It has been about 10 months since Arlington County released drawings of a future Langston Blvd.
That vision included apartment buildings of up to 12-15 stories, cafés and wide sidewalks buzzing with people, and bike lanes buffered by lavender bushes — a substantial change from the commuter route lined with strip malls, car dealerships and quick-service establishments with drive-thru windows.
Now, the county is gearing up to publish a more formal draft plan that refines the ideas set forth last year. That draft will take into account all the supportive and critical feedback people submitted last fall and winter.
Once the draft is released — and exact details and dates on this are yet to be determined — there will be more public engagement opportunities, Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development communication specialist Rachel LaPiana tells ARLnow.
The multi-year effort to create this planning document is known as Plan Langston Blvd. It re-envisions what was once known as Lee Highway as a walkable and bikeable, verdant commercial corridor with more affordable housing.
After hearing hundreds of hours of comments from residents, and a decade’s worth of work, Langston Blvd Alliance Executive Director Ginger Brown says she is excited to get her hands on the draft plan soon.
“We know this is a huge step forward,” she said. “We’re very eager to see the final draft plan.”
The draft plan is supposed to be informed by community and commission input but in many cases, that input is deeply divergent, according to snippets of comments included in a summary of public engagement year.
“If we wanted to live in denser, taller neighborhoods we would have moved to [Rosslyn],” wrote one person. “Stop forcing your vision of redevelopment down residents throats.”
“As a working professional with a young child, I look forward to eventually being able to buy a house in Arlington as a result of projects like this one,” wrote another. “Please ignore grumpy people who hate change and implement this plan!”
There were some points of agreement.
People generally want to see a safer Route 29 — the other name for the VDOT-maintained artery — with more street trees and wider sidewalks, as well as underground utilities and fewer driveways. Some wrote in strong support for protected bike lanes over cyclists and drivers sharing lanes, a traffic pattern that may harm, not help, cyclists.
“We’d like to see a greater emphasis on pedestrian safety and transportation and transit improvements and more affordable housing,” Brown said.
Majority support for greater development broke down somewhat when it came to what buildings should look like.
“People in my neighborhood are looking for development similar to the unified and attractive character of King Street in Old Town [Alexandria], not the development and tall buildings that characterize Ballston or Clarendon,” wrote one person.
“We should allow 15 stories for all sites between Langston & [I-66],” wrote another. “This could provide so many amenities and increase property values.”
For instance, where Route 29 is bordered by the Waverly Hills, Donaldson Run, Old Dominion, Glebewood and Waycroft Woodlawn neighborhoods, a slight majority favored taller heights — with many others preferring a range of other, shorter options.
In response to criticism from residents, citizen commissioners and county staff, a developer has removed a drive-thru ATM from its plans to redevelop the Wells Fargo in Clarendon.
One year ago, McLean-based developer Jefferson Apartment Group filed plans to replace the bank — the one someone recently attempted to rob — with a mixed-use building. It is set to consist of 238 apartments, 60,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of retail, including a new Wells Fargo branch.
The current two-story bank building at 3140 Washington Blvd has a drive-thru in addition to a surface parking lot. Critics of keeping the drive-thru say it would detract from walkability in the area, which is seeing significant redevelopment that will result in more people living, shopping and using public amenities in Clarendon.
“This is the most walkable place in the county and drive-up for anything doesn’t make sense to me,” said Planning Commission member Jim Lantelme back in February. “You would have to have a second ATM that people could walk up to.”
One commenter said drive-thrus are “horrible for the environment and they aren’t faster than parking and going into the building,” while another called it “a relic of the 70s [that] doesn’t belong here.”
A third said it “seems like a very bad idea that will take away space from pedestrians and increase the chance of crashes and congestion in an area that is meant to be dense and walkable.”
Jefferson had originally doubled down on the drive-thru ATM, saying in a county document this was “for the convenience of existing customers and as requested by Wells Fargo based on customer feedback during and after the pandemic.”
Ultimately, it agreed to changes that resemble a suggestion from the Clarendon Courthouse Civic Association: walk-up ATMs and free, short-term parking on a new local street that Jefferson will construct as part of the project.
The walk-up ATMs will be located at the northern and southern edges of the bank, which looks out over N. Irving Street. This street, which dead-ends in a green space, is set to become a plaza through a separate, Dept. of Parks and Recreation-led planning process.
