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After Earning Key County Approval, VHC Leaders See Plenty of Work Left on Expansion Plans

The Virginia Hospital Center might’ve finally won the county’s approval on designs for a hefty new expansion of its North Arlington campus, but officials have months of work left to do before neighbors will start seeing any construction in the area.

Years from now, the hospital will add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage to its property at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, after the County Board narrowly approved plans for the $250 million project on Tuesday. The expansion will ultimately help the county’s lone hospital add 101 new beds, in a bid to match rising demand in the area.

But VHC officials say they won’t be able to put shovels in the ground just yet. First, they need to complete a land swap with the county to make the expansion possible.

Arlington officials and the VHC agreed last year that the county would send the hospital a property adjacent to its campus at 1800 N. Edison Street in exchange for one at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road. However, the swap was contingent on the Board signing off on the expansion plans in the first place.

Community concerns over the project’s design meant that the Board repeatedly delayed its consideration of the VHC proposal, but with that green light finally given, hospital executives will now turn to finalizing the terms of the land swap. Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says that process will wrap up around next “May or June” at the latest, teeing up construction to start soon afterward.

“It’s been a good three years we’ve been involved in this process, so absolutely it was a sigh of relief when we got the approval,” Stanton told ARLnow. “We wanted to be in front of the Board back in May because we need the beds today… and there a lot of specifics involved, and a lot left to happen.”

Some of the process of sorting out the details of the land swap agreement are fairly mundane, like basic site inspections. Others are a bit more fraught — for instance, the county and the hospital will have to agree on the Edison Road property’s value.

The terms of the agreement call for the hospital to pay either $12.56 million or the property’s appraised value to acquire the site — it all depends on which amount is larger. County records show the property was valued at about $8.9 million this year. By contrast, the S. Carlin Springs Road land the hospital will send to the county was valued at $38.8 million.

Stanton says that the process of hashing out the land swap could wrap up more quickly than they’re expecting, but the hospital is tentatively planning on kicking off construction by “somewhere around June or July 2019” in his most conservative estimate of the timeframe.

Once that happens, Stanton says the hospital will likely need another approval from state regulators before it can wrap up the construction. VHC previously earned a “Certificate of Public Need” from the Virginia Department of Health, certifying that enough demand exists in the area to add more beds to the facility.

The catch is that state officials only allowed VHC to add 44 beds, rather than the full 101 it’s planning. Stanton says that’s because the state only examines demand in five-year increments, while the hospital is projecting a need for 101 beds by looking at a 10-year timetable.

“We agreed to that smaller number with the acknowledgement that we will be back asking for more,” Stanton said. “Our intent is to be able to get the additional beds we feel we need, and do that before construction is complete.”

As for the construction timeline, Stanton says the hospital’s “guesstimate” is that the new garage will be open by the first few months of 2021. Then, he hopes the new outpatient facility will be ready by the second quarter of 2022.

Once that new “pavilion” is ready, the hospital will begin moving its existing outpatient equipment over to the new facility, opening up space for the 101 new beds. However, Stanton cautions that process will require some complicated renovation work, so it’s difficult to know when it will be ready.

“It shouldn’t take as long [as the new construction], but we’ll be doing construction in the existing patient tower,” Stanton said. “It’s not as easy a construction project because we’re working around our existing operations. So it’s by no means easy.”

Looking even further down the line, hospital leaders eventually hope that this expansion will lay the groundwork for the full redevelopment of the campus. However, Stanton’s “best guess” is that work on that process won’t start for at least 15 years or so.

Stanton hopes that hospital officials can use that time to rebuild trust with the surrounding community.

The expansion’s design process became an acrimonious one at times, with neighbors accusing the hospital of ignoring their concerns or even walling off the surrounding community with its new facilities. And Stanton admits to no small amount of frustration that the process turned so contentious.

He argues that the hospital’s initial outreach to the community was “largely positive,” before the county’s formal site plan review process got started. He believes that VHC officials managed to build plenty of consensus around the project, back when neighbors formed their own ad hoc committee to work with the hospital.

