Press Club
Slide from Missing Middle Housing Study draft framework (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Some “missing middle” housing types would be legalized in residential zones throughout Arlington, under a draft proposal released late last week.

The framework is the latest output of the county’s Missing Middle Housing Study, which has been ongoing since October 2020. The study concluded that allowing housing that’s denser but no larger than single-family homes currently allowed under zoning would increase housing supply while diversifying housing types and providing a net environmental benefit.

The recommendations will now be subject to what is likely to be a contentious community engagement and feedback process, expected to be followed by County Board action to amend the local zoning ordinance this fall.

If ultimately approved, the new zoning rules would be similar to those that passed in Minneapolis and Portland to considerable fanfare and White House interest.

Specifically, the framework calls for dwellings with up to eight housing units in most of Arlington’s residential zones. The size of the structure would be subject to existing rules for single family homes, though existing requirements for on-site parking could be reduced.

The maximum number of units would scale down with the lot size, from a simple duplexes to townhomes and triplexes, up to an 8-plex on a relatively large lot.

“Missing Middle Housing (MMH) types with up to 8 dwellings can fit within the same footprint, placement, and height standards as single-detached housing,” said the proposal. “Applying single-detached standards to MMH can minimize or eliminate environmental impacts, compared to status quo redevelopment.”

That represents a significant change from Arlington’s current zoning, which restricts most of the non-federal land in the county to only single-family homes. A county spokeswoman noted that while the proposed zoning changes would increase flexibility for property owners seeking to build, it would not force owners to change anything if they don’t want to.

“The draft framework would add housing type options in the County’s zoning districts that currently only allow single-detached housing and accessory dwelling units,” said Erika Moore, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “It does not eliminate any housing options that currently exist.”

Also not changing: neighborhoods that currently allow duplexes and townhouses.

“Framework provides an opportunity to welcome potentially more neighbors within a similar building footprint,” said the presentation. “Neighborhoods that are predominantly duplexes and townhouses today (e.g., Arlington Mill, Green Valley, Penrose) and other mixed-use areas would not be impacted.”

Despite the big change, the study suggests that the actual impact on new housing would be modest.

“MMH has inherent economic disadvantages compared with large single-detached homes, including increased costs to build, increased complexity for ownership and sales, and lack of familiarity in the market,” said last week’s presentation. “Based on the financial feasibility and study of other jurisdictions, only approximately 20 lots per year would become ‘missing middle’ (94-108 units).”

That would work out to about 150 additional residents per year over the course of ten years.

While not affordable to lower income households, the new housing is expected to be affordable to more residents than what would be built under current single-family-only zoning, which the presentation says incentivizes construction of large, expensive homes.

“Expected outcome is a wider range of housing types at lower prices than what is currently available,” the study said. “New housing types would be attainable for households with incomes from $108,000-$200,000+. Housing designs would be of a scale consistent with single-household redevelopment already occurring.”

News of the framework was cheered online by those who have been advocating for denser housing in Arlington.

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Jefferson Apartment Group has filed plans to redevelop the Clarendon Wells Fargo site with offices, retail space and apartments.

The company proposes to build a 128-foot tall, 12-story structure with 238 apartments, nearly 67,000 square feet of office space, about 34,500 square feet of ground-floor retail and 244 parking spaces across a two-level, below-grade garage.

The bank at 3140 Washington Blvd is situated on a parcel bordered by N. Irving Street and N. Hudson Street. Next door is the 97,000-square foot Verizon building at 1025 N. Irving Street.

Jefferson proposes only to redevelop the bank property for now. Wells Fargo — the seller of the property at 3140 Washington Blvd — is requiring the developer to keep the bank open for business during construction.

“The project must take a phased permitting and construction approach, first constructing a new bank branch on the northwest corner of the site, followed by demolishing the existing Wells Fargo building and constructing the new mixed-use building once Wells Fargo is operational in the new bank branch building,” writes Sara Mariska, an attorney for the project.

Including the Verizon site in the overall plan will “facilitate development of the Wells Fargo property, while also facilitating preservation of critical telecommunications infrastructure on the Verizon property,” Mariska continues.

