Arlington, VA

After years of study and community conversations, Arlington County is just about ready for its plans to reshape Lee Highway to step into the spotlight.

The plan, generally, involves gradually — through zoning and other policy changes — transforming the car-oriented strips of businesses along Lee Highway into clusters of mixed-use development. It’s a goal of increasing importance as Amazon moves in and puts a strain on the county’s supply of available homes.

Questions have arisen in the planning process about how to simultaneously protect small, local businesses long Lee Highway while redeveloping outdated strip malls that line the road. The process of new development might not only force those businesses to close or relocate, but new development could create higher rents for small businesses.

On Friday, Jan 31, Arlington officials are planning to answer questions from and hear feedback from residents and business owners, as the county hosts a workshop marking the end of the first phase of the planning process. The meeting is event to run from 6:30-8 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street).

A second workshop is scheduled to be held Saturday, Feb. 1, from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m, also at W-L.

“Come meet with us to learn more about progress and the information we’ve uncovered so far, and share new ideas,” the county said on its website. “Be a voice of your neighborhood as we learn more about community perspectives and priorities by geography.”

“All residents, businesses, community groups and stakeholders that live, work and play along Lee Highway are encouraged to attend,” the county noted.

Image via Arlington County 

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Morning Notes

New Security Measures at ANC — “Arlington National Cemetery is implementing heightened security measures after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general. The extra security will create longer lines at security checkpoints and delays… All visitors over the age of 16 will be required to show a valid state or government photo ID to enter by foot or car, Arlington National Cemetery says. Visitors aged 16 or 17 can show a school-issued ID.” [NBC 4, Twitter]

Office Building Above Rosslyn Safeway Sold — “An affiliate of The Meridian Group has paid $113.15 million for 1525 Wilson Blvd., a Rosslyn office building featuring the colorful sculpture of a dancing couple, after selling another building in the Arlington County office market last summer.” [Washington Business Journal]

Lee Highway Planning Update — “To mark the end of a year collecting ideas for the road’s ‘reimagining‘ by the nonprofit Lee Highway Alliance, its executive director, Ginger Brown, gave an update predicting that phase two — development of land-use and zoning ideas — could be ‘the most contentious.’ […] ‘Lee Highway is stuck in 1950s strip-mall zoning,’ Brown told a Dec. 19 breakfast group.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Local Shop Has Best Cheese Selection in the U.S.? — Arrowine, a long-time ARLnow sponsor, has the best wine selection in the D.C. area and possibly the best cheese selection in the country after its recent renovation, according to local restaurant reviewer Don Rockwell. [DCDining.com]

Pike Lane Closures Are Hurting Local Business — “An employee at Cinthia’s Bakery II on Columbia Pike said the restaurant is seeing a significant drop off in the number of customers and an increase in empty tables all due to the construction.” [WJLA]

Yorktown Boys Improve to 11-0 — “This is the new Yorktown basketball: Take the first available shot, press nonstop on defense, substitute in a whole new lineup every 90 seconds. It’s a strategy some other area schools have tried — Lake Braddock, most successfully — but few have perfected. And it has the Patriots, the worst team in their conference last season, undefeated at 11-0 after a dazzling 86-51 rout of Madison (6-5).” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Loves Tito’s — The top-grossing liquor brand at Virginia ABC stores in Arlington, and most of Northern Virginia, is Tito’s Handmade Vodka. [Virginia Mercury]

More on Lee Highway Planning Process — “In the new year, the professional team will begin guiding the community in laying out a plan for the [Lee Highway] corridor’s next 30 years. Arlington is known for extensive and very slow community engagement, and the planning process will probably take at least two more years. The push for a more progressive, inclusive, sustainable US Route 29 must be perseverant.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Local ‘Passport’ for Small Biz Saturday — “One Page Books is partnering with thirteen other local businesses for Small Business Saturday. Pick up a Small Business Saturday Shopping ‘Passport‘ at any of the participating businesses, including Covet, Two the Moon, Lemon Lane and Trade Roots.” [WAMU]

Reminder: Mall Hours and Promotions — Arlington’s two malls have special Black Friday hours and promotions today. [ARLnow]

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(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Amazon plans to pay to completely revamp the “central park” next to its future HQ2, with a well-known designer at the helm.

