelines for evaluating sites. After reviewing those comments, the LRPC determined that the guidelines should be “set aside” while the entire initiative — and how the county engages the community in its decision-making process — is re-evaluated.
Among the committee’s strongest indictments of the current process is its recommendation that the criteria Donnellan used in her preliminary report to the Board in May — the catalyst for the public opposition to the initiative since — should be “withdrawn and reassessed.”
“The term Public Land for Public Good does not capture the importance and benefits of other public facilities and uses and should be reconsidered,” the report, approved at the LRPC’s meeting last week, states.
All of the LRPC’s recommendations include reaching out to the community before continuing the process further. The committee recommended that the county’s deliberations over which sites are evaluated and why need to be made more transparent. “This process should result in an understanding of how site selection is conducted and how the public participates in the decision,” the report states.
The LRPC’s report comes on the heels of County Board Chair Jay Fisette’s statement during last month’s Board meeting that the “Public Land for Public Good” rollout “didn’t work.”
While recommending the county slow down on evaluating land it currently owns, the LRPC also recommends Arlington adopt an “aggressive land acquisition policy.”
The Planning Commission will likely discuss the LRPC’s recommendations at a meeting this week. The County Board could discuss the issue at its Saturday, Dec. 13 meeting.
The board voted unanimously to advertise for a public hearing before the Planning Commission Dec. 2 and the full board Dec. 14. The proposal would allow large media screens — colloquially known as “jumbotrons” — to be approved through the use permit or site plan process on buildings in mixed-use neighborhoods and in some parks.
Deborah Albert, an Arlington County planner, said the proposed ordinance, if passed, would prevent the screens to be used for commercial purposes.
“Staff has envisioned the screens could be used show public information, news, or in emergencies,” Albert told ARLnow.com. “The intent is really to enable the opportunities to consider another such sign, but not necessarily to encourage them to proliferate, so we’ve crafted careful standards to allow them in certain places but not to allow and over-proliferation.”
County staff recommends that the “jumbotrons” be limited to heights below 40 feet, screen sizes of less than 750 square feet and to take into consideration surrounding residences. They would only be allowed, through special exception, within a quarter mile of transit stations and in so-called public service districts, like Long Bridge Park.
Board Member Mary Hynes suggested the screens could be used much like they are at stadiums at ballfields: next to the scoreboard, showing a simultaneous broadcast of the game for the benefit of spectators in a crowd.
The WJLA screen is the only large media screen in the county, and all other screens are currently prohibited by county sign regulations. Albert said the conversation over “jumbotrons” arose during community meetings when the county updated the sign regulations last year.
The Latitude Apartments project has received a thumbs up from county staff members, fresh off of last week’s Arlington Planning Commission recommendation to defer consideration of the proposal. County staff recommends the County Board approves the plan during its meeting on Saturday, November 16.
Both the Planning Commission and the County Board deferred the issue during their July meetings in order to examine more information regarding complaints about the plan. The largest concern has been about changing the site’s status from commercial, as designated in the Virginia Square Sector Plan, to mixed-use residential.
In addition to rezoning the site, the proposal includes demolishing the existing one- and two-story buildings on the property to construct a 12-story, 265 unit residential building, with 14 affordable units. The building would have more than 3,100 square feet of ground floor retail space and around 2,800 square feet of ground floor space dedicated to cultural and educational uses. The plan includes a 12,000 square foot public plaza at the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Monroe Street, which would have a pedestrian connection to Quincy Park.
County staff members note that the immediate area has changed since the sector plan was created, and recent expansion there makes it unnecessary to preserve additional commercial space at this time. The staff report reads, in part:
“Office uses, which were encouraged to increase the daytime population, maintain the existing medical office presence, and facilitate shared parking, have increased by over 700,000 square feet since the plan was adopted, albeit not at the same pace as residential development. However, institutional growth has significantly increased in Virginia Square, including George Mason University, which also contributes to the desired daytime activity in this area. Further, GLUP-based estimates of additional development capacity within Virginia Square indicate there is remaining development potential on blocks slated for either office or mixed land uses, which would help further sector plan goals for additional office growth… Staff finds that the proposed site plan, while not meeting all of the indicated uses of the sector plan, is generally consistent with Virginia Square Sector Plan guidance for the site and the GLUP… Therefore, staff recommends that the County Board adopt the attached resolution to rezone the subject property from ‘C-2’ to ‘C-O’. Staff further recommends that the County Board adopt the attached ordinance to approve the subject site plan, subject to the conditions of the ordinance.”
Two other issues that arose regarding the project are that the building height would exceed the sector plan’s recommendation by three feet and that the parking ratio would be 0.9 spaces per residential unit instead of the standard 1.0 space per unit. County staff did not consider either of these substantial enough to recommend against approving the proposal.
(Updated at 1:05 p.m.) The Arlington Planning Commission voted 8-2 on Wednesday night to again defer a decision on the Latitude Apartments project in Virginia Square.
Every member of the planning commission praised The Penrose Group for its proposal, lauding the architecture and community benefits. The group is hoping to build a 265-unit apartment building with 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail and 2,800 square feet of cultural and educational use.
However, a majority of commissioners said that because the Virginia Square Sector Plan calls for a commercial building, they couldn’t support the application.
“Our core issue is do we respect the sector plan that our friends and neighbors worked on and the county board approved, or do we ignore it,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Steve Cole. “I can’t imagine believing that site plans ought to be the vehicles for changing sector plans and county policy. I’m not saying no to the proposal, I’m saying no to the extraordinary request to change the sector plan.”
Planning Commission Chairman Brian Harner and member Rosemary Ciotti were the only two commissioners to vote against deferral. Ciotti made a motion to recommend the County Board approve the plan, which failed, 6-4.
