The commission voted unanimously in favor of Amazon’s request to remove a stretch of 14th Road S., and voted 12-1 in favor of a request to build two 22-story office buildings past current zoning restrictions.
The Arlington County Board will have its final vote on the amendments during its meeting next Saturday, December 14.
The unbuilt portion of 14th Road S. was originally planned to serve private residential buildings, per staff report to the Board. But since Amazon now plans to build its two office towers on the lot, there is “no longer the need for the planned 14th Road segment.”
In exchange for modifying zoning requirements to build said office buildings to an expected 2.15 million square feet — including retail space and a shared underground parking garage — Amazon offered the following community incentives:
- $14 million towards constructing and maintaining Metropolitan Park
- Public use of event space
- Road and transit improvements near the headquarters
- LEED Platinum certification
- $225,000 contribution to public art
- $20 million towards Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF)
“The $20 million contribution to AHIF will allow the County to fund over 200 units of committed affordable housing, which will help meet only about one-third of the County’s annual goal for new units when it occurs,” Michelle Winters, director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, told ARLnow. “This contribution is very welcome, although we know that it is only a small part of what Arlington needs to do for affordable housing in the coming years to help replace some of the thousands of affordable units lost over the past several decades.”
During next weekend’s meeting, the County Board will decide between two options for allocating the funds, per Aaron Shriber of Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development: the $20 million will either be divided into three separate payments for a variety of projects, or will be pooled into one, unannounced project within the vicinity of Metropolitan Park.
“The problem is [for the second option], that we need to identify the site, but we would love to use that money for a project — [Amazon] is looking at a fairly aggressive construction schedule, and that means the money would come in very soon,” said Shriber. “I do not think we should take lightly the large contribution we were able to receive.”
Amazon representatives also emphasized the company’s intentions to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with LEED Platinum certification and support for transit and green energy.
“We’re close to completing an agreement on a large solar project and will update you when it’s finalized,” said Amazon’s real estate chief John Schoettler told the commission. “It will fully power our HQ2 campus and will be located in Virginia.”
The upcoming solar field is part of a worldwide sustainability project, the company announced today. The Virginia field is expected to produce 80 megawatts of energy and received kudos from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) for helping “lead to a cleaner and healthier environment.”
(One megawatt can power about a thousand homes.)
The company is also pushing its employees to commute via public transit, bike, or carpool instead of driving solo — despite requesting zoning modifications that would allow one parking space per every 1,100 square feet of gross floor area, over 2,000 spaces total.
Restaurant owners, residents, and advisory group members alike are demanding that an upcoming residential development in Crystal City includes more customer parking for the 23rd Street “Restaurant Row.”
At an unusually heated Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meeting Monday night, a representative from Crystal Houses developer Roseland Residential Trust outlined its plans for “Crystal House 5,” one of the new residential buildings proposed to be added to the existing apartment complex on the 1900 block of S. Eads Street.
The latest iteration of the development plan has been revised upward — with 819 new residential units planned, up from 798 previously. In addition to four new apartment buildings, Roseland is proposing three groups of townhouses.
Monday’s meeting, however, focused on the contentious issue of parking. Currently, Crystal House 5 is set to build over a Roseland-owned surface lot with 95 pay-to-park spaces.
Per use permit conditions, Roseland reserves 35 of those spaces exclusively for customers and employees of the businesses along 23rd Street S. — aka Restaurant Row.
Roseland plans to build a parking garage beneath the building, along with a small surface lot, with a total of 96 spaces. It is offering to reserve 35 of those spaces — 14 surface and 21 in the garage — for Restaurant Row owners and customers, with the remaining 60 for tenant use only.
However, because all 95 spaces in the current lot are open for public use, business owners argue this will result in a net loss of parking for them. Especially outspoken about this is Stratis Voutsas, who manages a trust that owns several of the buildings along 23rd Street.
Voutsas, along with a few other Restaurant Row business owners, wore matching shirts that said “Keep 23rd Street Weird, Eclectic & Uniquely Authentic, Support Parking For Your Local Business.” Voutsas has also started a petition, which he claims has over 3,000 signatures, emphasizing that the county’s Crystal City Sector Plan envisions the preservation of Restaurant Row.
“At Restaurant Row (500 block of 23rd Street), the plan visualizes preserving and retaining small, neighborhood oriented retailers,” the plan says. “Should redevelopment occur in this area, such retailers should be accommodated, to help support active streetscapes.”