The Verizon site “is not going to redevelop any time soon,” noted Brett Wallace, a county planner, during an Arlington Committee of 100 discussion about Clarendon area development projects on Wednesday.

The new filing comes comes a week before the Arlington County Board is set to consider adopting an update to the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan, which targets the western portion of the neighborhood. The Committee of 100 panelists discussed the plan and potential changes to the area.

The sector plan update was precipitated by multiple property owners expressing a “strong interest” in redevelopment around the Clarendon Metro station area, Jennifer K. Smith, a county planning supervisor, told attendees.

Forthcoming developments include: the Silver Diner/The LotJoyce Motors and Wells Fargo/Verizon sites, as well as projects proposed by the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the YMCA and George Mason University.

Clarendon Sector Plan update area (via Arlington County)

“The process would provide an opportunity to showcase preliminary proposals that were being contemplated and share them in a broad way with all the civic associations and other stakeholders who may be reviewing those individually over time,” she said. “Some of the developers were seeking alternatives that diverged from sector plan guidance and zoning regulations that apply in this area and [Planning Commissioners] wanted to provide forum for review and consideration of those potential changes or divergences from the sector plan.”

She added that the county felt “it was important that we consult with the community on new ideas to meet public facility and public space needs going into the future.”

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A four-story apartment building proposed for Green Valley is wending its way through Arlington County review processes.

The project would redevelop a gravel and asphalt parking lot at 2608 Shirlington Road with 27 market-rate units and three affordable ones atop ground-floor retail and a 38-space parking garage built into the hillside. Tenants will have access to a rooftop deck and pool.

Currently, the property is surrounded by warehouses, low-rise townhouses, a barbershop and a funeral home.

The property owner, Shirlington Investments, is seeking to buy a sliver of land from Arlington County to expand the property lines slightly. Approvals for that purchase are concurrent to the proposed development review process.

The property falls within the Green Valley Village Center Revitalization District and is subject to different standards for urban design, building heights, affordable housing and streetscape, county planner Kevin Lam said during a recent Site Plan Review Committee meeting.

“The Green Valley Village Center Action Plan outlines a vision for revitalizing the Green Valley community by encouraging mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development centered around the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square,” he said.

This project would be a quarter-mile from the town square, which is slated to wrap up at the end of this month, according to a project webpage.

Describing high ceilings, tall windows and the contrasting light and dark brick façades, project architect Lisa Clark said her firm has “tried to design this project to reinforce the industrial-arts focused vision laid out in the Four Mile Run Area Plan.”

Green Valley Civic Association Vice-President Robin Stombler says the association is “enthusiastic” about this project.

“We think it fits very well with our plan for the community and we do encourage its approval,” she said. “We do want to state publicly the applicant has been communicative, accessible and has addressed issues we have raised over time. For all those reasons we do welcome them to Green Valley and hope their project is approved.”

Unlike typical development projects going up in Arlington, this one is being processed as a use permit through a special process called a Unified Commercial Mixed-Use Development (UCMUD).

Such projects are reviewed according to standards that emphasize predictability, architectural style and streetscape design, similar to the form-based code projects approved along Columbia Pike, Lam said. Another example of a UCMUD in Green Valley is The Shelton apartment building, built in 2009.

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Concerns are emerging about a proposed residential redevelopment that would replace the Macy’s in Ballston.

Insight Property Group proposes to demolish the longtime department store and vacant office building at 685 N. Glebe Road and replace it with a 16-story, 555-unit apartment complex atop a grocery store. In response to online engagement, it is adding a second, 1,400-square-foot retail space on the ground floor.

The units would be spread across two 14-story towers joined at the penthouse level. Residents would have 250 underground parking spaces while grocery store patrons would have 148 spots on the building’s second story.

Insight is considering how to celebrate the building’s history as part of the D.C. area’s first indoor regional shopping center, built in 1950, possibly by preserving some tiling and stairwells.

But during the first Site Plan Review Committee meeting last week, the proposal elicited apprehension from community members about density, from Planning Commissioners about community benefits, and county planners about cohesion with the rest of the mall.

Insight proposes to use two mechanisms to earn the right to build 275 additional units on top of the base density allowed for the site of 280 units. First, by using a novel zoning tool called a Transfer of Development Rights, it can tack on another 236 units.