“I thought we had a very strong connection with those communities,” Stanton said. “It doesn’t mean were always in agreement, but we felt we, and the County Board, were getting positive reviews from the community about conversations with the hospital. But that seemed to change when we went through formal process with the county, which was really frustrating to me.”

Accordingly, Stanton is pledging “continual communication” between the hospital and its neighbors, to try and recapture the spirit of those early days of planning the expansion, leading to much more harmonious community conversations around any future redevelopment.

“I would only hope that relationship and communication can be just as good, if not better, than before we started this process,” Stanton said.

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Despite Persistent Design Complaints, County Board Approves Virginia Hospital Center Expansion

The Arlington County Board narrowly approved the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans yesterday (Tuesday), clearing the way for the $250 million project to move ahead despite persistent concerns over its design and impact on the community.

In a rare 3-2 vote, the Board signed off on designs for the county’s lone hospital to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The additions will help the hospital add another 101 beds to its existing building, a move that VHC officials argued was urgently necessary to meet rising demand in the area. The Board will now send the hospital a piece of county-owned land on N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a some hospital property on S. Carlin Springs Road in exchange.

“We are grateful to have constructively worked with community members to reach a positive solution, and we are committed to remaining good neighbors in the Arlington community,” Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, wrote in a statement. “For 75 years, Virginia Hospital Center’s mission has been to act in the best interest of our patients. We continue to be thankful for our Board, physicians, staff and auxiliary members who are ready to serve for the next 75 years.”

The Board was previously set to approve the expansion plans in September, but opted for a delay instead to give the hospital a chance to tweak its designs a bit. A narrow majority of the Board felt that VHC’s planners managed to meet those standards over the last two months, while Board members Erik Gutshall and John Vihstadt argued that the hospital failed to meet the specific requests the Board previously laid out for design changes.

Others on the Board expressed similar concerns, but none of the other three members were willing join Gutshall and Vihstadt in delaying the project once more.

“I certainly remain troubled to not be able to fully achieve what we envisioned a couple of months ago,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “It’s better today than it was two months ago… We’re at a much better place where this facility interacts with the neighborhood in a way that is going to be a lot more respectful and pleasing for people who will choose to live there for decades to come.”

The Board had also urged VHC executives to do more outreach in the community and ease concerns about everything from traffic to the size of the new facilities. The hospital held several community meetings with nearby civic associations and other neighbors since the Board’s last vote, but the Board still expressed plenty of concern that the hospital didn’t do enough to fully engage the community.

“I’m really feeling frustrated and undernourished here,” Vihstadt said. “Too often, it was a matter of ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, we invite your comments, we invite your critique,’ not, ‘Here’s option A, here’s option B, what do you think works best?'”

But some Board members had specific critiques of the design as well. Those primarily centered on a pedestrian walkway running from north-south through the site, starting at 19th Street N. and running toward 16th Street N., and the traffic pattern on N. George Mason Drive as it runs alongside the hospital.

The Board’s September motion specifically requested that the north-south walkway be at least 15 feet wide and two stories in height, in order to create a better flow of both pedestrians and light throughout the campus. Yet the revised design presented a path that wasn’t quite that wide, and had a pedestrian bridge running over top of it along one section to restrict the open air standard the Board laid out.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it really meets the gist and the intent of our motion,” Gutshall said.

Nan Walsh, an attorney for the hospital, argued that VHC’s architects did the best they could to meet the Board’s standards, but ran into a series of intractable problems.

Widening the pathway, for instance, could’ve forced the hospital to move its parking garage too close to neighboring homes, or forced the hospital to cut more than 200 spaces from the structure, Walsh said. The latter option was particularly unpalatable for VHC, as it had already removed hundreds of spaces to meet the concerns of transit advocates.

“We have sharpened our pencils for the last two weeks and we really feel we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” Walsh said.