Local restaurateur Freddie Lutz, who owns Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant and Federico Ristorante Italiano, told ARLnow he was promised by a county staff member 35 years ago that parking would be protected.
“When me and [business partner] Ted Sachs were standing on the surface parking lot 35 years ago, someone from the county said to us, if anyone builds on this parking lot they will have to provide parking for 23rd Street Restaurant Row,” Lutz said. “Live and learn, I should have stuck my hand up and asked, ‘Can we have that in writing?'”
The proposed redevelopment for the Harris Teeter site on N. Glebe Road is moving ahead with changes to the number of apartment units and parking spaces.
Developers are now proposing to build 732 multi-family units on the Ballston Harris Teeter and Mercedes Benz dealership lot — an increase from the earlier estimate of 700 units.
The grocery store owners have partnered with developers to knock down and rebuild the Harris Teeter — the first in Virginia according to the Washington Business Journal — with a larger version featuring seating and drinks and apartments above. The old grocery site would then be transformed into a retail space with more apartments above.
In total the project is slated to include 81,443 square feet of retail in addition to the 732 units.
“The project will be constructed in three phases to keep the existing store and surface parking lot in service while the new store and apartments above are under construction,” attorneys for the developer noted in an April 10 letter to the county.
“The proposed development will provide a new, top of the line Harris Teeter grocery store with upgraded features and offerings,” the letter added. “It will also provide additional, much needed housing close to the Ballston Metro station and the Ballston Quarter project.”
Georgia-based developer Southeastern Real Estate Group, LLC is backing the project, according to a filing, and has pledged to also build a half acre public park on the site, plus extensions of two local streets through the project. The firm did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
Updated plans posted on the county’s website this week also indicate Southeastern is seeking LEED Silver certification and are seeking to reduce the number of residential parking spaces to one per unit. The total number of parking spaces included in the plan, however, is 1,002 spaces — including spaces for the grocery store — in three-level parking garages.
The county’s Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public meeting on the development on Monday, April 29, from 7-9 p.m. at the Bozman Government Center in Courthouse.
Arlington officials now look set to further loosen rules around the creation of “accessory dwelling units” sometime this spring, changing some zoning standards to allow more property owners to build the homes on their land.
County staff are now circulating a draft policy recommending that local leaders allow property owners to build the homes, commonly known as “mother-in-law suites,” with a five-foot setback from the street and property lines.
The County Board has long sought to see more people build “ADUs” around Arlington, viewing them as low-cost way to beef up the county’s housing options. Officials have become especially interested in the homes as they’ve debated ways to improve access to “missing middle” housing, or homes that offer rent prices somewhere in between new, luxury apartments and subsidized affordable homes.
The Board worked in 2017 to loosen regulations on ADUs and expand their creation in Arlington, but those changes only impacted apartments to be created within a single-family home, like in a garage or attic. The rule tweaks also allowed property owners to convert existing detached buildings on their lots into ADUs, but they did not allow anyone to build new ADUs unattached to other buildings on the property.
This latest proposal would change that. County staff examined the potential for one-foot, five-foot and 10-foot setback requirements, and they settled on the middle option as the best way to balance competing priorities.
“The five-foot setback balances privacy and separation concerns, design flexibility and the county’s housing goals regarding increasing housing options,” staff wrote in documents presented at an open house earlier this week.
Staff estimate that altering the setback requirements in that way would allow the owners of 42 percent of all homes in residential zoning districts to build new ADUs. They expect that a five-foot setback would allow some space between property lines and ADUs, and create enough room for direct sunlight to flow into all buildings on a given property.
Officials declined to side with a one-foot setback requirement, noting that it would allow for considerably less privacy, with buildings right up against property lines. Yet they found that it would only slightly increase the number of properties where ADUs could be built — 44 percent of residential properties would be eligible, staff estimated.
They also found that buildings so close to property lines are subject to more stringent fire safety-related building requirements, whereas buildings five feet away are not, “potentially decreasing the cost of construction for the owner.”
As for the 10-foot setback option, staff found it would substantially decrease the percentage of eligible properties — they calculated about 37 percent would qualify — while also creating the potential for buildings on sites to feel more clustered together, creating “the perception of greater massing on the site.”
It helped, too, that staff found that other, similarly sized localities around the country use the five-foot setback standard.