The TDR rewards developers who commit to preserving affordable housing, open spaces, historic sites and community facilities on Columbia Pike. In exchange for this commitment, they can either build double the number of preserved units elsewhere in the county, or build triple the units preserved elsewhere on the Pike.

Insight proposes preserving 118 units of garden apartments on Columbia Pike as affordable for 30 years so it can tack on 236 extra units to its Ballston Macy’s project. Some civic association leaders oppose this, however.

“This is a dangerous precedent and should never be done,” said Bernie Berne, representing the Buckingham Community Civic Association, which voted to oppose this aspect of the project. “Keep it to Columbia Pike — find a place to transfer the units in Columbia Pike. There’s no reason to put it in Ballston.”

Representing the Arlington Mill Civic Association, Cate Harrington said the group also opposes the TDR.

“It commits that entire area to being the same for 30 years, which we object to, we would like our area to grow and change organically,” she said.

Insight intends to build an extra 39 units by achieving LEED Gold certification for the building. The developer proposes powering the building almost exclusively with electricity, save for gas-powered kitchens within the grocery store, installing solar panels on the penthouses and dedicating 10% of parking spaces for electric vehicles.

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Updates to a 14-year-old plan guiding future development in Clarendon are entering the home stretch.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is slated to authorize public hearings on the Clarendon Sector Plan update, which could culminate in a vote on whether to accept the updated plan on April 23. The county is also still seeking feedback on the updates.

Changes to the sector plan were prompted by a bevy of expected near-term redevelopments on the Silver Diner/The LotJoyce Motors and Wells Fargo/Verizon sites, as well as projects proposed by the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the YMCA and George Mason University.

The update did not revisit any of the 2006 plan’s overarching goals, which envision Clarendon as an “urban village” with “accessible and connected spaces, and a rich mix of uses” that build on the area’s historical commercial focus, according to the county.

Instead, the updates focused on whether the 14-year-old plan’s recommendations for specific sites needed to be updated as new proposals come in. It provides guidance on land use, building heights and forms, and transportation, and explores how the county can redevelop a parcel it owns with some combination of a new fire station, open space and affordable housing.

Members of nearby civic associations, the Planning Commission and the Housing Commission are urging the county to prioritize different elements on the publicly-owned site, located at 10th Street N., between N. Hudson and Irving streets.

The lot is currently is home to three aging county buildings: Fire Station 4 (3121 10th St. N), the Fire Prevention Office (1020 N. Hudson St.) and Clarendon House, which has been vacant since the county moved the mental health rehab program run by the Department of Human Services to Sequoia Plaza (2120 Washington Blvd) in 2015.

Both Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office — home to the offices of the Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief — have reached the end of their useful life, the plan says. The Fire Prevention Office building will be relocated to county offices at 2020 14th Street N. in Courthouse while Fire Station 4 could be rebuilt on the same property or elsewhere.

Fire Station 4 and the Fire Prevention Office (via Google Maps)

The Planning Commission favors using the land for a blend of government and community facilities, such as a rooftop public space above a proposed fire station.

Ashton Heights Civic Association President Scott Sklar writes in a letter to the county that neighbors envision “a significant, unique playground for children from the new residential buildings, along with some basketball, racquet or pickleball courts in the space adjacent to the fire station, as it would be centrally located to serve Clarendon and nearby residents.”

Lastly, the Housing Commission would like to see affordable housing co-located at the site, as the sector plan area has only 82 committed affordable housing units — the lowest number in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, says Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey said in a letter to the county.

“The Commission stated the priority should not be to provide luxurious amenities to those who live in single-family detached homes, but rather to provide homes to those who cannot afford them,” Berkey said. “Anything other than a structure which utilizes the full zoned height maximum would be a missed opportunity for the County-owned land.”

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The local NAACP is calling on the Arlington County Board to do more to encourage affordable homeownership opportunities for residents of color.

Although segregation officially ended last century, the Arlington branch of the NAACP says non-white residents are still effectively excluded from some neighborhoods due to county zoning codes, compounded by rising housing costs.

