The County Board voted 4-1 on Saturday to approve the plan, which has been years in the making and will replace an outdated retail plan originally passed in 2001. The new plan moves Arlington from a “retail everywhere” approach — policies designed to put ground floor retail in most commercial buildings, regardless of whether a business could actually survive in a given location — to what’s billed as a flexible but “curated” approach.
Color-coded maps will now define where the county would like certain types of retail businesses to set up shop. The owners of buildings in high foot traffic areas will be encouraged to adopt certain building standards that are conducive to ground floor retailers, from higher ceilings to smaller building lobbies.
“By partnering with our business community and our residents, we’ve developed a plan that takes important steps to improve and strengthen the retail sector in Arlington,” Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “We believe the consistent, clear guidance and definitions, as well as flexibility of use, design and timing in the plan will better serve those who live and work here when they shop, dine, get their hair cut and bank on streets throughout the County.”
The plan passed with two notable amendments, both proposed by County Board member John Vihstadt and both addressing concerns of the local business community.
The first further codified that the plan is intended as a guiding principle — to be applied primarily during development approval processes — rather than explicit county rules and regulations. The second added service and repair businesses to the types of businesses encouraged in “red zones” — the parts of Arlington’s business districts with the highest foot traffic. In the draft plan, staff had recommended limiting those zones to shopping, dining and entertainment.
“This plan has come a long, long way,” Vihstadt said after the motions passed by 4-1 and 3-2 respectively. “It was not a good plan when it started out.”
The plan passed with tepid support from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, which had expressed concern about earlier versions of the plan it deemed “too proscriptive.”
“Explicit addition of a statement that the retail plan is not regulatory is paramount,” Chamber President and CEO Kate Roche told the Board. “Moving forward into implementation, we emphasize the importance of the plan being understood as a guideline… we want to make sure this plan isn’t codifying anything that will prevent Arlington from becoming the great, flexible place that we all want it to be.”
The changes still weren’t enough for Libby Garvey, who was the lone vote against the plan.
“I’m much more conformable with the plan with the changes, but still not comfortable enough to support it,” she said. “Both the people who have to make it work and the people we serve are saying, ‘it’s too proscriptive.'”
The new Arlington County Retail Plan would move away from the county’s current “retail everywhere” policy, which was an attempt to provide more lively street life around Arlington by requiring retail spaces in most new commercial buildings.
While successful by some measures, “retail everywhere” — a policy last updated in 2001 — has hit snags, with the owners of buildings in low-foot-traffic areas struggling to find viable retail tenants.
The new retail plan, which has been seven years in the making, is an attempt to concentrate retail in the highest foot traffic areas of commercial corridors, while encouraging more retail-friendly building designs. The hoped-for end result: more vibrant stretches of retailers and restaurants in Arlington.
“This updated approach will strengthen Arlington’s primary retail nodes; allow long- and short-term market shifts in retail and ground floor use to occur within this retail policy framework; accommodate innovative uses on the ground floor; and increase Arlington’s overall level of economic competitiveness,” according to a staff report.
The plan includes color-coded maps of neighborhoods like Clarendon and Crystal City, with each color corresponding to a different retail approach. In the red areas — those with the highest foot traffic — county planners want to encourage food, entertainment and shopping destinations, while discouraging large building lobbies and service businesses, like dry cleaners.
In other coded areas, there is more flexibility, but still some design guidelines and an action plan for the type of businesses the county would like to see in ground floor spaces.
Critics say the county is “acting like a mall operator” in trying to decide which businesses go where. In “curating what the community wants on the street,” in the words of one business leader who requested anonymity, the county is again taking a proscriptive approach — one that may not reflect the changing market a decade or two down the line.
For instance, high-end service businesses like blow dry bars are growing in popularity and may want to locate in one of the “red zones,” where the county is now specifically saying they shouldn’t exist.
There have also been concerns raised about the wisdom of restricting business lobbies, which ostensibly are needed in order to serve the building’s main purpose — being an attractive place for offices or apartments. Others in the business community have disputed the coding of the plans, though some of those concerns were addressed in a recent update of the plan.