Staff found that Charlottesville, Seattle, Santa Cruz, California and Los Angeles County all use a similar guideline — only Portland uses the 10-foot standard, while no other localities staff examined use the one-foot setback. D.C., however, allows ADUs to be built right up to the property line, as the city has gone through its own efforts in recent years to expand access to the homes.
Staff plan to convene a series of additional meetings on the setback proposals in the coming weeks, with plans to send them to the Planning Commission for debate by May 6. The County Board could then take action by May 18.
County officials are clearing the way for WhyHotel proceed with its plans to set up temporary hotel rooms in two Arlington apartment buildings: one in Ballston, the other along Columbia Pike.
The startup announced in December that it hopes to bring a total of 325 of its pop-up hotel rooms to the county this year, splitting them between the residential tower attached to the Ballston Quarter development and the “Centro Arlington” project, which is taking the place of the old Food Star grocery store off the Pike.
Since then, the company has been working to secure county approvals for its unusual business model. WhyHotel strikes deals with owners of large new residential buildings to rent out blocks of furnished apartments, helping property owners make some extra cash while they work to find more permanent tenants. The firm also brings along a full on-call staff to handle cleaning and other guest needs to each property, providing customers with a bit more than a simple hotel might offer.
The County Board approved the zoning changes necessary for the company to set up its Ballston Quarter rooms on Jan. 26, and the Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend that the Board do the same for the Centro Arlington development.
WhyHotel expects to have 175 rooms ready in Ballston by April, with the remaining 150 on the Pike available sometime this summer or fall.
In both cases, the company will have the county’s permission to offer the temporary rooms for the next two years. But WhyHotel executives expect they’ll need much less than that, given the demand for new apartments in Arlington these days.
CEO Jason Fudin told the Planning Commission that the company’s first effort at “The Bartlett” complex in Pentagon City lasted just five months before the building was fully leased out.
“We leave pretty quickly when things go well in Arlington,” Fudin said.
Planning Commissioner Stephen Hughes says the company’s deference to long-term renters eased his mind in considering WhyHotel’s business model. He pointed out that “long-term leaseholders take precedence” in the company’s arrangements with Arlington property owners, which is why WhyHotel tends not to stick around for too long.
“Neighbors, of course, hope to have long-term neighbors,” Hughes said.
But that hesitancy doesn’t mean that county officials are opposed to the idea of short-term guests on the Pike. In fact, Hughes hopes WhyHotel’s stay in Centro Arlington spurs more conversations in the business community about the viability of other hotels in the area.
“The data will now be there for the bankers and investors to see whether a current, flat service parking lot may be a suitable hotel in the future,” Hughes said.
As plans advance for the redevelopment of the American Legion post in Virginia Square, neighbors are raising a familiar question for developers in Arlington’s densest areas: what about parking?
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing hopes to eventually buy the 1.3-acre property at 3445 Washington Blvd and transform the current home of American Legion Post 139 into a building with 160 affordable apartments. The nonprofit would set aside space on the ground floor of the development for a new Legion post, and it even plans to reserve half of its homes for veterans.
APAH has been working to make the project a reality since the American Legion agreed to these plans back in 2016, and the proposal is very nearly ready to earn some key county approvals — the county’s Site Plan Review Committee will scrutinize the project at a meeting for the third time tonight (Monday), and the group could soon advance the proposal to the Planning Commission.
But it seems the nonprofit has yet to allay the concerns of nervous Ballston and Virginia Square neighbors worried that the new development will bring more cars parking on their streets.
“We are concerned that given the number of 2- and 3-bedroom apartments planned, the expectation that families will live in them, and the fact that our neighborhood does not have access to walkable elementary or middle schools, it’s not feasible to assume residents without a car or that even one car per unit will be sufficient,” Cara Troup, the treasurer of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, wrote in a Dec. 7 email to county staff.
APAH plans to build a one-story underground garage with 96 parking spaces in total, and the developer does acknowledge that it’s providing less parking than the county’s zoning standards demand.
However, the nonprofit believes that the development’s proximity to public transit options should mean that most residents won’t rely on cars. A transportation study of the site commissioned by APAH points out that the property may not quite be along a Metro corridor, but does sit “directly across” from the busy Fairfax Drive and its nearby Virginia Square Metro station.
