Arlington, VA

Proposed changes to Arlington’s Residential Permit Parking program, including a pay-to-park option for short-term visitors, will go before the County Board next week — with a caveat.

On Monday members of the Planning Commission hammered out the kinds of changes to the program that they want the County Board to consider. The matter is set to be taken up during the Board’s meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The commission recommended a case-by-case approach to paid, short-term parking in neighborhoods — currently not an option in places where parking is restricted to residents and their guests only during certain hours —  as members were divided on whether to include it at all. Some support it across all neighborhoods with RPP programs and others support the possibility of neighborhoods requesting it. A few oppose it full-stop.

“I can’t do this to my neighbors,” said Commissioner Denyse “Nia” Bagley, who opposes pay-to-park entirely.

Vice-Chair Daniel Weir said the two-hour parking meets “a whole host of needs” and unanticipated circumstances that “all fall under managing parking,” from when people go to nearby restaurants or visit friends. Short-term visitors would be able to legally park without a pass or permit and payments would be processed through the ParkMobile app or through the EasyPark device.

The RPP program was originally created as a response to commuters parking in residential neighborhoods near Arlington’s Metro stations and commercial centers. It survived a legal challenge that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, and later expanded to numerous neighborhoods around the county. Neighborhoods must petition for RPP zones, but in many cases those who live in apartments and condos are excluded from receiving permits, raising equity concerns.

The commission also recommended allotting on-street parking permits to household units based on whether they have off-street parking, such as driveways or garages. Households with off-street options can get up to two permits, one of which could be swapped for a FlexPass, a dashboard placard that can be used by residents or their visitors.

Residents without off-street parking are eligible for up to four on-street permits, one of which could be swapped for a FlexPass.

According to a county staff report presented to the commission, the cap is higher than what was previously proposed, “in response to concerns that unrelated adults (who may have more vehicles than a family household) sharing a home without off-street parking in an RPP zone could face an unnecessary hardship.” Still, it’s lower for those with off-street parking than the current program.

“The current program allows for up to four (4) permits, one (1) FlexPass and three (3) vehicle specific permit decals,” a previous staff report said. “Many households already in the RPP program would not be able to obtain as many permits as they do today Lowering the cap encourages households with multiple vehicles to use their off-street parking, leaving space on the street for others.”

The commission did not tweak the expansion of parking options and permits to employees of K-12 schools and group homes. In response to concerns about enforcing paid parking, commissioners unanimously voted to include language stipulating that parking enforcement should be on par with metered parking elsewhere in the county.

These potential changes come three years after a moratorium was placed on new parking restrictions so a review of the program could be conducted. The review concluded last fall, kicking off a new period of public engagement as the changes wound through county processes.

The changes went before the County Board for the first time in December, when Board members decided to delay a public hearing to give the community more time to digest the changes.

At the time, the County Board approved an amendment allowing residents to buy a third or fourth parking pass at a higher cost, after hearing from families who suddenly had adult children come home due to the pandemic, in addition to homeowners who said the program would force them to widen their driveways.

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(Updated at 5 p.m. on 11/10/20) Dominion Energy and Arlington County are looking to swap two pieces of land near Crystal City.

On Saturday, the County Board is slated to consider a series of real estate and land use actions, including a land exchange agreement between Dominion and the county. Dominion offered to give the county a piece of property at the corner of 18th Street and S. Ives Street in exchange for a piece of county-owned land on the corner of S. Fern and S. Hayes streets.

The swap would allow Dominion to expand its substation — located roughly two blocks from Amazon’s under-construction HQ2 — to accommodate larger, newer equipment. Construction on the expansion is anticipated to start late in the first quarter of 2021.

The County is considering turning the Dominion property, the site of a previous substation, into a park.

In addition to updating the substation, Dominion is also trying to meet increasing demand for energy as the Pentagon City and Crystal City areas develop, said Michael Halewski, a real estate specialist from the Department of Environmental Services, during a meeting on Wednesday with Arlington’s Planning Commission.

“Dominion is on a tight time frame for the delivery of the increased electrical capacity to the community,” Halewski said.

The area needs more “redundancy and reliability” in the electrical services it provides, said Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox in an email on Tuesday.