“The refinements to the Retail Plan, which address concerns and comments raised through the public process, have made for a stronger document,” the staff report says. “The retail street maps, while not meeting 100 percent consensus by all stakeholders, provide a balance of the stakeholder positions and existing policies pertaining to ground floor use.”
Additionally, while property owners are still able to request exceptions through the county’s site plan process, some say that process remains too rigid, time-consuming and expensive. An apartment building owner might be reluctant to spend tens of thousands in attorney’s fees and staff time, for instance, on a site plan amendment that could allow a dry cleaner to go where there was formerly a small convenience store.
The store will sell vaporizers and e-liquids, which come in various flavors including traditional tobacco flavors and more exotic flavors like watermelon mojito or peppermint bark. Customers can also create their own flavors at a “juice bar,” said Scott Parker, a managing partner in the business.
The new store is located at 3219 Columbia Pike, across from the Audi dealership. It’s a locally-owned franchise of VaporFi, a Miami-based retail chain and manufacturer.
“We’re very happy to be in South Arlington, with a great location right on Columbia Pike, an area with tons of traffic,” said Parker. “At the same time, we’re also currently shopping locations in North Arlington as well. We hope to open 15 stores in the next 12 months all over Northern Virginia.”
There are three existing VaporFi locations locally, in Alexandria, Georgetown and Potomac Mills, said Parker, who’s also a partner in two notable Arlington businesses: A-Town Bar and Grill and Don Tito.
The new store will be open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Target Eyes Rosslyn — A vacant storefront at 1500 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn may become home to the D.C. region’s first TargetExpress, a smaller, grocery-oriented version of the big box retailer’s stores. So far, Target has not confirmed the news. The storefront has previously hosted Rosslyn BID-sponsored pop-up market events. [Washington Business Journal]
Key Bridge Rehab Planned — The D.C. Department of Transportation is planning to begin a two-year rehabilitation project on the Key Bridge this spring. Most of the work will focus on the bridge’s substructure so traffic impacts will be limited. Other planned work includes new LED streetlights, stronger barriers between the road and the sidewalk, and a new paint job for the bridge’s fence. [Georgetown Dish]
Sub $2 Gas in Arlington — The average price of a gallon of regular grade gasoline in Virginia fell to $1.99 over the weekend, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That’s the lowest statewide average price since May 2009. So far in Arlington, only one gas station is reported to have $1.99 gas: the Arlington Auto Service station at 5200 Columbia Pike. [VirginiaGasPrices]
AYD to Hold SOTU Watch Party — Arlington Young Democrats will be holding a watch party for tonight’s State of the Union address. The party starts at 7:30 p.m. at Mad Rose Tavern in Clarendon (3100 Clarendon Blvd). President Obama’s address is scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. For those looking for an ostensibly non-partisan watch party, Busboys and Poets in Shirlington (4251 S. Campbell Ave) is holding a “community watch event” starting at 8:00 p.m. [Arlington Young Democrats]
Blind Woman’s Luggage Returned Thanks to TV Station — WJLA’s “7 On Your Side” segment helped a blind Arlington resident retrieve her lost luggage at Reagan National Airport. The bag, reportedly containing all of Jessica Kyriazis’ winter clothes, was lost for several days by American Airlines due to circumstances arising from “bad weather.” [WJLA]
Taylor Gourmet Now Open at DCA — A Taylor Gourmet is now open at Reagan National Airport. It’s the latest in a line of trendy local restaurants that are opening at the airport this year, including Cava Grill, &pizza, Bracket Room, Lebanese Taverna Grill, Kapnos Taverna, and El Centro D.F. [Washington City Paper]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
The Board has four items in Saturday’s consent agenda dealing with the conversion of space mandated to be retail, based on building’s site plans, to office or medical uses. One of those items is for a dentist’s office already in operation in Courthouse Plaza under a temporary site plan amendment.