APAH also sought to reassure the SPRC that it generally restricts residents to one car per household and will offer them reduced rates on bikeshare memberships, according to notes from the committee’s Dec. 10 meeting.
The nonprofit plans to set aside 20 spaces to serve visitors and staff for the American Legion post specifically, so it doesn’t expect that the group’s new headquarters (set to include new space for a variety of support services for veterans) will put a strain on parking on the area. But neighbors remain convinced that there just isn’t enough room for the people who will live in the new building, perhaps prompting more cars to push for space in the neighborhoods behind the development on 13th and 14th Street N.
Many of the streets in area are already subject to parking restrictions under the county’s permit program. But zoned parking in the county only bars unauthorized cars from neighborhoods from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays — the program was originally designed as a way to bar commuters from D.C.-adjacent areas.
That’s prompted Troup to push for new parking restrictions running from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, in order to ensure that APAH’s new residents don’t simply drive their cars to work and then park them on nearby streets at night. She even envisions that change coming as a condition of the county approving the development.
County officials are currently eyeing changes to the residential parking program as part of a two-year study of its efficacy, likely making any such change an uphill battle. But, until that work wraps up later this year, neighbors are adamant that they want to see more parking required for developments like APAH’s new building.
“Arlington’s zoned parking regulations need to be updated to reflect these present day conditions to include restricted parking into the evenings and on weekends,” Lyon Village Citizens’ Association President John Carten wrote in a letter to county planners. “It may be the case that lifestyles and transportation options today are such that the parking ratios for certain projects do not need to be what they were in the past. However, until county parking policies are updated to increase restricted parking hours beyond the outdated business hours approach, Lyon Village and similarly situated neighborhoods are being put in a very difficult position when [asked] to support projects with parking ratios lower than historical norms.”
Virginia Hospital Center executives believe they’ve satisfied all the demands of Arlington officials in drawing up revised plans for the facility’s $250 million expansion, setting the stage for the project to move ahead as soon as this week.
The County Board is set to consider the matter once again tomorrow (Tuesday), after delaying a decision on the hospital’s expansion back in September. The Board laid out a series of specific changes it hoped to see from the hospital as it embarks on the project, which is designed to add 101 hospital beds and a new outpatient facility to match rising demand in the county, and urged VHC leaders to smooth over its rocky relationship with some people living near the existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.
The Board initially envisioned taking up the matter next month, but VHC leaders were enthusiastic enough about their progress that they pushed for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting instead.
Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says VHC officials have spent last few months convening “a series of public meetings with community members, as well as with neighborhood civic associations adjacent to the hospital,” to craft new designs for the expansion, leading to his renewed optimism for the project’s prospects.
“These discussions have been open, honest, and productive,” Stanton wrote in a statement. “As a result of this progress, we asked to present a revised plan to the Board during its scheduled Nov. 27 meeting. We are grateful that we have been granted that opportunity, and remain hopeful that we will be presenting a plan that is acceptable to all parties involved.”
The chief concern of the hospital’s neighborhoods, county planners and Board members alike is how the VHC’s new buildings will fit into the community. The hospital is hoping to add a 230,000-square-foot, seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage, and critics of the original design worried those additions would effectively wall off the hospital from the single-family homes surrounding it.
Accordingly, the Board’s requests for changes centered around improving the facade of the garage and adding more pedestrian connections to (and through) the site, to make it feel more accessible. And, per details laid out in a new report prepared by county staff, the hospital seems to have made all the tweaks the Board was envisioning.
For the new parking garage, the hospital now plans to add “vertical mesh screens” and vary its “brick colors and pattern to provide visual interest,” the report says. The hospital also will eliminate one of the garage’s entrances from along a service road running horizontally through the property, and relocate a sidewalk to the south side of that road to provide a more accessible “east-west” connection through the site.
VHC officials also hope to provide a better north-south pedestrian walkway through the property, creating a corridor that runs from 19th Street N. to connect to both the garage and the new outpatient building. In tandem with that change, the hospital proposes “rounding the corner of the outpatient building to improve sight lines for pedestrians and to soften the edge of the building” so that there’s “no longer a continuous line of buildings for the entire length of 19th Street N.,” staff wrote.
According to the report, representatives with the John M. Langston Citizens Association initially expressed some concern that the walkway revisions still weren’t quite what the Board had requested, but the hospital altered its plans slightly to meet those worries.
