Arlington, VA

Amazon’s designs for a new headquarters need to do more to become true landmarks for the Pentagon City skyline, say members of an Arlington County planning committee.

At the first Site Plan Review Committee meeting for HQ2 last night (Monday), Amazon and ZGF Architects pitched the new 2.1 million square foot project in Pentagon City. The meeting, held in Shirlington, primarily focused on the design and architecture of the buildings, with other concerns about Amazon’s arrival saved for future meetings.

Amazon’s proposal involves the construction of two new office buildings at the corner of 15th Street S. and S. Eads Street — almost the perfect midway point between the Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations. The project is part of the first phase for Amazon’s permanent offices opening in Arlington.

Metropolitan Park Phases 6 and 7/8, as the project is dubbed in reports, consists of a pair of buildings with outward-facing retail and restaurants, and the Amazon headquarters portion of the building facing inwards towards a central park.

Brian Earle, the project architect with ZGF Architects, said the focus of the design was integrating the building into the neighborhood.

Design Evolution, Color Revolution

There are no rooftop signs planned for the project, and the exterior design is terracotta masonry and glass — an inoffensive design that will feel familiar to anyone who has seen the new Marymount buildings in Ballston or the Wharf in D.C., Amazon’s architects said.

The project drew the most praise where it stood out, and most of the criticism was focused on where the project seemed unambitious. Earle played up the modernist and art deco influences of other buildings on the block, like The Gramercy and The Bartlett, but to the untrained eye, they seem to have the same tan and dark glass facade.

“These are the tallest buildings in the area,” Planning Commissioner James Lantelme said. “It’s handsome, but I’m wondering if more can be done with the crown. Some buildings don’t have a formal crown but a distinctive top. This is just a continuation of the block going up. Is there anything that can be done to make it a centerpiece of this area?”

Committee members were mainly impressed with the polychrome glass planned for the building, with colors ranging from fuchsia to teal across the buildings.

“I’m always excited for colors,” said Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini. “It’s always been beige or grey. Rosslyn is a sea of grey and it’s just as bad as Ballston beige. I’m happy to see the terracotta as grey but a lot of polychrome.”

“People are getting tired of seeing the same beige building,” Lantelme agreed. “I’m hoping this is the start of a different design trend away from the beige. We may have an emergence of a colorful district.”

Retail Tensions

Plans for ground floor retail in the Amazon buildings was also a focus of some excitement — and concern. Brick and mortar retail is suffering, ironically in no small part due to the building’s primary tenant, and committee members expressed concern that the project could have too much ground-floor retail that it wouldn’t be able to fill.

Earle said the idea is to have a 50-50 split between restaurants and community-serving retail, like barber shops and pet stores, on the ground floor.

“One of Amazon’s strategies is they design the in-house food service [to serve] only 25 percent of the lunchtime traffic to encourage employees to go to other restaurants,” said Earle.

Commissioners also couldn’t resist little jabs at the Amazon-versus-retail tension, particularly the middling reception the company’s physical bookstores have gotten so far.

“A Busboys and Poets would be great there,” said Planning Commissioner Jane Siegel, “with their book store.”

The next meeting for the project is planned for September 23 at 7 p.m. in the Parks Operations Building (2700 S. Taylor Street).

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Plans for a new parking lot at the large “PenPlace” development in Pentagon City are shaping up to cause a bit of friction between county staff and the project’s developer.

JBG Smith is hoping to build a temporary, 204-space retail parking lot adjacent to the development, located on a nine-acre plot of land along S. Fern Street and just off Army Navy Drive. But Arlington officials would much rather see the developer construct a lot roughly a quarter of that size, over fears that so much parking would contribute to a car-dependent culture in the area.

The real estate firm argues that the parking is necessary to meet demands of the up to 50,000 square feet of retailers who will someday occupy the development, noting that the lot will only be a temporary necessity. Yet county staff have repeatedly insisted on changes, marking another dust-up over the development after officials previously expressed skepticism about JBG’s desire to significantly scale back the size of some buildings planned for the site.