County planner Matthew Ladd did reassure the Board that the walkway struck him as a “major improvement” over the hospital’s original design, and most members were inclined to agree.

“This is breaking up what felt like a superblock and creating a sense of flow of light and air between the two buildings,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I know this leaves disappointment on the part of some of the neighbors… but I did not enter this phase with a lot of optimism that there will be peace in the land.”

Gutshall initially looked for a one-month deferral of the project, as the Board had originally planned to take up the new designs in December — the hospital, backed by its allies in the business community, pressed for the earlier consideration. Vihstadt was inclined to support him, dubbing the new plans “too much of a suburban campus, a suburban design.”

Yet Gutshall couldn’t find a third vote for the delay, and he relented. But he did warn the hospital that, as it considers the full redevelopment of its campus in the coming years now that this expansion has been approved, there may be more painful meetings in its future if it doesn’t change its approach.

“You continually throughout this process pushed the envelope every step of the way…but ultimately I think there’s a cost extracted for that,” Gutshall said. “And I’d strongly encourage you to look at what are the things that you can do to build a stronger relationship with the surrounding community to begin to lay the groundwork for the next time you come back for whatever the next phase of this is going to be.”

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With Design Tweaks Made, Virginia Hospital Center Expansion Could Move Ahead This Week

Virginia Hospital Center executives believe they’ve satisfied all the demands of Arlington officials in drawing up revised plans for the facility’s $250 million expansion, setting the stage for the project to move ahead as soon as this week.

The County Board is set to consider the matter once again tomorrow (Tuesday), after delaying a decision on the hospital’s expansion back in September. The Board laid out a series of specific changes it hoped to see from the hospital as it embarks on the project, which is designed to add 101 hospital beds and a new outpatient facility to match rising demand in the county, and urged VHC leaders to smooth over its rocky relationship with some people living near the existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive.

The Board initially envisioned taking up the matter next month, but VHC leaders were enthusiastic enough about their progress that they pushed for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting instead.

Adrian Stanton, the hospital’s vice president for business development and community relations, says VHC officials have spent last few months convening “a series of public meetings with community members, as well as with neighborhood civic associations adjacent to the hospital,” to craft new designs for the expansion, leading to his renewed optimism for the project’s prospects.

“These discussions have been open, honest, and productive,” Stanton wrote in a statement. “As a result of this progress, we asked to present a revised plan to the Board during its scheduled Nov. 27 meeting. We are grateful that we have been granted that opportunity, and remain hopeful that we will be presenting a plan that is acceptable to all parties involved.”

The chief concern of the hospital’s neighborhoods, county planners and Board members alike is how the VHC’s new buildings will fit into the community. The hospital is hoping to add a 230,000-square-foot, seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage, and critics of the original design worried those additions would effectively wall off the hospital from the single-family homes surrounding it.

Accordingly, the Board’s requests for changes centered around improving the facade of the garage and adding more pedestrian connections to (and through) the site, to make it feel more accessible. And, per details laid out in a new report prepared by county staff, the hospital seems to have made all the tweaks the Board was envisioning.

For the new parking garage, the hospital now plans to add “vertical mesh screens” and vary its “brick colors and pattern to provide visual interest,” the report says. The hospital also will eliminate one of the garage’s entrances from along a service road running horizontally through the property, and relocate a sidewalk to the south side of that road to provide a more accessible “east-west” connection through the site.

VHC officials also hope to provide a better north-south pedestrian walkway through the property, creating a corridor that runs from 19th Street N. to connect to both the garage and the new outpatient building. In tandem with that change, the hospital proposes “rounding the corner of the outpatient building to improve sight lines for pedestrians and to soften the edge of the building” so that there’s “no longer a continuous line of buildings for the entire length of 19th Street N.,” staff wrote.

According to the report, representatives with the John M. Langston Citizens Association initially expressed some concern that the walkway revisions still weren’t quite what the Board had requested, but the hospital altered its plans slightly to meet those worries.