The company and its architecture firm presented the latest plans for its permanent headquarters in Pentagon City to the Arlington Transportation Commission last night, ahead of an expected vote by the County Board on Dec. 14.

Amazon has offered to contribute a record $20 million to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, in exchange for being able to build the first half of its HQ2 bigger than otherwise would be permitted by zoning. The plans include two 22-story towers with a total of 2.15 million square feet of office and retail space.

Also of additional note is Amazon’s proposal for what is currently a modestly-sized and off-the-beaten-path park.

The second phase of HQ2 — the 500,000 square feet of temporary leased space in Crystal City is considered the first phase — would complete the “Metropolitan Park” development that includes four apartment buildings across from the Pentagon City Costco and along 12th Street S. Amazon is proposing to fund “a complete redevelopment of the park” in the middle of the buildings.

After expanding with an additional half acre of space from Amazon — not to mention a pair of new plazas totalling 20,000 square feet — the park will total more than 2 acres. But Amazon and Arlington County have grander plans for that space than the current park’s status as a defacto dog park for nearby apartment residents.

The county is expected to launch a master plan process for the park early next year, seeking community input on planned changes, according to Brian Earle, the lead architect of HQ2. Leading the design process will be James Corner Field Operations, the noted designer of New York City’s High Line.

Corner is “a real preeminent thinker about great urban space to help us realize the potential of that space,” Earle told the Transportation Commission.

Amazon will pay for the design, the public engagement process, the park construction and its maintenance, according to a draft site plan. The expected cost is $14 million, the Washington Business Journal reported.

Adjacent to the park and HQ2, meanwhile, portions of 14th Street and Elm Street are proposed to be flush with the sidewalk, making the streets, which will be open to traffic during business hours, more usable for events and other off-hours activities.

In front of HQ2, along S. Eads Street and extending to the Bartlett apartment building and Amazon-owned Whole Foods store, will be a “linear park.” The thin strip of parkland from 15th to 12th streets would include trees, string lights and cafe seating for the retail space at the base of Amazon’s towers.

The draft site plan describes “café seating associated with retail spaces, passive seating, public art, or programming” to “create open, flexible spaces for seating to encourage social activity” as part of the linear park.

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Morning Notes

Sietsema’s Dining Guide Includes Arlington Spots — Out of 77 restaurants on Washington Post food critic’s prestigious  annual Fall Dining Guide, four are Arlington-based or have Arlington outposts: Thai Square on Columbia Pike, Sfoglina in Rosslyn, Jaleo in Crystal City, and Buena Vida in Clarendon. [Washington Post]

Dance Flash Mob in Ballston — “Flash Mob in #Ballston! Volunteers and @BMDCdance treated @marymountu’s Ballston Center students to an impromptu performance at the Fall Wellness Fair! #LifeisFull” [Twitter]

Man Arrested for Sexual Abuse of Child on Metro — “Patel was stopped by MTPD officers shortly before 6 p.m. after a juvenile male victim reported that the suspect sat next to him and then groped him aboard a Yellow Line train traveling between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations. The train was in the District of Columbia at the time of the offense.” [WMATA]

ACPD Encouraging ‘See Something, Say Something’ — “While the overall crime rate is down regionwide, in 2019 there’s an increase in the number of people calling police in Arlington, Virginia; and the police chief thinks it is because people are becoming engaged with law enforcement. And that’s a good thing.” [WTOP]

‘Trail Rage’ Incident in Arlington — “At approximately 4:50 p.m., the victim and a friend were riding their bikes along the Custis Trail when they had a brief exchange with the suspect who was traveling by bicycle in the opposite direction. The suspect later caught up to the victim on the trail, became aggressive and struck the victim’s bike with his tire, before the victim was able to ride away. The suspect again caught up to the victim, attempted to grab his personal belongings, before the victim kicked the suspects’ bicycle and rode away.” [Arlington County]

Lee Highway Planning Meeting Today — “From 12-3:30pm: Lee Highway-area residents, business owners, community members and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend the Plan Lee Highway: Open Design Studio.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

Nearby: Rabid Raccoon in Falls Church — “On October 4, a sick raccoon was euthanized by City of Falls Church Police in the area of Lea Court and S. Spring Street. On October 9, the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed that the raccoon was suffering from rabies. In this case, there was no human exposure to the animal, however, the community should be cognizant of the rabies threat at all times.” [City of Falls Church]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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As Amazon continues to hire for its HQ2, the company is also working through plans to include a new daycare facility inside its planned permanent office campus in Pentagon City.