“The widespread single-family zoning scheme that prevents the construction of new housing in affluent, mostly white neighborhoods also worsens racial segregation by confining the construction of new affordable housing units to the Columbia Pike corridor and other parts of Arlington with large non-white populations,” the NAACP wrote in a letter to the county.

“People of color wishing to live in Arlington deserve meaningful opportunities to choose from a wide variety of housing types, in many parts of the county, at a reasonable cost,” the letter continues.

The NAACP says the county needs to adopt a comprehensive strategy to reform the county’s zoning laws and housing policies. It suggests reforms that go beyond those being considered in the Missing Middle Housing Study.

“We support the County’s many studies and other initiatives to promote affordable housing,” it concludes. “The best way to ensure the success of these initiatives is for the County Board and County Manager to show decisive leadership now and commit to supporting comprehensive zoning reform.”

Through Missing Middle, the county is considering whether and what kind of low-density multifamily housing could fit into single-family home neighborhoods. The county says allowing more housing types in these neighborhoods can reverse the lingering impacts of yesteryear’s racist zoning policies.

“The Missing Middle Housing Study has documented the role that Arlington’s land use and zoning policies have played in contributing to racial disparities in housing and access to opportunity,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “Conducting the Missing Middle Housing Study is one of many deliberate choices the County is making to address the mistakes of the past and pave a new path for Arlington’s future.”

While supportive of the study, the NAACP suggests solutions beyond its parameters.

It recommends every redevelopment be assessed for whether it would perpetuate historical exclusion or displace the existing community. If so, developers would have to use a “displacement prevention and mitigation toolkit” to reverse those impacts.

This toolkit could include:

  • property tax deferrals for lower-income homeowners
  • funding for Community Land Trust acquisitions
  • preferences for first-generation homebuyers
  • stabilization funds for residents at risk of displacement

The toolkit would “address the unique needs of and the displacement risk experienced by the community in and around site-plan and by-right developments while also helping to address patterns of historical exclusion experienced by members of protected classes,” the letter says.

These and other tools should also receive county and state funding, like a quick-strike land acquisition account, which would be used to quickly purchase properties for affordable housing development, and targeted homeownership assistance programs, the NAACP says.

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Morning Notes

Blossoms in bloom along Long Bridge Park in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Giant Spiders May Drop In — “An invasive species of spider the size of a child’s hand is expected to ‘colonize’ the entire East Coast this spring by parachuting down from the sky, researchers at the University of Georgia announced last week… Andy Davis, author of the study and a researcher at Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, tells Axios that it isn’t certain how far north the spiders will travel, but they may make it as far north as D.C. or even Delaware.” [Axios, Fox 5, NPR]

Anti-Growth Group Decries Route 29 Planning — “On March 6, ASF wrote to the Arlington County Board expressing concerns that significant new land use and zoning plans will cause seismic shifts for the communities now lining Langston Blvd. We believe the process — which will soon produce a new Preliminary Concept Plan that likely will be fast-tracked like other county planning processes — will neglect or defer costs of critically-needed new infrastructure, will displace those earning 60% or less than the Area Median Income, and will make it difficult for local entrepreneurs to stay in business.” [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future]

Polish Pike Pierogi Purveyor Praised — “‘Oh my god, it smells so good it’s driving me crazy!’ my husband reported after picking up a pierogi order from chef Ewa Fraszczyk, who shares kitchen space with La Cocina VA, selling her pan-fried Polish dumplings from the nonprofit’s Columbia Pike café every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Arlington chef’s pierogi, all delicate and delicious, come six to an order ($10-$12) in four varieties.” [Arlington Magazine]

Apartment Child Care Bill Advances — “House members voted unanimously on March 8 in support of a measure by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington-Fairfax-Loudoun) to amend the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and permit child-care facilities in apartment units. That followed earlier, also unanimous, support in the state Senate.” [Sun Gazette]

Teen Stabbed in Va. Square Area — “At approximately 6:28 p.m. on March 8, police were dispatched to the report of a fight involving a group of approximately 6 – 10 juveniles. Upon arrival, the juveniles were no longer on scene and officers canvassed the area and located evidence of an injury in the 500 block of N. Quincy Street. At approximately 7:14 p.m., the juvenile male victim arrived at Virginia Hospital Center for treatment of stab wounds suffered during the fight. The victim’s injuries are considered serious but non-life threatening.” [ACPD]