The other three agenda items are for:
- Two vacant retail spaces, totaling 3,696 square feet, at 1800 N. Kent Street. One space (pictured above) was a private school space that has been vacant for six years. The other had been occupied by dry cleaners, but has been vacant for 10 years, according to the staff report.
- A 2,830-square-foot vacant space on the ground floor of 2001 15th Street N., in the Odyssey Condominiums. The space fronts Clarendon Blvd, but it has been vacant for five years, other than serving as a temporary leasing office for the now-opened apartments across the street, the staff report states. Since the leasing office has relocated, the owner reports difficulty finding a tenant for the space.
- A 1,520-square-foot space at 1600 Wilson Blvd, the former site of the Sir Speedy Printing Center, which has been vacant since July. The space, according to the staff report, “has a history of retail vacancy and poses some location challenges for retail attraction.”
County staff identified no issues for any of these sites, suggesting a “medical/physical therapy office, will help activate the street and pose no adverse impacts to the neighborhood,” in all of the reports.
The county seems to be taking a softer line on mandated ground floor retail spaces, in recognition that some storefronts are just not viable for traditional retail. For instance, 1800 N. Kent Street is well hidden from Rosslyn’s main N. Lynn Street drag, resulting in a relative paucity of the foot traffic that could bring customers to a small business.
County staff, in recommending approval of the motions, used the draft Arlington Retail Action Plan as guidance in its decisions.
The draft action plan, which would replace and expand upon the 2001 Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Retail Plan, includes a map that specifies which type of retail can go where. According to the county’s planning staff, all four locations on Saturday’s agenda are considered appropriate for medical or office use under the draft retail map.
The Arlington County Board will discuss a proposed update to the 2001 Retail Action Plan, which covered the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The update expands the plan’s footprint to the Crystal City and Columbia Pike corridors, includes recommendations to improve the county’s retail environment and asks the Board to change regulation to allow for retail growth.
“This is a big deal and this has taken a long time to work through,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board. “This is a report that will guide us for many years to come on how we’re going to move forward. Retail will succeed where it can thrive.”
The Virginia Department of Taxation reported more than $2 billion in retail and food and beverage sales in Arlington last year, but the opportunity is there for much more local retail spending, the plan states.
“The estimated demand for retail and food and beverage is in excess of $4.7 billion dollars,” the report states, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys. “With a demand greater than sales, Arlington is considered to have a leakage of retail opportunity — customers must travel outside of Arlington to purchase many goods and services — in most broad retail categories.”
Among the key recommendations are developing design guidelines to make “retail look like retail,” developing a specific retail map to guide which kinds of retail businesses should go where — encouraging clustering of specific types of retail to draw in more customers — and encouraging public art and accessibility.
Stores should be encouraged to design their exteriors creatively, the plan says, and to “design storefronts for three miles an hour (pedestrian speed) rather than 35 miles per hour (vehicular speed).” That’s a bit of a departure from years past, when retail signage rules were more stringent in Arlington, discouraging retailers from standing out too much. For interior design, the plan advocates for higher ceilings on the ground floor of buildings and to ” to allow for maximum flexibility and use of the space.”
The draft plan also recommends softening regulations on food trucks and other mobile vendors. It says “vending zones” are under consideration in Rosslyn, Courthouse and Ballston, which would allow food trucks to park for more than two hours at a time.
“With social media and serial followers, vending can help pull customers into different areas,” the plan says. “Establishing vending zones, to allow trucks to vend for longer than two hours or for alternative hours, can help prime an area that is not quite ready for retail or can attract people to other uses — parks, cultural venues or other businesses.”
Grocery stores are seen as a key component of Arlington’s retail plan, as they serve as anchors for retail districts. The plan generally lauds the Arlington County Board for its flexibility in approving grocery stores, including most recently the store planned at 1401 Wilson Blvd, whenever the property is redeveloped. However, it says the term “grocery store” should be more clearly defined for administrative purposes. “The policy should clearly articulate how and when incentives or mechanisms to support the construction of a grocery store are applied,” according to the plan.
Many of the actions the plan suggests include amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance and special exception policies to factor in broader retail goals. It’s those changes that gave some of the County Board members pause and led them to schedule a work session in January, before the plan is up for a vote in February.