Additionally, the hospital will add other features neighbors requested over the last few months of meetings, including new pedestrian safety devices like a rapid flashing beacon at the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and 19th Street N.
All of the hospital’s proposed changes will slightly reduce the capacity of the new parking garage, however, after it already agreed to a hefty cutback in spaces in a bid to ease the concerns of transit advocates. In all, the garage is set to see a reduction about 46 spaces if the Board signs off on these changes, for a total of about 1,694 spaces.
While the design changes may well meet the Board’s standards, they’re unlikely to satisfy all the hospital’s critics. Many neighbors remain concerned about the height of the new buildings, and county planners have urged the Board to require the hospital to adhere to a more robust long-range planning process — the hospital is planning a full redevelopment of its campus in the long term, but can only kick off those plans once it executes this expansion.
The Board will get a chance to have its final say on the matter Tuesday — the public hearing on the issue is closed, setting the stage for an up-or-down vote. Should the Board approve the plans, at long last, the county will sign over a parcel of land along N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a coveted property on S. Carlin Springs Road from the hospital.
The Board will also review a $500,000 grant to set up a new pilot program and expand mental health services at the hospital. The program would empower a new specialist to divert kids and teens arriving at the hospital with behavioral health issues into treatment programs, in order to prevent them from experiencing more serious problems in the future or getting caught up in the criminal justice system.
Arlington officials are gearing up to loosen some of the zoning rules governing community swimming pools, in a bid to make it easier for organizations to build or renovate pools across the county.
The Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the zoning tweaks this coming Wednesday (Oct. 10), with the County Board considering the changes soon afterward.
Primarily, the changes would give the Board more latitude to hand out “use permits” for the pools, giving officials the chance to review standards for things like fencing and setbacks on a case-by-case basis, rather than subjecting every pool to the same rigid standard.
The county doesn’t currently boast a large number of community pools, by any stretch of the imagination — there are just five pools around Arlington that aren’t owned by the county or restricted for a specific neighborhood or development’s use — but the zoning changes have sped through the county’s engagement process, nonetheless.
That’s largely due to the fact that the Macedonia Baptist Church is currently hoping to redevelop a former YMCA community center in Nauck, located at 3440 22nd Street S., into a community pool, and has been pressing the county for changes to the zoning standards.
Most of those documents haven’t changed since the mid-1950s, according to a county staff report, when many of the original community pools were first built. Staff notes that those standards “were originally intended to buffer residential communities adjacent to community swimming pools from the impacts of the use, and to ensure that the pool provided ample parking on site that did not congest nearby on street parking or other off-site parking facilities.”
But as Arlington has urbanized over the years, staff believes those standards have become increasingly out of date.
For instance, the zoning ordinance currently requires pools to be built with a 100-foot setback from a residential street, a standard designed to “minimize the audible and visual impacts of the pool on nearby neighbors,” staff wrote. But with space in Arlington increasingly at a premium, county officials believe “a combination of opaque fencing and landscaping” can accomplish the same goal without requiring quite so many design headaches.
County staff don’t want to see the Board do away with that sort of limit entirely, noting that there could be plenty of future instances where the “100-foot setback requirement could be warranted to prevent mechanical equipment, storage buildings, and other pool-related facilities from being located too close to an adjacent neighborhood or property.”
By changing zoning rules to give the Board the chance to review future community pool designs, however, staffers believe members would be able to examine each application on its own and evaluate “the specific circumstances of individual properties,” making the whole process a bit less rigid.
After the Planning Commission gets a chance to offer a recommendation on the zoning changes next week, the Board is set to consider them at its Oct. 20 meeting.
Flickr pool photo by Alves Family
Supporters of the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans are ramping up their advocacy efforts, now that the project’s fate looks murky ahead of a key County Board vote.
The hospital itself has begun sending out mailers backing the expansion, according to ARLnow reader Dave Schutz, urging county residents to contact the Board about the $250 million project. Arlington’s lone comprehensive hospital has hoped for roughly a year now to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage next to its existing campus (1701 N. George Mason Drive), arguing that it desperately needs more space to keep pace with the county’s burgeoning population.
Meanwhile, the county’s business community is also redoubling its efforts to push the expansion forward. The Chamber of Commerce penned a new letter to the Board today (Tuesday), imploring officials to ignore the recommendation of the county’s Planning Commission and approve the project “without further delay” this weekend.
