Thanksgiving County Closures — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 26 & Friday, Nov. 27 for Thanksgiving. Courts will close Wednesday Nov. 26 at noon… Metered Parking: Not enforced on Thurs. Nov. 26 or Fri., Nov. 27.” [Arlington County]
Development Plan for Silver Diner Site — “The Donohoe Cos. is targeting Clarendon’s Silver Diner for a major redevelopment. The company has yet to file specific plans with Arlington County for the triangular parcel at 3200 Wilson Blvd., a block from the Clarendon Metro station, but it has outlined a mixed-use vision for the newly dubbed ‘Bingham Center’ on a project page on its website. Specifically, the developer envisions 286 apartments, a 224-room hotel, 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a public park and ‘a new public street designed with the principals of a woonerf (a curbless pedestrian-friendly street).'” [Washington Business Journal]
The End of Snow Days? — “Superintendent Francisco Durán of Arlington County Public Schools said that shifting classes online for snow days was a ‘possibility’ but that he doesn’t expect it to happen often.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Commission Calls for Renaming Powers — “The Arlington Transportation Commission is asking County Board members to seek legislative approval from Richmond to give the county government power to rename the highways and byways within its boundaries. Currently, some (though not all) Virginia cities have broad power on street and highway naming, but counties are much more restricted.” [InsideNova]
Last-Minute Thanksgiving Ideas — Updated at 8:35 a.m. — Here are a few local Thanksgiving options, including for takeout dinners, for those seeking last minute ideas. Check with the restaurant first to confirm they are still accepting orders or reservations. [Twitter, StayArlington]
Nearby: Flurry of Fs at Fairfax Schools — ” Stunning data for Fairfax County, VA’s largest school system, shows HUGE academic cost of online learning — Fs up by 83% this year. Vulnerable children struggling most: Fs for students w/ disabilities up by 111%, for English learners up by 106%.” [Washington Post, Twitter]
The project would, among other changes, widen the roadway to add dedicated turn lanes.
The application requests $25.1 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation‘s (VDOT) SMART SCALE funding program to make improvements to Route 50, also known as Arlington Blvd, where it runs between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.
This stretch of road, according to VDOT, had 247 crashes on it with 61 total injuries between 2014 and 2018.
“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT said in an April presentation. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”
Potential changes would come from recommendations made in a yearlong VDOT study of this area. These include adding new left-turn lanes and expanding current ones, as well as installing raised medians in certain high crash areas.
Constructing a new service road where Route 50 runs eastbound between Glebe and N. Jackson Street, and reconstructing a shared-use path in the section, were also recommended by VDOT.
The commission did pass a motion to recommend the County Board direct the County Manager to lay plans for a Route 50 corridor study between Roosevelt Bridge and Fairfax County.
Members voting against VDOT’s recommendation cited issues with the department’s study — including what they said was a limited scope, a failure to consider how changes would impact speed in this section of road, and a failure to account for more cars driving this road — as reasons for their vote.
Commissioner Darren Buck, the most outspoken critic of VDOT’s recommendations during the meeting, said the fact that VDOT’s study only looked at the area between Glebe and Fillmore and not Route 50 as a whole was among his greatest concerns about supporting the plan.
“I do not want to apply to fund this fundamentally flawed project to fill pressing local needs when a more comprehensive study of the corridor is pushed off indefinitely,” Buck said. “I do not think [the state should be] sinking $25 million into a spot improvement that basically determines how the rest of the corridor is going to look when we still haven’t addressed that long-standing open community question of how the rest of the corridor should look and operate.”
Commissioner Margarita Brose, as one of two commissioners voting for recommending the funding application, said the already high number of crashes in the section outweighed concerns over the project’s cost and a widening of the roadway.
“The safety concerns really weigh heavily on me,” Brose said. “I understand it’s a lot of money for a short period but we’ve seen the statistics on the number of cars that go through there and the crashes.”
VDOT said the study’s recommendations were primarily focused on improving the road’s safety.
“The safety aspect is one of the key things that led us to try and find a solution or a way to reduce those crashed,” VDOT said. “That’s one of the key motivating things that got us to start the study and to come up with the alternatives that we reviewed.”