People using the ATMs will be able to park in short-term parking on the north side of a planned public road. As part of the project, Jefferson will build a new 10th Road N., which will run parallel to Washington Blvd and separate the new construction from the existing Verizon building to the south.
Even with the walk-up ATMs, staff have concerns that a bank, generally, is not the kind of lively retail that encourages people to use the planned Irving Street Plaza. Those who commented were not as concerned with this but suggested sculptures or water features could help “activate” the plaza.
Although redevelopment plans for the mid-century Inn of Rosslyn pay homage to the motel, the county says the developer could do more.
Last fall, D.C. real estate company Monument Realty filed plans to replace the 38-unit hotel, built in 1957, with an 8-story, 141-unit apartment building with 88 parking spaces. It took over the property after JBG Smith purchased it in December 2020.
This February, the county kicked off a review process that will culminate with a vote by the Arlington County Board. Planning staff already have some suggestions for the developer to comply with recommendations for the site made in the neighborhood’s Fort Myer Heights North Plan.
They say Monument should study adding floors to shrink the overall footprint of the property — located at 1601 Fairfax Drive, fronting Route 50 — match it to heights of other nearby apartment towers.
The designs, meanwhile, should imitate nearby Art Deco and Colonial Revival garden apartments and the developer could incorporate more historic preservation of the property, county planners say.
“The building footprint should be reduced to provide the recommended landscaped green space which is not currently provided,” said planners in a county report. “The proposed building does not incorporate elements of Colonial Revival or Art Deco, as recommended.”
New renderings from Monument Realty depict a building with alternating stripes of lighter and darker brick, offset by wood-like paneling. Mid-century motifs on the balconies and a “50” sign out front pay homage to the architecture of the existing hotel.
The developer’s land use attorney, Nick Cumings of Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh, argued in a January 2023 letter to the county that the project does “compliment and draw from the architecture of the existing building and the characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood.”
That includes the retro “50” sign and some of the materials to be used in construction.
“This selection of building materials is appropriate for the neighborhood, which predominantly features masonry, while also introducing a biophilic design with the wood-like paneling,” writes Cumings.
The county also wants the developer to work on “historic preservation elements” for the existing motel, while an attorney for Monument Realty argues that is not necessary.
Within the Arlington County Historic Resources Inventory, Cumings says, the property is designated as “Important” — but less distinctive and/or in worse condition than “Essential.” He added that the neighborhood plan does not call for its historic preservation.
Meanwhile, residents involved in the pro-housing group YIMBYs of Northern Virginia said on social media that their priority will be getting the developer to include more affordable housing in exchange for greater density.
Like staff, they envision the building reaching 12 stories — the tallest the Fort Myer Heights plan allows — so that more people can live in the Metro-accessible area.
Monument Realty already plans to earn some 59,000 square feet of extra density by participating in the Green Building Density Incentive Program, aiming to earn LEED Gold, and by providing some affordable housing. It’s unclear whether the provided affordable housing will be on-site or elsewhere.
Next up in the development approval process, the Site Plan Review Committee of the county’s Planning Commission will review the project twice before it heads to other citizen commissions and the Arlington County Board. No dates have been set for these meetings.
Over the next 25 years, the D.C. area will need to invest more in housing and services tailored toward a rapidly graying population.
That is one of the takeaways from a presentation of job, population and household growth forecasts presented to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments today (Wednesday).
Overall, the region is set to gain one million jobs, 1.5 million people and 700,000 new households by 2050.
Job growth may not be as robust as previously projected, with new forecasts projecting 200,000 fewer total jobs for each forecast year, due to the lingering effects of the pandemic and a “dampening” caused by an aging population, COG Community Planning and Services Director Paul DesJardin said.
These forecasts are intended to help local and regional agencies gauge the demand for public infrastructure and transportation. They can also use it to develop policies tackling regional issues — including an aging population.
In 2020, the region had 757,000 people over the age of 65 and, by 2050, this population is projected to swell to 1.2 million, a growth rate of 64%, per the presentation. At the other end of the age spectrum, school-aged children will remain fairly steady, growing from just over 1 million in 2020 to 1.1 million in 2050.