Additionally, the hospital will add other features neighbors requested over the last few months of meetings, including new pedestrian safety devices like a rapid flashing beacon at the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and 19th Street N.

All of the hospital’s proposed changes will slightly reduce the capacity of the new parking garage, however, after it already agreed to a hefty cutback in spaces in a bid to ease the concerns of transit advocates. In all, the garage is set to see a reduction about 46 spaces if the Board signs off on these changes, for a total of about 1,694 spaces.

While the design changes may well meet the Board’s standards, they’re unlikely to satisfy all the hospital’s critics. Many neighbors remain concerned about the height of the new buildings, and county planners have urged the Board to require the hospital to adhere to a more robust long-range planning process — the hospital is planning a full redevelopment of its campus in the long term, but can only kick off those plans once it executes this expansion.

The Board will get a chance to have its final say on the matter Tuesday — the public hearing on the issue is closed, setting the stage for an up-or-down vote. Should the Board approve the plans, at long last, the county will sign over a parcel of land along N. Edison Street to power the expansion, and receive a coveted property on S. Carlin Springs Road from the hospital.

The Board will also review a $500,000 grant to set up a new pilot program and expand mental health services at the hospital. The program would empower a new specialist to divert kids and teens arriving at the hospital with behavioral health issues into treatment programs, in order to prevent them from experiencing more serious problems in the future or getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

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Virginia Hospital Center Expansion Set For Some Changes, But Remains Primed to Advance

The Virginia Hospital Center will need to wait a bit longer to kick off its coveted expansion project, but Arlington officials are largely optimistic that they’ve charted out a path to help the county’s lone hospital meet some community concerns and ultimately win approval.

VHC, and the county’s business community, pressed hard to earn a green light from the County Board this weekend, in order to start work on a $250 million expansion the hospital says it desperately needs to manage demand. But the Board chose to follow the recommendation of its planners instead, and push back a final vote on the project until December.

Rather than ordering any substantial reworking of the project’s design, however, the Board asked that the hospital make some more modest changes to its plans.

While those alterations may not address each and every concern raised by people living nearby, who argue that the two new structures the hospital wants to build are hopelessly out of step with the surrounding community, county leaders hope they strike the right balance between addressing neighborhood worries and providing VHC with reasonable goals to meet.

“We didn’t want to kick this back to everybody to noodle over for the next three months,” Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “We wanted to be clear about the targets the hospital needs to hit to reach approval… I do this think it’s likely that they meet these criteria. We tried to take the judgement calls out of it.”

Those new requests of VHC include a requirement to add better connections throughout the site of the expansion, in a lot on N. Edison Street immediately adjacent to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. As Cristol puts it, she wants to see less of a “superblock,” particularly after planners and neighbors balked at the potential of the proposed seven-story parking garage and 10-story outpatient facility to effectively wall off the hospital from single-family homes in the neighborhood.

The Board also wants to see the hospital spruce up the facade of the garage itself to help it better fit in to the community, and create a pedestrian connection between 19th Street N. and one of the expansion’s proposed terraces.

All of those requests seem reasonable enough to Adrian Stanton, VHC’s vice president of business development and community affairs. He told ARLnow that the hospital is, of course, “disappointed” by the Board’s decision to delay the proceedings, but largely optimistic about the project’s prospects.

“We’re very confident that we can work collaboratively with the county and community to iron out these remaining issues,” Stanton said. “I truly believe we will, and that’s where we appreciate the Board being very specific.”

But the Board’s requests won’t fundamentally impact a chief concern of many people living near the hospital: the size of the new buildings.

The county’s Planning Commission urged the Board to force VHC to move the largest structures closer to the center of the site, in order reduce their impact on the community. Neighbors similarly hoped for larger setbacks or other measures to help the structures better blend into the area, but felt those requests went ignored.

“None of these hopes were realized,” Suzanne Nirschl-Brown, head of the nearby Taratown Homeowners Association, told the Board Saturday. “We’re the ones with the towering structures close to our homes.”