The 12,000 square-foot child care center would be located on the ground floor and face the interior public plaza. A spokesperson for Amazon told ARLnow that the proposed daycare would be operated by a third party company.

Lack of accessible daycare is the center of a fight in Seattle, where a group called “Momazonians” are arguing the company needs to do more to provide accessible child care, though a spokesperson the Amazon noted that the company does have a daycare facility for both Amazon employees and the nearby community in one of their headquarters buildings.

In Arlington, the company is in a tug-of-war with planners over whether the daycare should count towards the headquarters’ total density. The daycare is one of several types of space that the company is requesting not be included in calculations of gross floor area. Because the proposed complex exceeds the allowable density under zoning for the site, excluding certain types of space from the floor area calculation would cut down on the community benefits Amazon would need to provide in exchange for the added density.

Many of these areas, like mechanical shafts and below-grade storage, are excluded by default as they do not contribute to the bulk and height of the building and are not rentable floor space. But child care facilities typically are not considered one of those excluded types of density.

“Staff has not supported exclusions from density for uses such as child care,” the staff report said. “Staff is currently analyzing the applicant’s requests.”

At a meeting last week, the proposed exclusion of the child care facility from the building’s bonus density drew some criticism from Site Plan Review Committee members, who pointed to the example of the formerly Ballston-based National Science Foundation, which they said was granted a density exclusion for a child development center only to later convert the space to another use.

But Arlington has been in the middle of a push to create more daycare options, including consideration of zoning changes aimed at eliminating barriers to child care.

The spokesperson for Amazon said the company is planning to include the daycare at HQ2 regardless of whether the county approves the density exemption.

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Three safety and beautification projects are coming to western Arlington streets.

This Saturday the County Board is scheduled to vote on $2.8 million in construction contracts for Neighborhood Conservation projects. The three projects are all at the western edge of Arlington, near Falls Church.

The project at Patrick Henry Drive near Westover Apartments will add dedicated bike lanes from Washington Boulevard to 16th Street N.

The other two projects — 2nd Street South at S. Kensington Street and N. Quintana Street — will add new sidewalks. The N. Quintana Street project will also add streetlights.

The projects are all planned to:

  • Improve pedestrian connectivity
  • Provide disability accessible routes
  • Rehabilitate existing roadways
  • Improve drainage

The projects are 32 percent more expensive ($883,379) than when they were first proposed in 2017, which staff attributed to inflation in construction costs and higher construction standards enacted by the county since then.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Baby Boy for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past weekend. She plans to call in to Saturday’s County Board meeting and participate in the crucial Amazon incentive package vote. [Twitter]

Building Plans for Temporary Amazon Office — JBG Smith “submitted plans March 7 to make common area improvements throughout the 12-story, 221,000-square-foot [office building at] 1800 S. Bell St., to be leased in full by Amazon.” [Washington Business Journal]

County May Change Building Plan Practices — “Arlington officials are considering ending same-day viewing at the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development after a Washington Business Journal reporter asked to view a permit for a building Amazon.com Inc. is expected to lease, said Ben Aiken, director of constituent services in the county manager’s office.” [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Plans Moving Forward — “Virginia Railway Express is moving forward with plans to build an expanded Crystal City Station, a key step needed to expand and improve service. The VRE Operations Board is due to vote Friday to allow contracting to move forward for engineering work based on the already approved concept design.” [WTOP]

New Leases in Rosslyn — Earlier this week Monday Properties announced the signing of three lease deals at 1100 Wilson Boulevard, one half of its Rosslyn twin towers. The firms leasing new space are The Health Management Academy and Trilogy Federal LLC, while WJLA owner Sinclair Broadcasting is expanding its existing space. [Monday Properties]

Extensive Road Closures Saturday — Expect a number of road closures in Courthouse, Rosslyn and near the Pentagon Saturday morning for the annual Four Courts Four Miler. [Arlington County]

Nearby: Gentrification Fears in Arlandria — “Concern of rising rents and gentrification have always been present in the Arlandria neighborhood, which sits between South Glebe and West Glebe roads and ends at Potomac Yard. Amazon.com Inc.’s plan to move to nearby Arlington has only intensified those worries.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Arlington leaders are starting a planning process to chart out the future of the Lee Highway corridor in earnest tonight (Tuesday), setting the stage for a lengthy debate over how the county allows development along the many neighborhoods lining the highway.