“This is a national and a local trend,” said DesJardin. “Our economic competitiveness is imperative on our ability to attract and maintain talent. Then, there’s the concomitant challenges of the human services an aging population will need. We still have a growing and steady workforce population but we are aging.”
Later, DesJardin said the aging population may also require the construction of more dwellings accessible to those with physical challenges, from single-family detached homes to apartments. That would be part of a continued push to increase housing overall.
“We still do need to do more to address our housing challenge. We need to do more for production, and certainly affordability,” he said.
Arlington County Planning Director Anthony Fusarelli says the county has been preparing for this population shift.
“We in Arlington over the past several years have been focused increasingly more so on the needs of that older population,” he said. “The County Board has approved zoning ordinance amendments to make it easier and provide more flexibility for things such as assisted living and senior living facilities.”
County staff are studying homeownership and will be looking at housing options for seniors. Fusarelli also mentioned the recent adoption of “Missing Middle” zoning changes allowing the by-right construction of 2-6 unit buildings in areas previously reserved for single-family detached homes.
“One of the benefits we see as a community in allowing duplexes or small apartment buildings across much of Arlington that currently isn’t permitted, or hasn’t been permitted historically, is it does provide the opportunity for that aging demographic to expand their property or find another housing unit in the neighborhood they’ve been in for some time that otherwise wouldn’t be there today,” he said.
Overall, he says, the COG forecast plays an important role “in really grounding our community conversations about planning for growth over the next 20-30 years.”
“It’ll account for changes in the ramp-up of Amazon’s headquarters, the Pentagon City Sector Plan — which our County Board adopted more than one year ago, which can potentially double the amount of development in that Metro station area — as well as other studies for our Shirlington area and others as well.”
Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey says this information helps the county explain to constituents why it is always working on a planning project.
“I know it helps us in Arlington address one of the fundamental questions we get in the community. ‘All this stuff you’re planning and doing, what are you solving for?'” Dorsey said. “This really gives us a ‘for’ that we’re trying to solve, and it’s based, really, on the broadest possible set of data for our entire interconnected region.”
While last week‘s landmark zoning decision legalized 2-6 unit homes throughout Arlington’s lowest-density neighborhoods, about 136 properties will be ineligible for such projects.
The exemption applies to certain 5,000-6,000 square-foot lots — the county’s smallest standardized residential lot size, dubbed R-5 and R-6, respectively — located near transit and within planning districts in East Falls Church, Cherrydale and Columbia Pike.
In the nearly 150-page long report on the zoning ordinance changes, Arlington County says the three properties in East Falls Church, 49 properties in Cherrydale and 82 near the Pike could be assembled with other properties that previous planning efforts have identified for redevelopment.
“Within these planning districts, there are locations where reinvestment has not yet occurred and assembly of the R-5 and R-6 zoned parcels with parcels along the corridor frontage could realize identified plan goals for the revitalization district,” per the county report outlining the approved Missing Middle zoning changes.
Assembling these properties with nearby lots could allow developers to realize the vision for these corridors, the report says.
This includes “mixed use development, improvements to the public realm, walkability, increased housing supply, housing affordability, and creation of coordinated buffer or transition zones to lower density residential areas,” the county says.
In East Falls Church, transit-oriented development near the Metro station has languished and many planning goals from a 2011 East Falls Church Area Plan remain unrealized. While there are some new townhouses within walking distance, an empty parking lot and a standalone parking garage are two examples of “prime real estate” awaiting redevelopment.
This includes two single-family homes — across the street from the “Kiss and Ride” lot — identified for potential redevelopment in the 2011 plan, which faced strong opposition from some who said it encouraged too much development, despite the proximity to a Metro station.
The other exempted property, though zoned as residential, is home to a telecommunications building owned by Verizon and a parking lot. The back of this surface parking lot is across the street from the East Falls Church Metro station; some commuters use it to cut through the block north of the station, per the 2011 plan.
“The Verizon building is anticipated to remain in use for the foreseeable future,” the 2011 plan notes. “However the rear portion of the lot, which is a largely unused parking lot, has potential for redevelopment.”
The plan envisions townhouses or low-rise multifamily development of three to four stories. Verizon did not return a request for comment about plans for the site.
Such development “should accommodate a dedicated pedestrian path through the entire site from Lee Highway to Washington Boulevard that would formalize this vital connection,” the plan says.