“Further deferral of this already-delayed project will impose additional financial and time costs that will redirect resources that VHC would otherwise use to provide health care services to the Arlington community,” Chamber President and CEO Kate Bates wrote.
County planners are indeed urging the Board to hold off on giving the project a green light, over concerns about the height and design of the proposed buildings. VHC is looking to build the facilities on a parcel of county-owned land near the intersection of 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street, and the commission argues the large new buildings would look out of place sitting across the street from small single-family homes.
Though commissioners support the project in principle, they voted unanimously last week to recommend that the Board force the hospital to revise its plans to address those concerns. They argue that the county would be better served by requiring the hospital to go through a “Phased Development Site Plan” process, a long-range exercise that would give planners more say over VHC’s intentions to redevelop its existing campus.
The hospital argued that such a process would be prohibitively difficult and expensive, and Bates alleged in her letter that VHC has already been made to wait too long to move ahead with its expansion plans. The hospital originally hoped to earn the Board’s approval this July, but neighbors successfully convinced the county to hold off on until the end of the summer to allow for more community involvement in the process.
“Each additional delay in the approval of the site plan application puts off the day when VHC will be able to care for its patient load in a full and comfortable facility,” Bates wrote. “Absent a timely expansion of VHC to accommodate its patient-centric mission, the community as a whole will bear these costs.”
The Board will have the final say on the matter at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22), a vote made all the more consequential for the county because Arlington stands to gain an 11.5-acre site on S. Carlin Springs Road as part of a “land swap” with the hospital if the expansion moves forward.
Though Board members have been loath to tip their hands on the vote, they are pledging to thoughtfully consider the concerns of neighbors and planners about the project.
“Public or private institutions and buildings, whether hospitals or schools, office buildings or community centers, must respect our planning documents, the built environment and the residents of surrounding communities,” said Board member John Vihstadt during a Chamber forum last week. “Height, setbacks, connectivity, building orientation, traffic and parking concerns are critical factors in any development proposal, and they’re concerns I take seriously. I’m looking forward to hearing more from the hospital and community in the coming days.”
Arlington’s plans to demolish a roughly 90-year-old storage “dome” for road salt and build a temporary replacement are inching forward, even as some neighbors have cried foul about the county’s rushed public engagement process for the project.
The county Planning Commission unanimously lent its seal of approval last night (Thursday) to a series of zoning changes to let work on the salt dome move ahead, keeping the county on track to move about 4,500 tons of salt into a new shelter in time for the first threats of snow in late November.
Officials discovered this spring that the old dome, made out of a repurposed water tank and located on a piece of county property near the intersection of 25th Road N. and Old Dominion Drive, was on the verge of collapse. Considering that the dome was one of just two of the county’s facilities for road salt storage, staff wanted to take urgent action to commission a replacement.
The County Board agreed to kick off that process in July, but people living nearby were peeved that officials would push ahead with these changes on a considerably more expedited timeline than Arlington’s notoriously lengthy engagement guidelines might normally allow. Many neighbors were particularly concerned that the temporary replacement for the dome might become permanent, lending a considerably more industrial feel to the neighborhood, which is just near Marymount University.
“It will be the defining feature of the entrance of our neighborhood, and it will say ‘Welcome to Industrialville,'” Mike Hogan, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, told the commission. “Never have so many planning rules been violated in one proposal as this one.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel stressed to the commission the rushed process is “clearly not how we prefer to do our work,” offering a mea culpa for his staff’s failure to identify the problem a bit earlier. But he also emphasized that the project was so important that it was worth speeding things along — should the dome fail, he expects the county would see its response time to a snowstorm increase anywhere from 30 to 40 percent.
“There should’ve been a public process, there’s no question about it,” Planning Commission Chair Jane Siegel told ARLnow. “Nobody’s trying to hide the ball here… but if there is no salt storage in the appropriate part of the county, we risk people getting injured.”
Siegel expects that county staffers managed to overlook the salt dome’s degrading status because the property was at one time slated to become the home of a replacement for Fire Station 8. When those plans fell apart, she suspects the salt dome got lost in the shuffle, as officials were initially expecting it to be removed.
Some neighbors, however, were not so convinced of the county’s good intentions.
“We’ve all known for a long time this is failing,” Jacqueline Smith, another Old Dominion resident, told the commission. “This is a really predictable crisis… and we’re being put under this pressure, saying we have no other options. And personally, I don’t see that.”