However, Stanton noted that the hospital is fundamentally “landlocked” by those single-family homes and will need to build large structures to make any expansion happen. Cristol added that VHC did also reduce the size of its garage, simultaneously shrinking the structure and satisfying the demands of transit advocates concerned that offering so many parking spaces would encourage employees to drive to the hospital.

Planners are also concerned that the hospital still hasn’t done enough to lay out what its future construction on the site might look like. Once it can complete the expansion, the hospital hopes to overhaul its existing campus over the coming decades — the Planning Commission called for VHC to go through a different process known as a “phased development site plan” to help the county better scrutinize those long-range plans.

Yet Stanton says that the constantly changing nature of the healthcare industry would’ve made it difficult to predict exactly what sort of facilities the hospital will need to build so far in the future. He added that VHC also fully plans to go through the PDSP process when it proposes any design for a future overhaul of its campus, which he doesn’t expect to happen for the next 10 to 15 years.

The Board agreed to that condition, even if it doesn’t quite meet the demands of planners.

“That’s akin to closing the barn door after the horse is gone,” Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini said Saturday. “One of the most important things a PDSP does is make the edge of a site match its context.”

Still, Stanton pledged to work closely with the community over both the next three months and the coming years on all manner of designs. Cristol and her fellow Board members agreed that was well warranted, given the hours of public comment they heard Saturday.

Cristol pointed out that tensions between VHC and its neighbors “go back decades.” One resident of the nearby Halls Hill neighborhood, Tia Alfred, compared the hospital’s design to the infamous “wall” used to separate the historically black community from its white neighbors decades ago.

To some Board members, such recriminations suggested that a lot more community engagement is needed on VHC’s part.

“If only VHC would treat their neighbors the way they treat their patients,” Board member Libby Garvey said Saturday. “I really hope this is one of the first steps between a repaired relationship between the hospital and the neighborhood.”

Stanton says VHC staff will meet with community members “as frequently as they request,” but did underscore the urgency of the hospital’s expansion, nonetheless. He noted that VHC regularly has to send patients seeking some mental and behavioral health services elsewhere, and will continue to feel a squeeze in its emergency rooms until the expansion can move forward.

Stanton added that the hospital expects construction to take from 24 to 30 months, and it will only be able to offer more in-patient beds on its current campus once it can build the new outpatient facility. The county has its own interest in seeing the project go forward as well, as it’s set to provide the Edison Street property with the hospital in a swap for a property on S. Carlin Springs Road.

But even with those pressing needs, and the Board’s specific guidelines, county officials warn that they’re not willing to simply offer a rubber stamp to the plan three months from now.

“I’m not going to support any proposed solutions for today’s problem if I believe it’s going to cause more problems the next time around,” Board member Erik Gutshall said Saturday. “Come back to us with what’s really your best and final offer.”

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County Board Delays VHC Expansion, Tells Hospital to Gather More Community Support

Officials from Virginia Hospital Center left Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting without the approval they were seeking for the hospital’s expansion plans.

Instead, following a unanimous vote, consideration of the plans will be delayed another three months.

The outcome is a disappointment for the hospital, which says it urgently needs additional space to serve a growing population. It’s also a disappointment for its supporters, from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce to the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, which urged approval.

Board members asked VHC to go back and find a way to address the concerns of homeowners who live around the hospital. The charge specifies that the size of the proposed buildings is fine, but improvements are needed to improve exterior decor, pedestrian walkways, and traffic flow.

More from an Arlington County press release:

After hearing hours of public testimony, the Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to defer consideration of Virginia Hospital Center’s proposed expansion plan to its December 2018 meeting, saying the center needs to do more to address neighborhood concerns.

“Virginia Hospital is an asset to our community and the region,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “We view the continued success of this major health center as important to everyone in Arlington, both for the high-quality medical care it provides, and the economic benefits it brings to the community. But it is also important that the expansion is designed in a way that respects the basics of good planning and design that have allowed Arlington to grow while still maintaining high quality of life for residents. We are not seeking a fundamental re-design, but rather, specific and concrete adjustments that can address some of the concerns.”