If the Virginia Dept. of Transportation and WMATA move forward with plans to redevelop a commuter lot across the street, the connection could also get a new signalized crossing between the — potentially — redeveloped lots. Around this time last year, neither agency indicated progress toward redeveloping the site, citing barriers such as restrictive zoning.
At the time, a county planner told ARLnow that without higher building heights, there may not be much of an incentive to build.
“Those costs are real,” Natasha Alfonso said. “There has to be enough density to justify that kind of improvement on those sites. If the community wants walkable, transit-oriented development, those are things we have to consider.”
Another 82 properties are located within the Columbia Pike Special Revitalization District, including some along 12th Street S., a few blocks south of the Pike.
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Plans to redevelop the Americana Hotel in Crystal City with apartments could get final approval next month, Arlington County says.
“The County is targeting April for full Planning Commission and Board review, but that is subject to change,” Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore told ARLnow.
JBG Smith proposes to demolish the former hotel at 1400 Richmond Hwy and build a 19-story, 639-unit apartment building with 3,885 square feet of ground-floor retail. If approved next month, construction could wrap up in 2026 or 2027, a company representative said in a Site Plan Review Committee meeting last month.
Up to this point, JBG Smith has overcome sloping terrain and maneuvered future development plans for neighboring sites and Route 1, which the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to lower. Per the meeting discussions, the developer is spending the remaining time before final review ironing out transportation and sustainability elements.
The building will have 188 on-site residential and visitor parking spaces. JBG Smith proposes setting aside 206 spaces for residents at the nearby Bartlett Apartments, which is a quarter-mile away. County code allows property managers to provide spots on other properties they own up to 800 feet away, says Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney for the project.
Some SPRC members differed over whether this would be a burden.
“One of our group members in that situation, they lived in a place and had off-site parking, it was so hard every time they had shopping to get from one place to another,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee Secretary Pam Van Hine. “How are you going to mitigate that?”
Also speaking from experience, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said his first apartment after college had off-site parking about the same distance away.
“It was occasionally annoying but otherwise not a big deal,” he said. “We all know how much parking costs to build. If it means you are 100 bucks a month under rent because it’s annoying, I would happily take that if I were fresh out of college.”
Malcolm Williams, an associate with JBG Smith, said the Bartlett garage is three-quarters full and use will likely decrease with additional transit usage.
(The county is expanding bussing in the area via the extension of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, while advocates of an at-grade Route 1 want to see more walking, cycling and scooting along the urban boulevard.)
The building will also target younger people working at Amazon or other nearby companies who are less likely to own cars. To Van Hine’s point, however, Williams did acknowledge the need for additional managerial effort.
“Anytime you have shared parking, it’s going to require heavy touch from the onsite property manager to make sure that drop offs and things of that nature are managed efficiently… and it’s legible for people,” Williams said. Read More
Arlington County is surveying residents and businesses to understand how they use broadband internet service and if their access can be improved.
The results of the survey are part of a $250,000 study that could inform ways to bridge the digital divide between residents with good internet connectivity and those without it, using the county’s existing fiber-optic network, dubbed ConnectArlington.
“The Broadband study builds off past work to fill in information gaps and provide a clearer picture of the County’s broadband needs,” Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, tells ARLnow.
Arlington has an extensive fiber network, which it installed seven years ago to provide connectivity for county and Arlington Public Schools facilities, support public safety needs and encourage economic development. She says this move has since saved the county money and now allows for additional uses, such as connecting traffic cameras, emergency services and colleges across the area.
Now, the county is partnering with Vienna-based consultant Televate to look at how to leverage what it has to bridge the digital divide, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Based upon gaps identified, the consultant will lay out a comparative evaluation of different service delivery models to address the County’s needs,” Moore said. “Depending upon the outcome of the study, the County may need additional analysis to further research a specific model.”
The study will also review a license agreement for leasing strands along an 864-count fiber line dedicated to economic development. The concept, intended to give local companies higher-speed internet at lower costs than big-name providers like Comcast, has languished because would-be providers found the agreement onerous. So far, only JBG Smith has agreed to lease some of the cable to help build its 5G-enabled “Smart City.”
“The likelihood of modifying the license or changing or adding other policies will be considered after the results of the study,” Moore said.