In the fourth quarter of 2013, Arlington reported about $813 million in taxable retail sales in its March economic indicators study today. Over the same period in 2013, Arlington had about $786 million, a drop of 3.3 percent. The change can’t be attributed to the unusually snowy winter, either: nearly all of the snow this winter fell in the first quarter of 2014, after these numbers were recorded.
While the retail industry — which includes everything from restaurants to grocery stores to stands in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City — lost $27 million in sales year-over-year, Arlington’s workforce grew 1.4 percent while its unemployment rate dropped from 3.9 percent in January 2013 to 3.3 percent in January.
In addition, housing prices were up across the board this February compared to last year, with a 2.2 percent bump in single family detached house prices, 3.7 percent for single family attached (like townhouses and duplexes) and a 4.7 percent jump in condominium prices, from $410,339 to $430,115.
Local retail broker John Asadoorian, of Asadoorian Retail Solutions, said the numbers don’t raise any alarm just yet.
“It’s hard to really discern what the drop means,” Asadoorian told ARLnow.com. “The only thing I could say is there hasn’t been that much new retail space delivered in Arlington, which means there hasn’t been a whole influx of new tenants, which means the mix in Arlington is stable. If it’s stable, is it still competitive with other jurisdictions that may be growing?”
Asadoorian referred to Tysons Corner and Georgetown as two areas whose growing retail options could be poaching customers from Arlington’s shops. However, several buildings under construction in Ballston and Rosslyn figure to bump the retail number back up in the coming years, he said.
While those buildings may help the retail market, they may not do wonders for the office vacancy rate in Arlington, which ballooned to 19.9 percent over the past year, a 3.7 percent jump over 2012. A significant chunk of that is from the 35-story 1812 N. Moore Street building in Rosslyn which is still looking for its first tenants.
The office vacancy rate in Rosslyn grew 8.4 percent year-over-year and sits at 25.2 percent, now the highest area in the county. Crystal City, still smarting from BRAC closures, is the second-most vacant neighborhood at 24.7 percent. Only the Clarendon-Courthouse corridor gained more office tenants than it lost last year, with its vacancy rate falling from 11.2 to 9.0 percent.
Those in and around the retail industry say the recent trends toward mixed-use, urbanized development and the growth of “milennials” among consumers in the post-recession years add up nicely for Arlington.
Bruce Leonard, a managing principal at Streetsense, a real estate, retail and marketing firm, gave a lecture at George Mason University’s Arlington campus last month called “the changing face of retail.” He contended that the retail market is catching up to the real estate market in seeking urban, walkable centers.
Downtown areas were the dominant retail markets at the turn of the century, he said, until “construction of the interstates it moved away from the cities.”
“Now, ironically, we’re coming back to more urban- and downtown-focused retail,” Leonard said. “So for the [Rosslyn-Ballston] corridor, that’s really a good thing because it’s really urban. It’s relevant to the consumer in that it has the ability to provide an immersive and engaging environment… which is what [the consumers] are looking for.”
Kevin Shooshan, who oversees the leasing for The Shooshan Company in Ballston, said that’s why Arlington will still have an advantage over Tysons Corner when the Silver Line opens.
“I think specifically in the Courthouse-Clarendon-Ballston area, it’s more that it’s a walkable area, even more than Tysons,” he told ARLnow.com yesterday. “In Ballston, in Courthouse, in Clarendon, you can go on a leisurely four-block, five-block walk, passing ground floor retail with every step, with options to grab a paper, grab coffee, meeting with someone. It’s not just a walk down a Metro access corridor. I do see that as a huge asset.”
As the D.C. area apartment rental market continues to surge, that retail market can be key for attracting tenants. Most of the new buildings have fitness centers, pools, computer lounges and other amenities, but the shops in the neighborhood are every bit as much of the pitch to a tenant these days.
“Retail, in these markets, is really becoming an amenity,” Leonard said. “We’re seeing the conversation is ‘what kind of retail will I get that will match the demands of my tenant?’ Co-tenancy is going both horizontal and vertical, and that’s a really new trend.”