Officials are holding a community kick-off for “Plan Lee Highway” at 6:30 p.m. at the newly renamed Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) tonight, giving anyone interested in the corridor’s future a chance to learn more about the process and offer their thoughts.

A group of dozens of community leaders, known as a “community forum,” has already begun some initial discussions on how the process should go forward. In essence, officials are hoping to sketch out a new “area plan” for a five-mile stretch of the highway, guiding future public and private development from the East Falls Church Metro station to the Lyon Village neighborhood near Rosslyn.

The question of how much more density planners allow along the highway will likely come to define the ensuing debate.

Though many shopping centers and apartment complexes sit on the highway itself, most of the neighborhoods just off the roadway are reserved for single-family homes. Officials are now examining a variety of “nodes” on the highway that could someday become home to mixed-use developments or different types of housing, a focus that will become all the more important as Amazon moves in and puts a strain on the county’s supply of available homes.

The future of those shopping centers will be another key concern, as the county weighs how best to transform them to protect existing businesses thriving on the highway while also luring in new development.

Planners also hope to focus on transportation along the corridor, as the county considers ways to ramp up bus service on the highway and make it a bit more walkable as well.

County officials are expecting the planning process to stretch over the next three years, given the size and scope of what leaders will examine.

The Lee Highway Alliance, a group of businesses and other concerned citizens living along the roadway, will hold regular design studios over the coming weeks to accept more community input, with another “public workshop” tentatively scheduled for September.

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County planners are now kicking off work to chart out the future of the former home of Arlington’s “Salt Dome,” the site of so much community consternation this past summer.

A task force convened by the County Board to study the 7.6-acre property, at the intersection of 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive and adjacent to Marymount University’s campus, is planning a “community roundtable” on the matter Saturday (Jan. 12). The meeting will be held at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), starting at 10 a.m.

For about 90 years, the property was home to a large metal “dome” storing road salt and served as the base of operations for salt trucks in the northern half of the county. But county staff discovered in July that the structure was on the verge of collapsing, and they took rapid steps to secure the Board’s permission to tear down the dome and build a temporary storage facility in its place.

The process took months to complete, but many neighbors still felt blindsided by changes that failed to follow Arlington’s notoriously extensive community engagement guidelines. In particular, some worry that the temporary facility would eventually become permanent, even though people living nearby had hoped for years to see the land transformed into a park or some sort of other community amenity.

County workers removed the old dome just last week, standing up a structure designed to hold about 4,500 tons of road salt in its place.

The Board has since issued a variety of mea culpas for its handling of the issue — new Chair Christian Dorsey even singled the process out as a “failure” during his Jan. 2 speech taking the Board’s gavel — and agreed to kick off a planning process for the property in part to rebuild trust in the community.

The “Master Planning Task Force” could eventually recommend one of all manner of new uses for the property, most of which sits empty. However, county staffers agree that they’ll need to maintain most of their existing operations on the site, from winter storm response to leaf and mulch storage.

As for the rest, there are plenty of possibilities being batted about. The county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, a group dedicated to finding space for public facilities around Arlington, is recommending that some sort of park or other public space must be created or maintained on the site, according to November meeting documents.

JFAC is also suggesting that the property could have room for an “elementary or secondary school,” at a time when land for new schools is a particularly acute need for the county, or for vehicle storage for police or school bus drivers.

Additionally, Marymount University is pitching the prospect of striking a deal with the county to build a “multi-use” athletic field on the site for its sports teams, alongside a one-acre park and playground to meet the community’s wishes.

The task force is set to meet again on Thursday (Jan 10.) and hopes to eventually deliver a report to the County Board with recommendations for future sites uses by April.

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The Virginia Hospital Center might’ve finally won the county’s approval on designs for a hefty new expansion of its North Arlington campus, but officials have months of work left to do before neighbors will start seeing any construction in the area.