The survey, available now in English and Spanish, asks people a few dozen questions about internet use. Questions include how long respondents have used the internet and how much it contributes to their jobs, whether they use broadband for telehealth services, if they’re satisfied with the speed and cost, as well as demographic questions.
Moore says the county has studied the digital divide before but not on this comprehensive of a scale. Past research targeted low-income housing and relied on Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Census data.
This “did not provide the level of detail needed and gave no indication of service quality, bandwidth availability, provider competition, or digital literacy needs,” she said.
A coalition of local advocates for making broadband a county-provided utility say the scope seems redundant given past efforts, however.
“The county has studied the digital divide to death. We have good numbers on that,” says ArlFiber Collective leader Tim Dempsey, adding that ironically, the survey is long and only available online.
“Televate LLC, does not appear to be interested in seriously studying municipal broadband and the current course and scope of the study could very well reproduce the same work on broadband that has been done in the past, without moving us forward in any meaningful way,” ArlFiber wrote on its website. “Residents and civic groups that are interested in community broadband for all, should reach out to the County Board members and let them know.”
Arlington County has accepted a site plan application for a senior living facility proposed to replace a church in the Alcova Heights neighborhood.
Sunrise Senior Living, a McLean-based senior living provider, proposes to demolish a church building at 716 S. Glebe Road to build a four-story, 60-foot-tall building with 108 assisted living units, 55 parking spaces, common and service areas, a covered porch and an outdoor garden.
Kedrick Whitmore, the land use attorney representing Sunrise Senior Living, says the development would add sorely needed assisted living facilities in Arlington County.
“This facility would provide or coordinate personal and health care services, 24-hour supervision, and assistance (scheduled and unscheduled) for the protection general supervision and oversight of the physical and mental well-being of aged, infirm, or disabled adults,” he said. “The current supply of such facilities in Arlington County is insufficient to meet the current demand.”
So far, the applicant isn’t looking to go beyond base density, and proposed community benefits include streetscape and sidewalk improvements, utility and affordable housing contributions and sustainable design, per application documents.
As the change in use would displace two child care programs, county planning staff are urging Sunrise to incorporate child care into the development.
“The County has a need for child care services,” county planner Leon Vignes said. “Please consider the possibility of collocating a child care use with this development to maintain an existing use.”
There are two programs operating inside the church, Children’s Weekday Program and Rainbow Road Preschool. County staff said one of the programs in operation there does not have the necessary approvals to do so, but did not specify which.
“A previously approved use permit for childcare uses affiliated with the existing Methodist church was discontinued with the operator noting the potential to resume operation,” associate planner Anika Chowdhury said in staff comments on the application. “A revelation confirmed by the applicant was that an existing daycare is currently operating at the existing church. There is no valid use permit approval on file for this operating use and a use permit is required for child care use(s) per the ACZO.”
If Sunrise were to consider incorporating a child care center, it would have to request changes to how the property is zoned, Chowdhury says.
County planner Matthew Pfeiffer, meanwhile, urged the applicant to increase the number of trees it will plant and make the architecture appear more historic.
“Recommend altering architectural style to match existing historic properties, such as Colonial Revival,” Pfeiffer said. “The most important site design aspect will be ensuring that there is a strong vegetated buffer on the western property line to screen The Alcova,” a historic property next door.
The building’s owner, Arlington United Methodist Church, sold the property to Sunrise last year, leaving a different Christian congregation that meets there, the Redeemer Church of Arlington, the child care programs and a clothing bank in search of a new home.
Sunrise has two other senior living centers in Arlington, in the Glebewood and Boulevard Manor neighborhoods.
While the pandemic prompted a well-documented exodus to, and development of, sleepy suburban and exurban towns, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District says it has identified a different Covid migration pattern.
About a quarter of Americans reported moving to cities where they could be within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of grocery stores, healthcare and parks, according to a national survey by the BID.
The survey also found 41% plan on moving to be within walking or biking distance of their preferred amenities — including coffee shops, schools and gyms — in the next one to three years. That’s in contrast with places that prioritize mobility by motor vehicle, with sidewalks and bike lanes as a relative afterthought.
The idea of being in a place within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from these amenities, dubbed a “15-minute city,” was developed by French-Colombian academic Carlos Moreno. He says his aim is to “rebalance” localities that have been designed to boost productivity rather than well-being. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, popularized his idea when lockdowns kept people closer to home than usual, and efforts to realize Moreno’s idea took hold there and in other European cities.