The County Board approved the project back in 2013, when it was proposed by Vornado before the company spun off its D.C. holdings in a merger to form JBG Smith. Original plans called for three office buildings between 20 and 22 stories tall, an 18-story, 300-room hotel and a 300-unit apartment building between 16 and 18 stories tall.

JBG decided earlier this year to spread the residential space among two seven-story buildings instead, shifting the hotel rooms to some of the other buildings on the site, which prompted a new round of county scrutiny of the project.

Documents prepared for the project’s Site Plan Review Committee over the last few months show that county staff remain concerned about the reduced density on the site, citing the “dramatically lower heights and scale” of the seven-story buildings as especially problematic given their potential to house people close to the Pentagon City Metro station. Arlington planners previously called it “highly unusual” that a developer would seek to build something less dense than originally approved, though JBG executives have said the change was meant to “improve the pedestrian experience in the area.”

The newest debate centers around the parking lot proposed for a new segment of 11th Street S., which would sit behind two of the buildings to be built along S. Eads Street.

JBG argues that its plans for copious new retail in the area make the new lot essential, at least until another 1,600 parking spaces become available as the developer builds garages alongside the office buildings it has planned for the area.

“In addition, the applicant has claimed that a larger amount of parking is necessary due to the type of retailers being sought,” county staff wrote in a July 23 SPRC report on PenPlace. A JBG executive did not respond to a request for comment on the exact nature of the developer’s plans.

But to add so much parking for the new buildings, JBG needs an exception from the county’s zoning ordinance, which only lets developers construct one space for every 1,000 square feet of retail space. JBG’s proposal, by contrast, works out to about one space for every 196 square feet.

That’s a problem for county officials, who believe the parking lot “encourages auto traffic to the site, and proliferates surface parking.”

JBG has offered to shrink the size of the lot slightly, adding a 10,000-square-foot temporary dog park to cut the number of spaces to 180. Arlington planners wrote in the July 23 report that such an offer is an “improvement,” but lament that the change “does not address comments from staff regarding confining parking lots to future building footprints.”

So far, the SPRC has met four times to discuss the PenPlace plans, but does not yet have another meeting scheduled to hash out this dispute. Plans will ultimately need to go to the Planning Commission and then the County Board for final approval.

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A new residential redevelopment is coming to Rosslyn, but it’s not without a measure of controversy.

Reston-based developer NVR, Inc., the parent company of homebuilder Ryan Homes, is proposing a townhouse and condominium development at 1411 Key Blvd. The proposal was heard by Arlington’s Site Plan Review Committee last night, and is expected to be heard by the Planning Commission next month.

NVR is proposing a total of 63 dwelling units in a six-story, 66-foot-tall building with 64 parking spaces. The developer is asking Arlington County for a change from “Low-Medium” to “Medium” residential zoning in the General Land Use plan in order to accomplish that. In return, NVR is promising LEED Silver sustainability certification and on-site affordable housing.

Located 2-3 blocks away from the Rosslyn Metro station, the new development would replace an aging but affordable building: the Metro Rosslyn Apartments.

Residents of the building were notified via a letter dated Oct. 1 that the building is being sold and they must vacate by Jan. 31, 2016. However, a sign placed on the door of the building says that the notice, which called the forced move an “inconvenience” and did not offer moving assistance, is being reviewed by Arlington’s Tenant Landlord Commission.

“All tenants are entitled to relocation assistance: monetary compensation and assistance in finding a new apartment,” the sign says. “The 120-day notice may be rescinded (recalled) by law.”

A second, smaller apartment building is also slated to be demolished to make room for the new development.

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Kimco Realty has released the renderings of its plan for Phase I of the redevelopment of the Pentagon Centre mall.

The real estate company will present the renderings to the Site Plan Review Committee tonight as it tries to amend its approved site plan. Its initial plans for the 16.8-acre site that includes the Costco, Best Buy and Nordstrom Rack in Pentagon City were approved in 2008, but those called for constructing the six-structure complex’s office buildings first.