Billy Buck, the vice president of Buck & Associates, said the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor sells itself.
“In a 10-minute conversation, it’s mentioned in the first minute or two by the client before we have to bring it up,” Buck said. “It’s not something you have to sell. The client or the purchaser or the tenant, they get to us because they’ve already realized that all those things are super important to their use.”
Lastly, the top trend Leonard said the retail market will see, both locally and nationall, is continued downsizing of big retailers. With online shopping and a shift in consumer behavior, chains that had giant, big box stores are looking for spaces sometimes half the size as before.
Most national retailers have square-footage requirements for any space they are looking for, Buck said, but that never prevents them from squeezing themselves in Arlington.
“These retailers are smart enough to realize that it may not fit their corporate mold, they know better than to skip Arlington,” he said. “You’re not going to just pass on Arlington in general, it’s just a bad business decision.”
The top 8 retail centers in Arlington, including the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Ballston Common Mall, alone house 644 stores. Arlington retailers recorded a total of $3.27 billion worth of taxable sales in 2012.
The holidays are obviously a crucial time for retailers, providing on outsized portion of annual sales and profit. But with retail sales growth sluggish compared to the growth in online sales, and with the large regional malls in Tysons Corner and outlet stores elsewhere continuing to lure shoppers, the holidays could be a struggle for some local stores.
Ground Floor Retail Exemption Granted — At its meeting yesterday (May 21), the County Board granted an exemption to the policy of requiring ground floor retail space, for the office building at 3701 N. Fairfax Drive. The building formerly housed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which had received a retail exemption due to security concerns. The Board granted the exemption this time due to the space’s lack of access and visibility from the street. [Sun Gazette]
AIRE Goal Exceeded — Arlington County has exceeded its 2007 Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) goal of a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from government operations by 2012. The county has reduced its emissions by 11.7 percent since 2000. “This is an important milestone in Arlington’s efforts to build a more sustainable future for all our residents and businesses,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada. “The County has made great strides in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and of our fleet and services, and we will continue to look for ways to reduce emissions and reduce spending on energy.” [Arlington County]
Sales Tax Holiday Begins Saturday — Virginia’s annual Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday begins on Saturday, May 25, and runs through Friday, May 31. The tax holiday allows residents to prepare for hurricane season, which begins on June 1, by eliminating sales tax on purchases of emergency supplies. Items such as batteries, generators, bottled water, duct tape, cell phone chargers and radios are included. [Virginia Emergency Management]
Parents of Gymnasts Want New Facilities — Despite a tight county budget, parents of Arlington gymnasts are calling on the County Board to fund new gymnastics facilities. Heather Cocozza, a representative of the Arlington Tigers competitive boys gymnastics team, claims that a new gymnastics facility can actually make a profit for the county. [Arlington Mercury]
APS Ranks Among Top High Schools — Arlington’s public high schools have ranked in the top 2 percent of all high schools in the country, according to the Washington Post’s “Challenge Index.” In the Washington region, H-B Woodlawn ranked #4, Washington-Lee #10, Yorktown #14 and Wakefield #62. [Arlington Public Schools]
Vacant Retail Space May Become Conference Facility — A vacant 13,000 square foot retail space on the ground floor of the new 800 N. Glebe Road office building in Ballston would become a conference facility, under a proposal that’s under consideration by the Arlington County Board. The nearby Bluemont Civic Association has expressed concerns about the change. [Sun Gazette]
Mystery Surrounds Eden Center Shooting — Questions still surround the murder and suicide that occurred at the Eden Center in Falls Church on Saturday night. The victim, meanwhile, has been identified as 51-year-old Tai Phan, of Annandale, who at the time of the shooting was on his way to a gig as a bass player at a restaurant. [Washington Post]
Board May Drop Retail Requirement for Condo Complex — The Arlington County Board is poised to reverse a requirement it set 9 years ago for the Woodbury Park condo complex to reserve interior space for a convenience store. The store would have been located inside the 364-unit complex, with no outside signage and no easy access for non-residents. Nobody has stepped up to rent the space, so county staff is recommending the Board drop the retail requirement and allow Woodbury Park to build a condo unit in its place. [Sun Gazette]
Library, Bayou Hold Instagram Photo Contests — Arlington Public Library and Bayou Bakery restaurant (1515 N. Courthouse Road) are both holding photo contests aimed at smartphone users. Entrants to both contests are encouraged to enhance — and, in the case of Bayou, submit — their photos via Instagram, the photo sharing and special effect service recently acquired by Facebook. The library’s contest is entitled the “Steve Jobs Memorial Juried Cell Phone Photo Show,” while the Bayou contest is called “Bayou by You.” [Arlington Public Library, Bayou Bakery]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
International developer and construction company Skanska is working on the five story building at 1776 Wilson Blvd, which will contain both retail and office space.