The Board’s action came after dozens of people spoke both for and against VHC’s expansion plan during a public hearing.

VHC’s expansion plan would grow its N. George Mason Drive campus onto the adjacent site at 1810 N. Edison Street to build new in-patient and out-patient facilities, a medical office building and a parking garage. The County approved a purchase agreement with VHC for the Edison site in 2015. It is requesting a rezoning, a Site Plan amendment and a Use Permit County sealamendment.

Under its proposed expansion plan, VHC plans to replace existing buildings on the Edison site with a new seven-story outpatient building and a six-story parking garage. VHC also proposes converting 120,000 square feet of medical offices on its current campus to hospital use.

The proposed plan also calls for an ultimate build out of 101 more beds on the hospital site. Existing outpatient uses would be relocated to the new outpatient building on the Edison site, freeing up space in existing buildings for the hospital expansion. The proposal is the hospital’s first step in its longer-term plans to focus inpatient care on the south side of its campus and outpatient care on the north side.

The Board noted that it accepts the height and massing of the buildings proposed by VHC as necessary to meet the center’s “programmatic needs.” It asked that VHC improve the connections to and through the site; enhance the proposed parking garage facades to add visual interest through awnings, hanging planter boxes or other architectural features; provide a pedestrian connection between 19th Street N and the proposed terrace overlooking the sunken garden on the first floor of the outpatient building; and make other changes related to providing safe, well-lighted, accessible pathways on the site.

While the public hearing now is closed, and changes made to the proposed design will not be subject to further formal County advisory commissions, the Board communicated its expectations that VHC will continue to engage with the surrounding neighborhood on improvements before the proposal comes back to the Board for consideration.

To read the staff report, and view presentations on the proposed expansion plan, visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 58 on the agenda for the Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 Regular County Board Meeting.

In December 2015, the County Board approved an agreement granting VHC an option to purchase the County-owned land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The agreement included the possibility of a land swap between the County and the Hospital. In July 2017, the Board voted to notify VHC that the County intends to acquire the hospital’s property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road as part of the purchase price for the Edison site. Approval of VHC’s expansion site plan is required prior to closing the purchase agreement.

VHC’s site plan underwent an extensive public review process, including six Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meetings, and SPRC walking tour and additional community meetings held by the County before and after the SPRC process.

County staff also met with civic association representatives and other community members, tracked and posted community comments and answered frequently asked questions for the project website.

Virginia Hospital has served Arlington and the region for more than 70 years. Over the years, the hospital has expanded to meet the needs of the growing Arlington community.

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Letter to the Editor: Hospital Expansion Would Better Serve Arlington’s Homeless Population

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Michael Garcia, a Columbia Pike insurance agent who serves as the board chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, a local nonprofit that works with homeless individuals in Arlington. A-SPAN is weighing in on the proposed Virginia Hospital Center expansion, which the Arlington Planning Commission and some residents who live near the hospital oppose in its current form.

I am writing in support of the Virginia Hospital Center expansion project. It is my hope that the County Board recognizes the enormous value that VHC brings to this community and approves the project, as soon as possible.

As Board Chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and a long-time Arlington resident, I see first-hand the consequences of delayed healthcare visits. The homeless clients at the Homeless Services Center frequently suffer from infections, life threatening reactions to untreated chronic illnesses and other medical conditions. That is why we have the Medical Respite and Nursing Services Program at the Homeless Services Center. For most Arlington County citizens, when a doctor says to go home and recuperate, that’s what they do, but what do you do when you have no home? VHC and A-SPAN through our partnership work together to ensure that these homeless individuals and veterans have a safe, compassionate, high-quality environment in which to recuperate.

VHC staff make every effort to assess and treat patients in a holistic way. When homeless patients are discharged from the Hospital to the Medical Respite Program, A-SPAN is part of the follow-up care plan and clients are referred to VHC outpatient services, as appropriate.