To get the extra physical space needed for the new equipment, Dominion looked to neighboring land. The county-owned property — an unused, grass-covered sliver along S. Hayes Street — did not have as many constraints, including underground public utilities, as other plots.

The original discussion about this exchange occurred in the summer of 2019, and in July 2020, Dominion submitted a rezoning application to the County Board.

In August, Dominion notified the neighboring civic associations of its plans, and invited feedback through a survey. It also purchased social media ads and held two virtual meetings.

“It was one of the more successful community engagements Dominion has had in response to one of its projects,” said Matthew Weinstein, counsel to Dominion Energy, during the Planning Commission meeting.

In response to feedback on the aesthetics of the substation, Dominion updated its permit to include a commitment to installing public art on-site, redesigning the plaza to improve the pedestrian and leisure experience and widening the sidewalk from four feet to six feet, said Dominion spokesperson Ann Gordon Mickel in a project update on Oct. 28.

Neighboring civic associations told county staff they had no issues with the substation rezoning proposals, but the Aurora Highlands Civic Association did express hesitancy with the exchange agreement.

“We’ve heard some concerns from the community about the environmental condition of the land,” said Halewski, the county staffer.

Environmental reports indicate that some areas of the old sub-station property would need to be remediated if dirt was disturbed and excavated. The soil could be used on-site or disposed of in a regulated landfill, he said.

“The cost of those different scenarios range from $0 if it’s a passive open space to approximately $55,000,” Halewski said. “This would be a county cost.”

Photos above (1-2) via Google Maps, (3-4) via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Police Mutual Aid Agreements Under Review — “The force Park Police officers have used against protesters could cost the agency its working relationship with some local police departments. In a statement to News4, Metropolitan Washington’s Council of Governments confirms it is now planning to review the regional mutual aid agreement which governs those relationships.” [NBC 4, Connection Newspapers]

Planning Commission to Restart Meetings — “After a layoff of four months, the Arlington Planning Commission soon will be back in business – albeit in ‘virtual’ format, at least for the time being. Having last met on March 11, the advisory panel will hold its first COVID-era gathering on July 6, catching up on a backlog of items but likely focused on matters headed for County Board consideration later in the month.” [InsideNova]

More Changes to Marathon Planned — “Our working solution is to break the 45th MCM up into 24 waves that will start over an expanded window of time on event morning. This plan will necessitate a smaller field of in-person participants. Those in the late waves will have less time to Beat the Bridge. Twelve minutes per mile is the best we can offer at this time. It possibly might have to go even lower.” [Marine Corps Marathon]

Four Bond Referenda Planned — “Arlington taxpayers would be asked to approve four bond referendums totaling just under $92 million in the November general election… More than half the total amount – $50.8 million – will be used to address stormwater-management issues. Additional bonds are being proposed for transportation and Metro ($30 million), infrastructure ($7.5 million) and parks ($3.6 million).” [InsideNova]

District Doughnut Promotion — “To celebrate the reopening of our Ballston Quarter store, we are treating you to extra doughnuts! From Friday, June 26th through Sunday, June 28th, the first 50 customers each day will receive a free doughnut with any purchase.” [Facebook]

Here’s Who Adopted Cupid the Cat — Cupid, an injured kitten brought to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington after being shot in the head with an arrow, has a new adoptive mother: NBC 4 meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts. Cupid made a recent appearance on the station’s morning weather report. [Instagram]

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Arlington prides itself on citizen participation in government, but public engagement is taking a backseat to practical necessity during the coronavirus crisis.

On Wednesday, members of Arlington’s galaxy of advisory commissions and boards were told that their meetings have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.

“As you may know, we issued a continuity of operations ordinance that offers some flexibility for the County Board and other appointed bodies to meet virtually — but only for decisions directly related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other essential continuity of business matters,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in an email.

“While commissions and advisory boards do important work, it is not necessarily essential to the crisis in front of us, which is our key priority at this time; and which is the only kind of work legally covered under the ordinance we adopted,” she continued. “As of March 31, 2020, ALL Commission, advisory boards, workgroup and subcommittee meetings are cancelled until further notice. However, there may be a few exceptions that will require some additional review and approval prior to taking any actions.”