Bus Driver Nearly Causes Wreck on I-395 — From public safety watchdog Dave Statter: “Watch: A ‘professional’ driver does no better trying to quickly get across 4 lanes of interstate highway. This one almost takes out a car–twice!! Must have been a fun bus ride.” [Twitter]

Takeout for a Cause at Four Courts — From Ireland’s Four Courts: “Stop in or order takeout on Thursday for dinner. We are donating 20 percent of our food sales to @PathForwardVA help #endhomelessness in Arlington.” [Twitter]

It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 52 and low of 35. Sunrise at 6:28 am and sunset at 6:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Garrison residence (courtesy of Les Garrison)

The owner of a two-family home near Crystal City says he may cancel his redevelopment plans because county approval processes have delayed construction and run up costs.

“As of right now, the project is on hold, possibly dead, because the County delayed it so long that the prices of construction (up 40%) not to mention the $150,000 in costs so far to get it approved, have made it unaffordable,” owner Les Garrison tells ARLnow. “The payback time is now unreasonable.”

It’s an outcome that Planning Commission members have said would be avoided if homes like his — duplexes on nonconforming lots — enjoyed the simpler, cheaper reviews that allow owners and developers to replace aging single-family dwellings with larger, luxury homes, sometimes referred to derisively as “McMansions.”

The main difference, they say, comes down to the fact that it’s a multi-family building.

Garrison’s proposal requires community review as well as Planning Commission and County Board approvals because he plans to increase the square footage of his house, which sits on a smaller-than-average lot. But commissioners argue more renovations on nonconforming lots will come forward and the county should preempt them with a faster approval track.

Since these hypothetical projects would update existing low-rise multi-family buildings — which are not permitted in many neighborhoods under current zoning — commissioners suggest considering these changes via the Missing Middle Housing Study. The study’s primary goal is to evaluate whether county codes should allow housing types like as duplexes and townhouses in districts zoned exclusively for single-family homes.

“As much as it’s important to end legacies of exclusionary zoning practices, we also have to be certain there are administrative options for improving and expanding existing multi-unit housing,” Planning Commission Chair Daniel Weir said during a meeting with the County Board and the planning division earlier this month.

Such projects go through Site Plan Review, which major development projects use, but as a potential alternative they could go through the Board of Zoning Appeals, which hears special exception requests from single-family homeowners, James Lantelme, Weir’s predecessor, previously said.

Multi-family homes like Garrison’s and oversized single-family homes are linked in another way: both often result in greater lot coverage, which often means fewer trees and plantings. The relative ease with which “McMansions” are built, compared to similar-sized multi-family units, has led some County Board members to ask the question: if both are permitted, just how big is too big?

Building up to tear down

Opposition to adding density falls into a few buckets, such as impact on existing infrastructure and loss of natural resources.

On environmental degradation, the county says keeping out duplexes won’t preserve neighborhoods from the tree loss and stormwater runoff associated with development, given the teardown-rebuild trend. Adding multi-family homes would, however, open up neighborhoods to people who can’t afford the average sale price for a rebuild in Arlington, which currently stands at $1.7 million.

Over the last decade, 1,245 homes came down and were rebuilt, for an average of 125 homes per year, according to a county report. Typically, the tear-downs are 1,515 square feet and the new construction is 4,750 square feet. This contributed to the drop in tree canopy coverage from 43% in 2008 to 41% in 2016, another county report says.

“This is a rather fast-moving problem,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said during the February meeting.

It’s one member Libby Garvey said “we should dip our toes into” through the Missing Middle study.

That’s the plan, says Anthony Fusarelli, Jr., planning director for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

“Between now and October, we might have a better handle on some emerging recommendations — but I do expect that will be considered in some way,” he told County Board members.