Still, commission members questioned the actual safety added by VDOT’s recommendations.
“We are adding lanes for cars and making the highway more divided so that cars will go faster,” Commissioner Taylor Reich said. “As a result of this, I am unconvinced this project will improve safety, especially for pedestrians.”
VDOT said its plan leaves three through lanes in each direction on Route 50, which is similar to its current state. The road widening, she said, is to allow room for new left turn lanes.
If the County Board approves a SMART SCALE funding application, there is no guarantee the project would receive the money. VDOT describes SMART SCALE funding as highly competitive.
Images via Arlington County
Arlington prides itself on citizen participation in government, but public engagement is taking a backseat to practical necessity during the coronavirus crisis.
On Wednesday, members of Arlington’s galaxy of advisory commissions and boards were told that their meetings have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
“As you may know, we issued a continuity of operations ordinance that offers some flexibility for the County Board and other appointed bodies to meet virtually — but only for decisions directly related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other essential continuity of business matters,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in an email.
“While commissions and advisory boards do important work, it is not necessarily essential to the crisis in front of us, which is our key priority at this time; and which is the only kind of work legally covered under the ordinance we adopted,” she continued. “As of March 31, 2020, ALL Commission, advisory boards, workgroup and subcommittee meetings are cancelled until further notice. However, there may be a few exceptions that will require some additional review and approval prior to taking any actions.”
“The Arlington Way has been killed by COVID-19,” one tipster told ARLnow in response to the mass meeting cancellation.
Garvey’s email went on to outline how commission chairs can request in writing the scheduling of a virtual meeting for an item involving “business essential for addressing the coronavirus or the continuity of business operations for the County.”
The “continuity of business operations” includes “the adoption of the budget, the approval of tax rates and fees, and appropriations of funds necessary to keep government running,” Garvey clarified, in response to a series of questions from ARLnow.
Asked whether the temporary halt to commission meetings — including key bodies like the Planning Commission and Transportation Commission — will delay development approvals before the County Board, Garvey said it depends.
“The Board will assess pending applications to determine whether they should be considered or can be delayed,” she said. “If the proposals are considered, the public process for development proposals will occur to the extent possible and consideration by advisory commissions, such as the Planning Commission, will occur.
The County Board chair said that the county’s actions are consistent with an opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring two weeks ago, in response to concern from elected officials that they were unable to comply with both the governor’s order to limit public gatherings to 10 people or fewer — and freedom of information laws that require in-person meetings that are open to the public.
“The cancellations are primarily to protect the health of commission members, staff, and the public,” said Garvey. “Matters that can be delayed are being delayed. The AG’s guidance has been considered in determining whether important matters that cannot be delayed can be considered electronically.”
“We are all learning how much FOIA and other regulations were put in place at a time when no one contemplated 21st century technology or a pandemic,” Garvey wrote in her letter to commission members.
Thanks to some push from local advocates and the county’s Transportation Commission, a new mixed-use development at 1900 Crystal Drive could be required to include protected bike lanes on Crystal Drive, a long time sore spot for bicyclists in the area.
“It’s almost a hoax on bicycle riders to say there’s a bike lane here when as a practical matter there isn’t,” said Transportation Commissioner Jim Lantelme.
At the Transportation Commission meeting Thursday night, the Commission recommended that developer JBG Smith be required to turn the existing bicycle lanes into protected lanes while adding new protected bike lanes to 18th Street S.
“First the Commission recommended that the County Board require JBG Smith to build protected bike lanes on 18th Street either as part of their upcoming 1900 Crystal Drive development or as part of the already-approved Central District Retail development,” Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said in a press release. “Furthermore the Commission recommended that the County Board direct staff to study an appropriate cross-section for Crystal Drive that would safeguard those on bikes and scooters and, if schedules permit, incorporate the results of that study into the public space designs for 1900 Crystal Drive and any other unbuilt development approved along the Crystal Drive corridor.”
The last recommendation from the Transportation Commission was that the County and JBG develop a temporary southbound protected bike lane on Crystal Drive if the public process isn’t completed in time to be incorporated into the 1900 Crystal Drive plans.