Years from now, the hospital will add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage to its property at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, after the County Board narrowly approved plans for the $250 million project on Tuesday. The expansion will ultimately help the county’s lone hospital add 101 new beds, in a bid to match rising demand in the area.

But VHC officials say they won’t be able to put shovels in the ground just yet. First, they need to complete a land swap with the county to make the expansion possible.

Arlington officials and the VHC agreed last year that the county would send the hospital a property adjacent to its campus at 1800 N. Edison Street in exchange for one at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road. However, the swap was contingent on the Board signing off on the expansion plans in the first place.

Community concerns over the project’s design meant that the Board repeatedly delayed its consideration of the VHC proposal, but with that green light finally given, hospital executives will now turn to finalizing the terms of the land swap. Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says that process will wrap up around next “May or June” at the latest, teeing up construction to start soon afterward.

“It’s been a good three years we’ve been involved in this process, so absolutely it was a sigh of relief when we got the approval,” Stanton told ARLnow. “We wanted to be in front of the Board back in May because we need the beds today… and there a lot of specifics involved, and a lot left to happen.”

Some of the process of sorting out the details of the land swap agreement are fairly mundane, like basic site inspections. Others are a bit more fraught — for instance, the county and the hospital will have to agree on the Edison Road property’s value.

The terms of the agreement call for the hospital to pay either $12.56 million or the property’s appraised value to acquire the site — it all depends on which amount is larger. County records show the property was valued at about $8.9 million this year. By contrast, the S. Carlin Springs Road land the hospital will send to the county was valued at $38.8 million.

Stanton says that the process of hashing out the land swap could wrap up more quickly than they’re expecting, but the hospital is tentatively planning on kicking off construction by “somewhere around June or July 2019” in his most conservative estimate of the timeframe.

Once that happens, Stanton says the hospital will likely need another approval from state regulators before it can wrap up the construction. VHC previously earned a “Certificate of Public Need” from the Virginia Department of Health, certifying that enough demand exists in the area to add more beds to the facility.

The catch is that state officials only allowed VHC to add 44 beds, rather than the full 101 it’s planning. Stanton says that’s because the state only examines demand in five-year increments, while the hospital is projecting a need for 101 beds by looking at a 10-year timetable.

“We agreed to that smaller number with the acknowledgement that we will be back asking for more,” Stanton said. “Our intent is to be able to get the additional beds we feel we need, and do that before construction is complete.”

As for the construction timeline, Stanton says the hospital’s “guesstimate” is that the new garage will be open by the first few months of 2021. Then, he hopes the new outpatient facility will be ready by the second quarter of 2022.

Once that new “pavilion” is ready, the hospital will begin moving its existing outpatient equipment over to the new facility, opening up space for the 101 new beds. However, Stanton cautions that process will require some complicated renovation work, so it’s difficult to know when it will be ready.

“It shouldn’t take as long [as the new construction], but we’ll be doing construction in the existing patient tower,” Stanton said. “It’s not as easy a construction project because we’re working around our existing operations. So it’s by no means easy.”

Looking even further down the line, hospital leaders eventually hope that this expansion will lay the groundwork for the full redevelopment of the campus. However, Stanton’s “best guess” is that work on that process won’t start for at least 15 years or so.

Stanton hopes that hospital officials can use that time to rebuild trust with the surrounding community.

The expansion’s design process became an acrimonious one at times, with neighbors accusing the hospital of ignoring their concerns or even walling off the surrounding community with its new facilities. And Stanton admits to no small amount of frustration that the process turned so contentious.

He argues that the hospital’s initial outreach to the community was “largely positive,” before the county’s formal site plan review process got started. He believes that VHC officials managed to build plenty of consensus around the project, back when neighbors formed their own ad hoc committee to work with the hospital.

“I thought we had a very strong connection with those communities,” Stanton said. “It doesn’t mean were always in agreement, but we felt we, and the County Board, were getting positive reviews from the community about conversations with the hospital. But that seemed to change when we went through formal process with the county, which was really frustrating to me.”

Accordingly, Stanton is pledging “continual communication” between the hospital and its neighbors, to try and recapture the spirit of those early days of planning the expansion, leading to much more harmonious community conversations around any future redevelopment.

“I would only hope that relationship and communication can be just as good, if not better, than before we started this process,” Stanton said.

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