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Morning Notes

Pentagon City Plan Passes Unanimously — “The Arlington County Board adopted a new vision for a vibrant and livable Pentagon City, following an 18-month planning process. The Board voted 5-0 to approve the Pentagon City Sector Plan (PCSP) and its associated Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance amendments.” More than 110 people spoke at the Board’s meeting on Saturday, many of them opposed to a portion of the plan that would allow a significant increase in density on the RiverHouse property. [Arlington County]

Second HQ2 Phase Advancing — “PenPlace, the 3.2 million-square-foot second phase of Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters, has earned the key support of Arlington County staff as it heads into its final stretch of reviews. During the last Site Plan Review Committee meeting Thursday, Peter Schulz, a staffer with the Arlington planning division, said ‘staff has no major outstanding issues’ with regard to PenPlace’s architecture and landscape design.” [Washington Business Journal]

Chipotle Lists Clarendon Location on Website — Despite denying plans to open a Clarendon location, Chipotle has now listed the soon-to-open location at 3017 Clarendon Blvd on its website. [Chipotle]

Cookie Purveyor Coming to Courthouse — “Captain Cookie & The Milkman is opening across the river for the first time as a part of the local treat-yourself brand’s ongoing regional expansion. The shop should open at 2200 Clarendon Blvd. in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood this spring. The space was most recently a GNC. “It’s just a calcium supplement store now,” co-owner Kirk Francis jokes. The menu spans eight flavors of cookies that are baked on site, local milk from South Mountain Creamery, and Ice Cream Jubilee ice cream.” [Washington City Paper]

Metro Reducing Delays on Local Lines — “Additional weekday service improvements will start Monday, February 14, with customers seeing more trains, more often on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines, at least every 20 minutes. The change expands on earlier service improvements to the Red (every 12 minutes), Green and Yellow lines (every 20 minutes).” [WMATA]

Arlington Company Admits PPP Fraud — “Zen Solutions Inc., located in Arlington, Virginia, has agreed to pay approximately $31,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by obtaining more than one Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in 2020. Zen Solutions also agreed to repay the duplicative PPP loan in full to its lender, relieving the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) of liability to the lender for the federal guaranty of approximately $192,000 on the improper loan.” [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

Vehicle Flips Along Washington Blvd — From Dave Statter on Saturday night: “Crash with a vehicle overturned at Washington Blvd & Brookside Dr (betw Rt 50 & Pershing).” [Twitter]

Icy Conditions Possible This Morning — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Road surface temperatures above freezing have meant no deployment of salt with today’s winter weather event. But be prepared for possible slick spots overnight into the morning. Crews will be on the lookout.” [Twitter]

It’s Valentine’s Day — Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 33 and wind gusts up to 21 mph. Sunrise at 6:59 a.m. and sunset at 5:45 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 41. [Weather.gov]

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This weekend, the Arlington County Board is poised to vote on a planning document set to shape several decades of post-HQ2 development in Pentagon City.

The Board’s meeting this Saturday will be residents’ last chance to weigh in on the Pentagon City Sector Plan, which envisions a denser and less car-centric neighborhood with “ribbons” of tree- and plant-lined walking paths.

The plan culminates a lengthy study of the 116-acre community and the county policies that have governed its growth for 46 years. The last plan for Pentagon City — finalized before the arrival of Metrorail service — described the area as “mostly vacant urban real estate” with some existing residential and industrial uses.

Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters in Pentagon City precipitated the new study’s launch.

The plan’s critics have grown louder in their opposition as the eve of the vote draws near. They say the plan adds density but not green space and doesn’t guarantee space for new and improved public facilities.

In response, the county says the newest version of the plan reflects a number of additions locals requested that flesh out what open spaces should look like and highlight the need for a school, community center and library. But concerns still remain.

“We believe that in order to realize the vision described in the PCSP, where community members have access to employment, schools, multi-modal transit, open space, and other essential services, the plan needs more clarity and assurances,” writes Kateri Garcia, President of the adjacent Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA), in a letter to the Board.

She adds that ARCA represents “a significant number of citizens who feel that their voices have not been heard within the process and that large increases in density are being pursued without rationale and the appropriate studies to ensure the area can absorb the density.”

Much of the opposition is focused on the future of the large RiverHouse site on the west end of Pentagon City, currently home to three apartment buildings and an expanse of parking lots and grassy areas. Specifically, the plan has reignited old concerns about redeveloping the surface parking lots and open spaces surrounding the complex on S. Joyce Street, a long-time goal of property owner JBG Smith.