County staff said in their report that making the lanes protected would require further traffic studies and analysis, with staff noting that a new bike lane would carve out part of the street and would have an impact on open space, traffic, or parking. That kind of impact would require a public process that would take additional time.
The developer said they hope to start construction at the end of March, with the streetscape being one of the last parts of the project to be completed.
“I worry there is the possibility we would not have a final decision-ready on Crystal Drive ready before this window closes,” Slatt said.
“There’s a lot of good, new information heard tonight,” said Gillian Burgess, chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Crystal Drive bike lanes are blocked so often that they’ve become the test case for new apps and data collection that seek to test how often bike lanes are blocked.”
With three site plans in the area, Burgess said the County has a rare opportunity to improve the conditions for cyclists and other road users there.
The 1900 Crystal Drive proposal is set to be discussed by the Planning Commission tonight (Monday).
Photo via Google Maps
A plan is currently in process to transform the Arlington Court Suites hotel into an apartment complex, but at a Transportation Commission meeting last week the project hit a small snag as commissioners unanimously agreed the project might have too much parking.
The plan would convert the 187 hotel rooms in the Arlington Court Suites into a 180-unit residential property called Park Arlington at Courthouse. The current plans do not call for any major demolition work and staff said the proposed residential units would likely be less expensive than new construction at the same site.
The applicant could maintain as hotel use, staff said, but this project would help meet the demand for mid-rise housing at a middle-income level.
While the project is only two blocks south of the Court House Metro station, the parking ratio would increase in the new plans. Currently, there are 153 parking spaces and the proposal would elevate that to 171 spaces. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. The plan also calls for 76 bicycle parking spaces.
Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement, who earlier in the meeting had expressed opposition both the Veitch Street redevelopment and the Missing Middle housing study, shared her general support for the Park Arlington project, with one main objection.
“I really do support this project,” Clement said. “This is right up my alley. It does not involve the demolition of an existing property… I’m very impressed with this project, but in one respect it is not consistent with County policy, and that is the parking ratio.”
In 2017, the county adopted a new policy that said the parking ratio should be reduced from one space per unit to as low as 0.2 spaces per unit in certain areas near Metro stations.
“I do believe this project would be more consistent with county policy if it reduced the number of parking spaces and what I’m particularly interested in is the surface parking. Has the developer considered replacing some or all of the surface parking with green space? This would be a benefit to the residents of this facility.”
Am I going crazy? Is Audrey Clement really asking a developer to build *less* parking??
— Stephen Repetski (@srepetsk) February 7, 2020
“It is a huge parking lot and the only way to get into the building is through the parking lot,” said Transportation Commission member Jim Lantelme. “It’s still way too auto-oriented… This parking lot is just enormous and it really doesn’t work for me. There’s nothing like this site anymore. If we’re going to have adaptive reuse, we have to adapt it to the current requirements.”
The agreement on the Transportation Commission took some of the members by surprise.
“I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I 100% agree with everything you just said,” said Transportation Commission member Richard Price. “I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Commissioner Clement hit it right on the head… All I see is ugly surface parking and I’m glad you’re going to address it. There are lots of sites that all you have to get the front entrance is walk through a parking lot. That is disturbing and that needs to change, and it needs to start changing now.”
Others said that along with the parking lot reduction, the sidewalk needs to be widened.
The developer said that an alternative plan could eliminate the surface parking, but more market research needs to be done. If the building winds up as condos, the developer said there would be a higher demand for parking. The developer noted that the widening the sidewalk on N. Courthouse Road, however, is complicated by things like utilities and a retaining wall.
Photo via Google Maps
Arlington County is currently working through a plan to add more options for housing through zoning changes, but there was disagreement during a recent Transportation Commission meeting over whether greater diversity of housing types will actually help with affordability.
Staff at the Transportation Commission noted that what’s being built these days are typically either condos and apartments or huge single-family homes. Townhouses and smaller, “starter” homes are more rare, resulting in a shrinking supply of housing accessible to young families.
“Neighborhoods are changing,” staff said. “Even without any intervention that will continue to change. New construction is either very large homes or smaller units in Metro corridors. Only 6% are three bedrooms or more, and that creates some tension as people seek to find housing for growing families.”