Arlington County Planning Commission member Daniel Weir embraces the concept, saying it is better for people and the environment.
“Cities are for people, not cars, and we should be able to get our needs met within a 15-minute walk or bike ride,” he said. “Once upon a time, in living memory for our grandparents, every city in America — from Luray, Virginia to Manhattan — was a 15-minute city. Sometime after the war, we got the idea that cities were about highways and cars, and people had to make way. Now, we’re seeing auto-oriented infrastructure and development is one of the most flawed social experiments of all time.”
Arlington is now trying to at least partially unwind auto-oriented development along Langston Blvd and Richmond Highway, but has yet to tackle the suburban neighborhoods that fall outside its primary planning corridors. Still, the county, which has no singular city center, has had a number of “15-minute cities” spring up through transit-oriented development, which began in the 1960s.
Transit-oriented development created compact urban villages of Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City and Crystal City along the Orange and Blue Metro lines, and is facilitating more development on the bus-connected Columbia Pike.
“The 15-minute city approach is consistent with many facets of the Arlington Comprehensive Plan and is more intrinsic in Arlington’s principles for compact and transit-oriented development,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.
Where the pandemic is helping advance the 15-minute city concept in Arlington is via an expansion of uses permitted in the county’s densest zoning districts.
“This is creating potential for expanded uses, including workshop spaces, breweries/distilleries, indoor agricultural such as hydroponics, and animal boarding,” she said. “This blending of retail, restaurants, entertainment, and destination uses, along with offices in smaller, non-traditional formats may prove beneficial to residents living in any of Arlington’s mixed-use corridors or in close proximity to them.”
No longer does a Rosslyn resident, for instance, need to drive to a lower-density part of Arlington to board their pet.
While Rosslyn has transformed from downtown district to 15-minute city, BID President Mary-Claire Burick says the county, property owners and the BID must keep “working together to keep our urban center active and accessible.”
Burick says her organization supports the mixed-use developments and the amenities they’re bringing.
“We support Arlington County’s planned investments in public green space and critical transportation infrastructure — such as the removal of the Fort Myer Tunnel,” she added, “and further building out Rosslyn’s network of pedestrian and bike facilities — which are essential in helping make our amenities even more accessible.”
The BID will focus on “economic resiliency efforts, as well as our community events, programming, and placemaking, all which help create an urban downtown where people want to be,” Burick said.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon has filed conceptual designs for a new three-story church and parish center and a 10-story apartment building.
The mid-century church sits on two-and-a-half acres of prime property between the Clarendon and Virginia Square Metro stations, much of it is dedicated to parking.
Under the proposal, which has been in the works for a few years now, the 429-unit apartment building will have a courtyard in the center, a rooftop pool and ground-floor amenities. The church will be connected to the parish center, with meeting rooms and an event space, by cloistered gardens.
Parking will move underground and the two structures will be connected by an enhanced alley. Fairfax Drive will be redesigned as a walkable plaza, and there will be a new “West End Plaza” located in front of the church on a county-owned parcel.
But the plans include design elements that could conflict with streetscape design guidelines stipulated by the update to the Clarendon Sector Plan adopted earlier this year. Because of this, the church is seeking the perspective of county planning staff.
“The Applicant desires County feedback on the proposed conceptual plan, and particularly would like to discuss various recommendations of the Clarendon Sector Plan relating to ground-floor transparency, clear walkway zones, and sidewalk grade,” per a letter to the county included in the filings. “Existing site conditions and the programmatic needs of the proposed religious institutional use may complicate full achievement of certain Sector Plan recommendations relating to streetscape design.”
In other words, some elements of the proposed St. Charles Church — which reflect a centuries-long tradition of church architecture — may not align with the sector plan design guidelines for frontages along Washington Blvd and Fairfax Drive.
The streetscape guidelines, aimed at creating an attractive walking experience, call for sidewalks and store entrances to be the same level, without steps, and for storefronts to have mostly transparent windows unobstructed by blinds, fabrics and shelving. These are typified by the streetscapes of The Crossing Clarendon shopping center.
“Transparency is a key factor influencing the pedestrian experience: visual access, views to and from interior spaces, and interesting shopfront lighting and displays add visual interest and opportunities for the informal surveillance of public spaces,” per the sector plan.