To earn LEED certification, a developer must earn credits in six categories called Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design & Regionalization. The rating system has a total of 110 points, and 80 are necessary to receive platinum certification.
Some of the green features included in the new building are ultra-efficient plumbing fixtures that offer a 40 percent reduction in the typical amount of water used, and water efficient landscaping that doesn’t require a regular irrigation system. Solar panels will be part of the effort to reduce the building’s annual energy costs by 24 percent, and high performance glass will prevent heat gain in the building.
There will also be a green roof terrace on the fourth floor. The garage will feature preferred parking for fuel efficient vehicles, and will be outfitted with power outlets to accommodate electric cars.
The building is scheduled to be mostly completed by August, and the hope is that tenants can move in this fall. Already, the building is 50 percent pre-leased.
A plan to revamp part of Virginia Square has been approved by the Arlington County Board. The development is planned for the site that houses the old Arlington Funeral Home (3901 Fairfax Dr) building.
BDC Crimson LLC is the developer for the nine story mixed-use commercial building, which will include offices, ground floor retail and a 12,985 square foot black box theater. The theater will cost $3.7 million to build, and will be leased to the County for 30 years, at $1 per year. It will hold 150 people.
“This project brings us closer to realizing the community-crafted sector plan’s vision of Virginia Square as a center for arts, culture and education,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “The public plaza will enliven Virginia Square, and the Black Box Theater will add a significant cultural destination to this part of the Metro corridor.”
The County will collaborate with groups like the Arlington Commission for the Arts to devise a business plan for operating the theater. They’ll look at cost, use and operational alternatives for review by the County Manager in the preparation of future budgets.
The new plan also includes a 12,325 square foot public plaza along North Quincy Street. The County will hold a workshop so stakeholders and the public can give input on some components of the final plaza design, such as pattern and asphalt color.
The office building will have 250 parking spaces that will be available to the public on nights and weekends. Six additional spaces will be provided for retail customers and 17 for the theater. The developer will provide free four hour parking to theater patrons.
BDC Crimson LLC will seek LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and will contribute $1 million to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, plus $1 million to nearby Quincy Park or other open space improvements and park amenities. These contributions let the developer have nearly 70,000 square feet of additional space for the project.
This plan has been in the works in various forms since 2004, with some major revisions in 2007. Previously, the facility was designed to include residences and a new funeral home. The County Board voted unanimously to approve the current plan.
Earlier this year, all signs pointed to The Papery (2871 Clarendon Blvd) going out of business. The high-end Clarendon stationery store was perpetually low on stock, the entire inventory was 50 percent off, the landlord had the Papery’s space listed for lease and the store’s website was no longer functional.
Well, what a difference a couple of months make. The store was recently restocked and, as of this morning, its website is back up.
“We’re a family-owned business and for awhile we had a very, very rough period,” admitted Shana, a store manager. But the family has now recommitted to the store — the last of what were once five D.C.-area Papery stores.
“They all pulled together their resources and they’re going to make this store work,” Shana said. “We’ve been part of this community for a long time, and we intend to stay here.”
The Papery’s offerings include custom stationery, custom wedding invitations, business cards, baby announcements, greeting cards, paper goods and gifts.