But Emanuel told the commission that staff did examine other options for the temporary salt dome, like a site the county uses for storing leaf removal and the Buck property, a piece of county land near Ballston eyed for all manner of uses over the years. Neither option, however, would quite fit the county’s needs, Emanuel said.
Even with the county stuck using the Old Dominion property, Siegel pointed out that vocal community scrutiny of the project managed to force some concessions from the county to make the effort a bit more tolerable. For instance, the county shrank the amount of land it plans to use for the project, and will save all but three trees it originally planned to cut down on the site.
“Even though it was not a full public process, the public did weigh in and get some wins out of this,” Siegel said.
Still, Old Dominion neighbors worry about the site’s future.
“We recognize this is intended to be temporary, but we’d like to know what temporary means,” Hogan said.
Manuel estimates that the temporary structure will stay in place for the next three to four years, until the county can build a new salt storage tank. And for any concerned neighbors, Siegel also points out that the County Board will soon convene a working group on a “master plan” for the property, a process she says might not have started for quite some time without the community’s interest in the salt dome.
“Temporary things become permanent if there’s no opposing group or force or idea, but here there obviously will be,” Siegel said. “There is a bulwark against the drift.”
The County Board will get a chance to weigh in on the salt dome zoning changes at its Sept. 22 and Sept. 25 meetings.
Arlington’s Planning Commission isn’t ready to lend its seal of approval to a major expansion of the Virginia Hospital Center, urging the county’s lone hospital to re-work its plans for the project.
The commission unanimously voted last night (Tuesday) to urge the County Board to delay its consideration of the project, perhaps providing a major speed bump for an expansion the hospital has claimed is essential for serving the county’s growing population in the coming years.
VHC has hoped for roughly a year now to acquire a parcel of land adjacent to the hospital’s campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, and use it to construct a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage. That would enable the hospital to convert some of its existing outpatient space into 101 new hospital beds to better meet local demand, and pave the way for a wholesale redevelopment of the hospital’s campus.
But VHC’s plans have consistently run into opposition over the last few months, with neighbors worried that the new buildings will tower over residential neighborhoods in the area and transit advocates fretting that the large new garage will spur hospital employees to choose driving over more environmentally friendly transportation options.
The hospital addressed the latter concern by slightly shrinking the size of the garage from 2,093 spaces down to about 1,800, but the neighbors’ concerns about density proved persuasive to the Planning Commission. While they can only recommend that the County Board push back its planned Sept. 22 vote on the project, with the final decision resting with the Board itself, the commission forcefully outlined a series of changes they hope to see to the expansion effort before it becomes a reality.
“We all know it’s necessary, but we want to be respectful to the neighbors to north of the property as well as to the south,” said Commission Vice Chair James Schroll.
Specifically, the commission wants to see the hospital move some of the largest buildings toward the center of the land it hopes to acquire, which is bounded by 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street. Commissioners were perturbed that the current plans place some of the tallest structures just across the street from single family homes — Commission Chair Jane Siegel compared the new design to a “wall” between the hospital and the nearby neighborhoods.
“You’re not transitioning to other large buildings, you’re transitioning to single family neighborhoods,” said Commissioner Nancy Iacomini.
Nan Walsh, an attorney representing VHC, argued that the hospital was doing all it could to provide the necessary setbacks and vegetation to help the new structures blend into the neighborhood. However, she stressed that the hospital is fundamentally constrained by the fact it will someday seek to fully redevelop its existing campus and is looking to build on “every single inch of land” it owns in the area.
“We have 10 very, very old buildings there, but we can’t take them down until we construct these new buildings to replace them,” Walsh said. “This is it for us.”
Walsh doesn’t expect any redevelopment of the existing hospital campus to take place over the next 10 years, but she repeatedly stressed that VHC will eventually need to make such an overhaul happen.
Accordingly, commissioners frequently wondered why they couldn’t pursue a more holistic “phased development site plan” process, similar to the one developers are currently pursuing for the PenPlace project in Pentagon City. Such a planning process would give the county a chance to study each phase of the hospital’s development as it proceeds, and it’s one commissioners urged VHC to consider going forward.
“The hospital is an amazing resource to the community and we want it to be the best it possibly can, and the way to do that’s through a PDSP,” said Commissioner James Lantelme. “That will help it fit into its community as best as it possibly can.”