While affordable, mid-size units are in demand, the most lucrative options for developers are the higher-priced, luxury housing. Without some sort of intervention, staff said the neighborhoods will continue to become more expensive.
A framework for the Missing Middle Housing Study released in late December said the goals of the plan are:
- A shared definition for the term “missing middle housing” for Arlington
- A set of policy options to support preservation of existing Missing Middle housing stock and production of new Missing Middle housing types for County Board consideration
- Identification of additional considerations relating to the Comprehensive Plan and other County policies and practices to be further reviewed in support of the goals of this process
- The ability for new housing type alternatives to be built that meet Arlington’s definition of ‘missing middle housing”, offering greater affordability and design that is complementary and compatible with the scale and style of their intended neighborhoods
Part of that framework also dealt with “locational factors” for missing-middle housing.
“Building more housing… where people shop and work and have easy access to transit is one of the few things we can do in a small community to lessen our carbon impact,” said Transportation Commission member Chris Yarie. “Really drive the pedal down on that a lot, please.”
Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement was more wary of the plan, saying that it calls to increase types of housing but says nothing about affordability or equity. Instead, Clement echoed concerns of some in Arlington that the plan is an effort to quietly curtail single-family zoning.
“This is about the densification of the county and further gentrification of the county,” Clement said. “Given that is implied in the goals, to implement such a plan would require upzoning. Therefore it is disingenuous to say this is not about upzoning because that’s precisely what would be required to increase housing in residential neighborhoods.”
Clement pointed to the Veitch Street home to be replaced by several townhouses, discussed earlier in that same meeting.
“We’re really replacing every million-dollar home with up to seven million-dollar homes on residential lots,” Clement said. “That will serve the purpose of densifying the county, but it won’t provide more affordable housing and it’s a misnomer to call this a Missing Middle plan.”
Clement’s concerns are echoed by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a group “concerned about Arlington County’s accelerated population growth and density” and its effect on water infrastructure, schools and transportation systems.
Seven townhouses would fill the parcel of land at 1731 N. Veitch Street, each four-stories tall. The new townhouses aren’t part of the Colonial Village development but are considered part of the Colonial Village neighborhood.
The homes are planned to face north and south with a 26-foot setback from the street. In the rear of each building will be a rooftop deck, a balcony on the second floor, and a two-car garage connected to the existing Colonial Village parking lot.
The plans were reviewed last night (Thursday) by the Transportation Commission, where most of the dissent on the project stemmed not from transportation issues, but preservation.
While not typically in the purview of the Transportation Commission, Commissioner Audrey Clement raised concerns about the historic nature of the building being replaced. The staff report notes that the existing single-family farmhouse on the property was constructed a century ago.
“This is a historic property,” Clement said. “The [Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board] was not tasked to hear this item and I want to know why.”
A staff report said the development did go to the HALRB in June, but only as an informational item to receive feedback that led to some redesigns. While the property is surrounded by Colonial Village, which is designated as a historic district, the property itself is not marked as historic and feedback from the HALRB focused on keeping the design compatible with other nearby historic properties.
The townhouses were approved in an 8-1 vote by the Transportation Commission, with Clement voting against the project. The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Monday, Feb. 10, before being considered by the County Board.
Map via Google Maps
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Amazon plans to pay to completely revamp the “central park” next to its future HQ2, with a well-known designer at the helm.
The company and its architecture firm presented the latest plans for its permanent headquarters in Pentagon City to the Arlington Transportation Commission last night, ahead of an expected vote by the County Board on Dec. 14.
Amazon has offered to contribute a record $20 million to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, in exchange for being able to build the first half of its HQ2 bigger than otherwise would be permitted by zoning. The plans include two 22-story towers with a total of 2.15 million square feet of office and retail space.
Also of additional note is Amazon’s proposal for what is currently a modestly-sized and off-the-beaten-path park.
The second phase of HQ2 — the 500,000 square feet of temporary leased space in Crystal City is considered the first phase — would complete the “Metropolitan Park” development that includes four apartment buildings across from the Pentagon City Costco and along 12th Street S. Amazon is proposing to fund “a complete redevelopment of the park” in the middle of the buildings.