Because of the realities of Arlington’s stagnant office market, Kimco now wants to build residential first, including a 25-story apartment tower at the corner of 12th Street S. and S. Hayes Street. That tower would be steps from the Pentagon City Metro entrance and would include ground floor retail.

Also in Phase I would be two buildings along 15th Street S.: a 10-story residential building with ground floor retail at the corner of S. Hayes Street, and a seven-story parking garage next to a new S. Grant Street, which would alleviate the loss of parking spots in the Costco’s surface lot.

The two residential buildings would give the area an influx of 703 residential units, and the parking garage would supply the area with 394 spots.

Phases II and III of the redevelopment — planned for 20 and 40 years after Phase I — have not been rendered. If approved, those phases of the redevelopment will see the demolition of the main mall building and the Costco, replacing it with three office buildings, a hotel and a park along S. Fern Street.

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Rendering of the new, proposed Berkeley Apartments(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) AHC has proposed replacing The Berkeley apartments (2910 S. Glebe Road) in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood with a new housing development on the site.

The proposal requests approval of a site plan for two new five-story apartment buildings with 287 units and 264 parking spaces. There would be 171 units designated as affordable to households earning less than 60% of the area median income.

Currently, The Berkeley has 110 affordable units out of 137 total units. The two four-story buildings built in 1961 would be demolished under the proposal.

County staff members are reviewing the site plan application and hope to begin the public review process soon. The first Site Plan Review Committee meeting for this proposal is scheduled for Thursday, November 21.

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The Springs Ballston renderingA proposed affordable housing development near Ballston will go before the county’s Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) tonight.

As announced in August, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) plans to replace the existing 3-story Carlyn Springs apartment complex with a new 5-story complex dubbed “The Springs” at 4318 N. Carlin Springs Road. Part of the building’s first floor would house offices for APAH’s headquarters. The offices would have an entrance on N. Carlin Springs Road, separate from the residential lobby and community room entrance on N. Thomas Street.

The proposed building would be 5-stories tall, offering a transition from other high-rises in Ballston to nearby low-rise residences. It would consist of 104 units.

The development would have two levels of underground parking, accessible from N. Thomas Street. The developer is requesting 104 spaces for residential use and seven for office use. Although 10 office spaces are required, special permission for a reduced number has been requested. The developer contends that the spaces will be shared between residents and office workers, so office workers will be able to use open spaces during the day while residents are at work.

Currently, sidewalks surrounding the property measure four to five feet wide, with a two to three foot treeless green strip. The development plan recommends expanding the sidewalks to 11-13 feet wide, with adjacent tree pits.

One issue the SPRC hopes to work through is the 26 foot setback area at the south side of the building, which is proposed to be a recreation area and play space for residents. The developer wishes to locate an above ground transformer at this location. County staff suggests moving the transformer vault inside the building or underground in the parking garage.

Although it may come up at future SPRC meetings instead of at tonight’s, county staff is expected to further discuss construction of a pedestrian/bike path to break up the “superblock” at this site. The path would also provide access to a park proposed for the area.

The developer has proposed building ground level apartment units, and county staff has encouraged the developer to consider stoops and street entrances for these units. That would give residents direct access to the proposed pedestrian/bike path, should the path be built.

Tonight will be the second time The Springs has been addressed at an SPRC meeting. There’s no word so far on exactly when the $35 million redevelopment proposal will be ready to go before the County Board.

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"Blue Goose" building in Ballston (photo courtesy Preservation Arlington) (Updated at 12:05 p.m.) A proposal for redeveloping Marymount University’s “Blue Goose” building in Ballston will go before the county’s Site Plan Review Committee tonight.

The proposal involves tearing down the existing 8-story building and replacing it with two new buildings. One would be a 9-story office and educational building, and the other would be a 15-story multi-family residence.