Like many Roman Catholic churches throughout history, the renderings of St. Charles show an outdoor staircase, doors and a lobby (narthex) separating the sanctuary from casual pedestrian view.
The façades, meanwhile, include stained glass, which typically depict biblical stories and saints. These embellishments are not at pedestrians-scale; rather, they follow in the architectural tradition of drawing the eye upward to aid the worshipper in contemplating heaven.
While the county reviews the designs, the church is bringing a developer partner on board, according to a September church bulletin. The church will lease the land underneath the proposed apartment building to the developer in order to finance the project.
“We continue to refine our cost estimates for the project, but we anticipate that most of our total costs will be met by the proceeds from a long-term lease with our development partner,” parish priest Don Planty writes in the update. “Parishioners will be called upon to contribute to help cover immediate financial needs during planning and in support of sacred art for the new St. Charles church.”
Planty said the planning team estimates further planning, entitlement and permitting will take two years, followed by another two years for construction.
Before four panelists could jump into discussing Missing Middle housing, moderators of Arlington County Civic Federation‘s forum last night (Tuesday) did something unusual.
They laid out ground rules for civil discourse, as other community discussions of the county’s proposed zoning changes have gotten loud, and even rowdy.
Arlington County is gearing up to make a decision on whether to allow low-rise, multifamily dwellings to be built on lots currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes. Leading up to the decision, the county and local organizations have been holding many discussions about the potential impacts of these changes.
Panelists, who spoke for themselves, couldn’t discuss their “feelings” and would instead have to provide a citation for every fact or projected outcome, co-moderator Nadia Conyers said. Speakers needed to seek common ground and respect areas of disagreement, and could not attribute motives to what other speakers were saying.
The panelists reviewed each other’s presentations to ensure facts were not misrepresented, co-moderator Jackie Snelling said.
“We spent a lot of time planning this discussion, which is a little different from how our normal discussions go,” she said.
Those in favor of Missing Middle said Arlington’s housing shortage requires the county to do something.
Michael Spotts, the founder of Neighborhood Fundamentals, who has researched housing for the last 15 years, said Arlington as it is currently zoned is running out of developable space. Meanwhile, developers are tearing down starter homes to build so-called McMansions, while certain neighborhoods north of Route 50 are essentially off-limits to renters, he said.
“I believe Arlington does need to grow and continue to add new housing,” Spotts said. “Aside from the economics, I don’t believe it’s fair to say certain neighborhoods shouldn’t have to contribute to meeting the growing need for housing.”
While not a panacea for all of the county’s housing concerns, he says the zoning changes would add units, increase ownership opportunities and marginally cut down on sprawl development in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties, which in turn has environmental impacts in Arlington.
He and Eric Berkey, who chairs Arlington’s Housing Commission, said the changes would help undo the lasting effects of last century’s exclusionary and racist zoning policies. After racially restrictive covenants became illegal, Arlington County used economics to segregate Black people by banning the construction of row houses and creating zones for exclusively single-family detached houses.
“Missing Middle can provide opportunities for more families to live in not just the three or four neighborhoods where we have duplexes, but the entirety of the county in the long term,” Berkey said. “Characters make the neighborhood. It’s important for the county to get rid of these exclusionary housing policies and make sure folks can live in the entirety of our community.”
Opponents Anne Bodine, a member of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an advocacy group concerned about rapid growth, and Julie Lee, a member of a coalition of 15 civic association presidents opposed to the framework, said more housing is needed, but Arlington does not need to pick up the slack for a region-wide shortage.
“We cannot solve all of the region’s housing issues, but we should set lofty goals, and we must implement a plan that would achieve our desired objective,” Lee said. “The Missing Middle plan does not do that.”
They argued that the zoning changes won’t make it easier for people of color and low- and middle-income earners to buy here, despite assertions to the contrary by the local chapter of the NAACP and others.
“The county says offering a diversity of housing types is a key Missing Middle goal. Why do we need diverse housing types that don’t promote racial and economic diversity?” Bodine said. “A household needs to earn 118% of the area median income to afford the cheapest Missing Middle unit of $416,000. Looking at current Arlington populations, senior, Hispanic and Black median household incomes fall short. It doesn’t mean none of these groups can afford Missing Middle units, but it shows how slim the chances are.”