“The Arlington Way has been killed by COVID-19,” one tipster told ARLnow in response to the mass meeting cancellation.

Garvey’s email went on to outline how commission chairs can request in writing the scheduling of a virtual meeting for an item involving “business essential for addressing the coronavirus or the continuity of business operations for the County.”

The “continuity of business operations” includes “the adoption of the budget, the approval of tax rates and fees, and appropriations of funds necessary to keep government running,” Garvey clarified, in response to a series of questions from ARLnow.

Asked whether the temporary halt to commission meetings — including key bodies like the Planning Commission and Transportation Commission — will delay development approvals before the County Board, Garvey said it depends.

“The Board will assess pending applications to determine whether they should be considered or can be delayed,” she said. “If the proposals are considered, the public process for development proposals will occur to the extent possible and consideration by advisory commissions, such as the Planning Commission, will occur.

The County Board chair said that the county’s actions are consistent with an opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring two weeks ago, in response to concern from elected officials that they were unable to comply with both the governor’s order to limit public gatherings to 10 people or fewer — and freedom of information laws that require in-person meetings that are open to the public.

“The cancellations are primarily to protect the health of commission members, staff, and the public,” said Garvey. “Matters that can be delayed are being delayed. The AG’s guidance has been considered in determining whether important matters that cannot be delayed can be considered electronically.”

“We are all learning how much FOIA and other regulations were put in place at a time when no one contemplated 21st century technology or a pandemic,” Garvey wrote in her letter to commission members.

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A stone’s throw from Crystal City is Roaches Run, a waterfowl sanctuary on the northern flight path to and from Reagan National Airport.

The body of water, surrounded by woods, is home to birds, ducks and dragonflies. Accessible primarily from a small parking lot off the southbound GW Parkway, most human activity is confined to fishing and birdwatching.

But that may eventually change.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey toured a portion of woods around Roaches Run last week with the chair of Arlington’s Planning Commission and representatives of Crystal City property owner and Amazon landlord JBG Smith.

Though Roaches Run is controlled by the National Park Service and is part of the GW Parkway, JBG owns parcels of land adjacent to the waterfowl sanctuary and could help link it to Crystal City. That would give the rapidly-developing neighborhood newfound accessibility to natural spaces.

“JBG owns a lot of the land over there and is in communication with the Park Service,” Garvey told ARLnow, noting that the developer invited her to last week’s tour. “Can we take this land and turn it into an accessible, usable space for people?”

Garvey said Roaches Run is “a lost area” that’s “not very accessible for anybody” at the moment. Active railroad tracks currently separate it from Crystal City and Long Bridge Park.

JBG declined comment for this story.

Among the ideas for Roaches Run are walking and biking trails, a floating dock for boaters in canoes or kayaks, and bird observation stations. Roaches Run would remain a nature preserve, however, and is not envisioned for other sports or recreation uses.

“It’s going to take some cooperation” to see this idea come to fruition, Garvey said.

The county, the Park Service, JBG and even the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority would likely be involved. That’s not to mention local civic associations, which have floated the idea of establishing connectivity to Roaches Run from Long Bridge Park and the Mt. Vernon Trail as part a series of improvements to the Crystal City and Pentagon City are dubbed Livability 22202.

“I think it’s an advantage for everybody…. making that whole area spectacular for people,” Garvey said. “You could get on an airplane and go hiking and boating within a mile radius.”

While discussions about Roaches Run have been informal in nature so far, with Amazon moving in nearby and demand for recreational opportunities growing it’s likely to advance to a more formal planning process at some point in the near future.

“It’s all very tentative but this is how ideas start, you have to start somewhere,” Garvey said. “Nothing is happening tomorrow or even next year… it’s probably 5-10 years out.”

Map via Google Maps

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Arlington’s Planning Commission recommend the County Board vote in favor of several site plan amendments that would usher in the future home of Amazon’s permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City.

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:

The affordable housing contribution would be the largest single infusion of money into the AHIF, which has fallen short of its housing goals in recent years.

“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.

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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?'”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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