After expanding with an additional half acre of space from Amazon — not to mention a pair of new plazas totalling 20,000 square feet — the park will total more than 2 acres. But Amazon and Arlington County have grander plans for that space than the current park’s status as a defacto dog park for nearby apartment residents.
The county is expected to launch a master plan process for the park early next year, seeking community input on planned changes, according to Brian Earle, the lead architect of HQ2. Leading the design process will be James Corner Field Operations, the noted designer of New York City’s High Line.
Corner is “a real preeminent thinker about great urban space to help us realize the potential of that space,” Earle told the Transportation Commission.
Amazon will pay for the design, the public engagement process, the park construction and its maintenance, according to a draft site plan. The expected cost is $14 million, the Washington Business Journal reported.
Adjacent to the park and HQ2, meanwhile, portions of 14th Street and Elm Street are proposed to be flush with the sidewalk, making the streets, which will be open to traffic during business hours, more usable for events and other off-hours activities.
In front of HQ2, along S. Eads Street and extending to the Bartlett apartment building and Amazon-owned Whole Foods store, will be a “linear park.” The thin strip of parkland from 15th to 12th streets would include trees, string lights and cafe seating for the retail space at the base of Amazon’s towers.
The draft site plan describes “café seating associated with retail spaces, passive seating, public art, or programming” to “create open, flexible spaces for seating to encourage social activity” as part of the linear park.
New projects approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) could improve some bus offerings around Arlington.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted yesterday (Wednesday) to use nearly $20 million in toll revenue to fund commuter projects along I-66.
“We [will] fund 13 projects that will provide connections to places people want to go, add options for commuter and local bus riders, encourage ridesharing and make it easier to choose transit,” said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice in a press release. “The projects funded through I-66 Commuter Choice will save Northern Virginia commuters approximately 485,000 hours of travel delay each year and move over 3,000 additional people through the corridor during rush hour.”
Additional bus trips are funded for some of Arlington’s major commuter destinations:
- Metrobus 3Y: Lee Highway-Farragut Square — The $1 million project will increase the frequency of Metrobus 3Y, a peak-direction route that operates between the East Falls Church Metro and downtown D.C. via Lee Highway (I-66).
- OmniRide Express: Gainesville-Pentagon — The $4.7 million project will add three new buses and eight total trips to the route from Gainesville to the Pentagon. The route averages 300 riders daily, according to the project description, and connects riders to multiple Metro lines.
- OmniRide Express: Haymarket-Rosslyn — The $776,700 project would add a new express bus between Haymarket Park and Ride lot to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The lot was built in December and offers 230 parking spaces.
- New Bus: Stone Ridge-Pentagon — The $1.3 million project would fund a new bus line running from Stone Ridge II Park near Dulles to the Pentagon. The route will feature two morning and two evening peak-direction trips.
Five other bus routes enhanced or newly funded would pass from the outlying suburbs into D.C. along I-66.
The NVTC also agreed to spend $1.4 million to support I-66 marketing and outreach efforts of Arlington County Commuter Services — an agency that works to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand through programs like BikeArlington and The Commuter Store. The project will be continued for another three years.
“The approved projects for the FY 2020 Commuter Choice program provide connections to key destinations, address the needs of commuter and local bus riders and encourage commuters to use transit, carpools and vanpools,” the NVTC said in a report.
If the Avengers were a local enterprise, Chris Slatt would be the Guardian of the Arlington Transportation Galaxy.
Slatt serves as the Chair of the Transportation Commission and has a steel trap memory for county transportation projects — and the politicking behind why some never happened.
He’s weighted in on toll enforcement, infrastructure planning, and he’s organized everything from a protest for bicycle safety on the Pike to the cutest free library in Penrose with tools to fix your bike.
For this episode of the 26 Square Miles podcast, we sat down with Slatt to talk about why the Columbia Pike-Crystal City streetcar never took off, what Amazon means for local public transportation, and what it would really take to build safe bike routes across the county.
Photo via Jas Sanchez Photography