The L-shaped residential building would sit at the north end of the site, and would include 267 units. The ground floor would house about 3,000 square feet of retail space along Glebe Road. A landscaped plaza with specialty paving, lighting and planters would separate that building goose planfrom the office/educational building at the south end of the site, at the corner of N. Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive. The plaza plan includes outdoor seating for the retail and food vendors. A wall would separate the outdoor retail area from the ground floor residential area.

Both buildings would sit on top of a 3-level underground parking structure, which would include 265 residential spaces. Currently, the Blue Goose has 202 surface parking spaces with an entrance along Glebe Road. The plan for the underground structure involves moving the parking entrance to the lesser traveled N. Wakefield Street.

Rendering of proposed development on "Blue Goose" siteThe redevelopment proposal would keep the street lane configurations the same on Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive, but expand the width of the sidewalks. The developer would also provide a cycle track adjacent to the Fairfax Drive frontage. County staff will look at how best to improve bicycle and trail access with the wider streetscape.

In response to comments about the historic preservation of the existing Blue Goose structure (built in 1962) — which recently made Preservation Arlington’s “Most Endangered Historic Places” list — the developer has agreed to include blue panels on the ground floor retail space’s building facade and on part of the interior.

So far, it’s unclear if this will be the last time the Site Plan Review Committee addresses the Blue Goose development, or if more tweaks to the design are anticipated at future meetings. Once the committee feels a consensus has been reached on any outstanding issues, the project will move on to the Planning Commission, and then on to the County Board for final approval.

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The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is planning a 50,000 square foot expansion that will add new street-facing retail space to the front of the mall.

The plan is being presented to Arlington’s Site Plan Review Committee tonight (Wednesday). The meeting is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.)

The expansion would eliminate some of the driveway in front of the mall, facing S. Hayes Street, and replace it with a two-level addition featuring 46,000 square feet of lease-able space for 5-7 tenants. In a presentation, mall owner Simon Property Group says it plans to market the outward-facing retail bays to “fashion retail, fast casual dining and restaurants.”

As proposed, the facade of the addition will be largely curved, featuring glass, tapered metal panels and limestone. Along the outside of the curved portion of the addition will be outdoor cafe-style seating.

No word yet on when the site plan amendment required for the project to proceed will reach the Arlington County Board for consideration.

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Rendering of Vornado's planned Metropolitan Park apartment buildingThe site plan for a new apartment building in Pentagon City with a Whole Foods grocery store on the first level will go before the County Board for approval on Saturday.

The proposal involves Metropolitan Park Phase 4/5 at 1200 S. Eads Street. Developer Vornado wishes to combine Phases 4 and 5 to make one building, the fourth in the Metropolitan Park development. Phases 1 and 2 of the project focused on building The Gramercy at Metropolitan Park and The Millennium at Metropolitan Park, which are both currently occupied. Phase 3 is for The Acadia at Metropolitan Park, which is under construction. Planning for the overall project has been in the works for about a decade.

The 22-story new building would contain nearly 700 residential units and would have more than 40,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. Almost 37,000 of the retail space would be taken up by a Whole Foods. The plan includes a four level, 885 space underground parking structure that will likely have one floor reserved exclusively for use by the grocery store.

In addition to site plan approval, the Board will consider an amendment to the 1976 Pentagon City Phased Development Site Plan to permit the proposed building height. An amendment to the Master Transportation Plan has also been requested to allow the removal of a portion of a previously planned new street — 12th Road S. — from the proposal.

The Planning Commission’s Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) discussed Metropolitan Park Phase 4/5 at six meetings from November 2012 through April of this year. Members discussed numerous aspects of the development that could be cause for concern like building height, building density, streetscape improvements and grocery store operations. No major issues were identified in the final site plan that would prevent approval of the project.

Last week, members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously (11-0) in favor of the proposal. Similarly, the Transportation Commission unanimously (7-0) approved the final site plan proposal and amendment to the Master Transportation Plan at its meeting on June 27.

Staff recommends the County Board follows the lead of the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission by approving the proposal.

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New site plan for Pierce Queen ApartmentsApproval for a high rise development in the Ft. Myer Heights neighborhood has been put on hold until the County Board receives more information about the plan.