The document recommends up to 150 units per acre on the 36-acre site, which currently has a ratio of 49 units per acre. Residents who coalesced into the groups “RiverHouse Neighbors for Sensible Density” and “Dense That Makes Sense” have called for moderated growth instead.

A rally held in front of Grace Murray Hopper Park, a public park on the RiverHouse property that’s set for upgrades under the plan, attracted at least two dozen or so demonstrators from the two groups, many of whom held signs decrying the plan and significantly increased density.

As for a new school or improved community center and library, neighbors want details about how they’d fit at Virginia Highlands Park — or a commitment to put them elsewhere.

“The common theme throughout the Plan is that Virginia Highlands Park is the fallback location for all public facilities. A school. A community center. A library. More recreation. Very little of this is feasible — there’s simply not enough space and we have contention over it already today,” writes former Aurora Highlands Civic Association President Scott Miles in the association’s February newsletter.

Planning Commission member Stephen Hughes sympathized.

“I do find the lack of a site proposed for an elementary school — besides the already provided county facilities — to be lacking,” he said during a meeting last week. “I just believe we could’ve done a better job of achieving a grander legacy for future generations.”

While the plan doesn’t achieve a net increase in green space, it improves “poorly designed, generally privately owned, open space,” sets minimum tree and planting requirements for developments and requires a park within a 10-minute walk for every resident, writes the AHCA representative to the project, Ben D’Avanzo, in the same newsletter.

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An ongoing redevelopment project on the “Landmark Block” in Courthouse is poised to realize a significant portion of a 2015 vision to transform the neighborhood.

But beyond the “Landmark” project (2050 Wilson Blvd) by Greystar, there are no near-term private or public projects set to pick up wherever Greystar leaves off.

Over the next 20 years, Arlington County has plans to transform some of the mid-rise buildings, county facilities and the surface parking lot at the epicenter of the neighborhood into a vibrant area. Dubbed Courthouse Square, the area is bounded by Clarendon Blvd to the north, N. Courthouse Road to the east, 14th Street N. to the south and commercial buildings to the west.

The future Courthouse Square would feature a civic square for rallies and programs, new cultural and civic buildings, shared streets and a pedestrian promenade. Courthouse Square will be, visionaries said in a 2015 planning document, “where the revolution begins.”

Greystar is leading the charge with “The Commodore” apartments, which replace some brick buildings that housed CosiBoston MarketJerry’s Subs and Summers Restaurant. But the revolution will only be fully realized after a few more county projects and private developments materialize.

“It’s a balance. The full vision will come together through public- and private-sector investment and actions,” says Anthony Fusarelli, Jr., the director of the county’s Department of Community, Housing and Development.

Part of the burden of redevelopment is on the county, which envisioned in 2015 building a new headquarters — after the county’s lease was set to end in 2028 — as well as up to two civic and cultural facilities. The then-looming end to the lease on the headquarters was the impetus for the 2015 Courthouse Square addendum, he said.

In 2018, Arlington County negotiated a lease extension until 2033, however, allowing the county to focus on renovations to its existing building and giving it an extra five years to start on new construction. The pandemic — and the changes it brought to the workplace — could mean a more modest approach instead of building a 400,000-square-foot building once envisioned in 2015.

“There’s been a massive forced experience about how people do work, whether they’re in a small business or a government agency,” Fusarelli said. “I think going forward in the immediate future, trying to pursue discrete development plans would be very challenging.”

A map of the blocks comprising Courthouse Square and their proposed uses, per the 2015 addendum (via Arlington County)

As for the cultural facilities, Arlington Cultural Affairs is still determining whether they’re needed after conducting an assessment in 2006.

“Informed also by the findings of our comprehensive 2017 Enriching Lives Arlington Arts and Culture Strategy, Arlington Cultural Affairs will continue to work with other County agencies to determine next steps,” the division said.

Meanwhile, of the privately owned sections, the Landmark Block is the only corner where a developer has expressed interest in redevelopment. (Across the street from Courthouse Square, Greystar is shepherding a 220-unit building on the vacant Wendy’s lot through county processes.)

“We worked hard to realize as many of the public benefits as we could through community benefits partly because we understood it may be some time, and there may be some uncertainty, [before] the next private development could come forward,” Fusarelli said.

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