“We’re not living in a perfect world where we were able to predict 10-15 years ago what this sector plan would bring about and what market conditions would offer,” Harner said. “I wouldn’t trivialize this project as saying we’re just responding to current market conditions, because we really have to think about what it offers the county and the community.”
The County Board could review this proposal at its November 16 meeting. It’s unclear if the Board will go along with the Planning Commission recommendation, or if it will rebuff the recommendation as it did when the commission voted against the redevelopment of the Bergmann’s Cleaning site last year.
Members of the community came out en force to speak about the Latitude project — 25 signed up to speak. Many residents of the nearby Monroe and Virginia Square Condominiums spoke against the project, while all others spoke in favor.
“We understand the county may benefit in the near term from the tax revenue,” said Ellen Dayton, a condo resident, “but staying true to the land use goals our excellent county planners have set forth is best for the long term development.”
Cliff Chieffo was one of the authors of the Virginia Square Sector Plan and lives in the Virginia Square Condominiums. He supported the project and said the sector plan was designed to have flexibility.
“The proposal meets and exceeds the Virginia Square Sector Plan,” Chieffo said. “The applicant will produce a signature building that will be unique to Virginia Square.”
Chieffo said after the public hearing portion of the meeting that a majority of his condo neighbors supported the plan, but the condo board didn’t allow Penrose to make a presentation.
Many of those who spoke in support of the presentation were involved in real estate in one form or another, and they spoke about the architecture and public art space the proposal included.
“Virginia Square cannot handle any more office space, and won’t be able to for years,” said David Alperstein, the principal at real estate brokerage FD Stonewater. “The [Rosslyn-Ballston] corridor is experiencing a historic level of vacancy.”
The site plan for a new apartment building in Pentagon City with a Whole Foods grocery store on the first level will go before the County Board for approval on Saturday.
The proposal involves Metropolitan Park Phase 4/5 at 1200 S. Eads Street. Developer Vornado wishes to combine Phases 4 and 5 to make one building, the fourth in the Metropolitan Park development. Phases 1 and 2 of the project focused on building The Gramercy at Metropolitan Park and The Millennium at Metropolitan Park, which are both currently occupied. Phase 3 is for The Acadia at Metropolitan Park, which is under construction. Planning for the overall project has been in the works for about a decade.
The 22-story new building would contain nearly 700 residential units and would have more than 40,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. Almost 37,000 of the retail space would be taken up by a Whole Foods. The plan includes a four level, 885 space underground parking structure that will likely have one floor reserved exclusively for use by the grocery store.
In addition to site plan approval, the Board will consider an amendment to the 1976 Pentagon City Phased Development Site Plan to permit the proposed building height. An amendment to the Master Transportation Plan has also been requested to allow the removal of a portion of a previously planned new street — 12th Road S. — from the proposal.
The Planning Commission’s Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) discussed Metropolitan Park Phase 4/5 at six meetings from November 2012 through April of this year. Members discussed numerous aspects of the development that could be cause for concern like building height, building density, streetscape improvements and grocery store operations. No major issues were identified in the final site plan that would prevent approval of the project.
Last week, members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously (11-0) in favor of the proposal. Similarly, the Transportation Commission unanimously (7-0) approved the final site plan proposal and amendment to the Master Transportation Plan at its meeting on June 27.
Staff recommends the County Board follows the lead of the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission by approving the proposal.
The County Board is scheduled to examine a proposed development that has angered some residents in Virginia Square. The Board, however, will likely defer the issue at its meeting this Saturday in accordance with a county staff recommendation.
The matter before the Board is a request to consider the proposal for the Latitude Apartments at 3601 N. Fairfax Drive. It involves rezoning the property from commercial to residential and approving a site plan for 265 apartment units, more than 3,000 square feet of retail and more than 2,800 square feet of cultural/educational use. There is also a request to allow an encroachment into a public street and utilities easement in order to add balconies along the N. Monroe Street side of the building.
Residents at the nearby Monroe Condominium (3625 10th Street N.) and others in the neighborhood have voiced opposition to the proposal, claiming the plan has progressed without adequate community input. The largest concern appears to be with rezoning the space to residential, which the residents note violates the Virginia Square Sector Plan. Opponents have also raised concerns about the influx of new residents from the apartment complex causing congestion at the Virginia Square Metro station.
Earlier this month, the Planning Commission held a meeting and residents explained their issues with the project. Members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously to support the county staff recommendation of deferring the issue for further study of the concerns raised.
With a deferral, the Planning Commission would take up the matter again at its November 4 meeting and the County Board could then address the proposal at its November 16 meeting.
Commission Says No to Lee Hwy Project — The Arlington Planning Commission has voted against a developer’s plan to build a 10-story apartment building and a MOM’s Organic Market grocery store on the current Bergmann’s Dry Cleaner site on Lee Highway. The commission expressed reservations about approving the project when there’s no overarching county development plan for Lee Highway. Some neighborhood residents who supported the development said they were disappointed with the commission’s vote. The County Board will have the final say when they consider the matter on Dec. 8. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington GOP Still Trying to Stop Streetcar — The Arlington County Republican Committee is trying a new tactic to halt the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. The GOP is asking state lawmakers to pass a measure that would require Arlington County to have a voter referendum before selling bonds to fund the streetcar. [Sun Gazette]
Ballston Bar Crawl to Benefit Sandy — Eight Ballston-area bars are hosting a bar crawl to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. The bar crawl will start at noon on Saturday at Front Page (4201 Wilson Blvd). The event also includes a poker competition for prizes, like Redskins and Capitals gear. [Clarendon Nights]