Bozzuto Development Company had submitted a proposal for a large scale project in the 1600 block of N. 16th Street. It would involve redeveloping the five buildings that make up Pierce Queen Apartments; three of the buildings would be razed and replaced with a new 12-story apartment tower, and the other two buildings would be preserved and renovated. In total, the buildings would house more than 190 units.

The county’s Site Plan Review Committee raised several issues with the proposal during a January meeting. Problem areas included the proposed building bulk, lack of open space, above-grade parking, proposed locations of electrical switchboxes and the lack of a public art contribution. Additionally, concerns arose regarding the applicant’s request for Affordable Housing Investment Funds (AHIF) for the 76 affordable units and the anticipated request for competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).

Earlier this month, the developer submitted a revised proposal that addressed a number of the issues. The developer has agreed to measures such as installing public art, eliminating above-grade parking and re-designing an interior courtyard. However, the AHIF concerns remain a sticking point.

The staff report says the developer didn’t propose a potential Tenant Assistance Fund and no affordability commitment period had been submitted. Staff also reported that no official AHIF application had been received, but the developer is seeking a county investment ranging from $6 million to $9.5 million. The developer had presented a plan indicating each market unit would cost $365,000 to develop and the affordable units would each cost $455,000 to develop. That exceeds the VHDA development cost limit of $350,000 per unit, although sometimes exceptions can be made. Concerns also exist in the way the developer plans to repay the AHIF and the time frame for doing so.

Existing Pierce Queen ApartmentsCounty staff recommended deferring the issue until May but the Board voted unanimously to defer until March 11. That date was chosen in an attempt to approve the plan before the March 15 tax credit application deadline. Board members mentioned the unusual circumstances, but stressed that there’s no guarantee the plan would receive approval in time. The applicant still must prove that all contingencies have been adequately met.

“If this is going to work it’s going to have to be all hands on deck working really hard,” said Board member Jay Fisette. “I hope we can get there.”

Although there’s a push to get the proposal handled quickly, Board member Mary Hynes highlighted the need to still be thorough. Because the process has been so rushed to meet the deadline, she said everyone from Board members to county staff working on the matter are still fuzzy on how the specifics will work out. Board members aren’t interested in moving forward, regardless of tax credit deadlines, if the plan isn’t solid.

“We don’t have a clear understanding of how all the bits and pieces are going to fit together. It’s important for us on the Board that our staff is confident,” said Hynes. “Doing affordable housing in new construction is expensive. And doing it on the Metro is even more expensive. We have to do a lot of due diligence around this to make sure the taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollars. I think we need to give this enough time to be sure.”

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Rendering of the future Pierce Queen Apartments 

Three aging, affordable garden apartment buildings will be replaced with a new, 12-story residential tower as part of a planned mixed-income development in the Rador-Ft. Myer Heights neighborhood.

Wesley Housing Development Corporation is partnering with Bozzuto to redevelop the five-building, 50-unit Pierce Queen Apartments, built in 1942 and located on the 1600 block of 16th Street N. The developers have proposed to tear down three of the buildings in order to build a new 186-unit apartment tower, while renovating the remaining two garden apartment buildings.

Each of the five existing buildings have been deemed historically “important” in Arlington County’s Historic Resources Inventory.

All told, the finished project would have 198 apartment units, 40 percent of which will be reserved as committed affordable housing, plus 207 off-street parking spaces.

As reported by the Arlington Mercury, however, the county’s Site Plan Review Committee expressed reservations about the project at a meeting on Monday.

SPRC members questioned various aspects of the project’s design and one member said flatly that he was “not comfortable” with the overall design. Members also questioned whether parking fees for market-rate apartments (parking will be free for affordable apartment residents) would send cars onto neighborhood streets seeking free parking.

The project’s McLean-based architect countered that his firm followed the county’s sector plan for the area “almost to the exact T,” the Mercury reported.

The county’s Planning Commission is currently expected to take up the Pierce Queen development in January, with a County Board vote expected in “early 2013.”

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