I cannot stress enough the value of a new Behavioral Health Center like the one proposed by VHC. Over 70% of homeless veterans and individuals suffer from some form of mental illness and this condition must be treated. We are fortunate that VHC, an Arlington provider that was recently named one of America’s 100 top Hospitals for the third year in a row, is willing to respond to the community’s need for more outpatient mental health services. Moreover, the VHC has indicated that all patients would be welcome at the new Center, regardless of their ability to pay.

The distinction of VHC being named as one of the 100 Top Hospitals in the nation is an honor benefitting all Arlingtonians by providing excellent care to the community. I am confident that this commitment to excellence will extend to the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center services, as well. VHC is a community partner worthy of support and we hope our elected leaders demonstrate this support.

Sincerely,

Michael Garcia
Board Chair, A-SPAN

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Virginia Hospital Center Expansion Proponents Mobilize Ahead of Key Vote

Supporters of the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans are ramping up their advocacy efforts, now that the project’s fate looks murky ahead of a key County Board vote.

The hospital itself has begun sending out mailers backing the expansion, according to ARLnow reader Dave Schutz, urging county residents to contact the Board about the $250 million project. Arlington’s lone comprehensive hospital has hoped for roughly a year now to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage next to its existing campus (1701 N. George Mason Drive), arguing that it desperately needs more space to keep pace with the county’s burgeoning population.

Meanwhile, the county’s business community is also redoubling its efforts to push the expansion forward. The Chamber of Commerce penned a new letter to the Board today (Tuesday), imploring officials to ignore the recommendation of the county’s Planning Commission and approve the project “without further delay” this weekend.

“Further deferral of this already-delayed project will impose additional financial and time costs that will redirect resources that VHC would otherwise use to provide health care services to the Arlington community,” Chamber President and CEO Kate Bates wrote.

County planners are indeed urging the Board to hold off on giving the project a green light, over concerns about the height and design of the proposed buildings. VHC is looking to build the facilities on a parcel of county-owned land near the intersection of 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street, and the commission argues the large new buildings would look out of place sitting across the street from small single-family homes.

Though commissioners support the project in principle, they voted unanimously last week to recommend that the Board force the hospital to revise its plans to address those concerns. They argue that the county would be better served by requiring the hospital to go through a “Phased Development Site Plan” process, a long-range exercise that would give planners more say over VHC’s intentions to redevelop its existing campus.

The hospital argued that such a process would be prohibitively difficult and expensive, and Bates alleged in her letter that VHC has already been made to wait too long to move ahead with its expansion plans. The hospital originally hoped to earn the Board’s approval this July, but neighbors successfully convinced the county to hold off on until the end of the summer to allow for more community involvement in the process.

“Each additional delay in the approval of the site plan application puts off the day when VHC will be able to care for its patient load in a full and comfortable facility,” Bates wrote. “Absent a timely expansion of VHC to accommodate its patient-centric mission, the community as a whole will bear these costs.”

The Board will have the final say on the matter at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22), a vote made all the more consequential for the county because Arlington stands to gain an 11.5-acre site on S. Carlin Springs Road as part of a “land swap” with the hospital if the expansion moves forward.

Though Board members have been loath to tip their hands on the vote, they are pledging to thoughtfully consider the concerns of neighbors and planners about the project.

“Public or private institutions and buildings, whether hospitals or schools, office buildings or community centers, must respect our planning documents, the built environment and the residents of surrounding communities,” said Board member John Vihstadt during a Chamber forum last week. “Height, setbacks, connectivity, building orientation, traffic and parking concerns are critical factors in any development proposal, and they’re concerns I take seriously. I’m looking forward to hearing more from the hospital and community in the coming days.”

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The Right Note: Delaying the Hospital Expansion?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Planning Commission is recommending that the County Board delay consideration of the Virginia Hospital Center’s planned expansion, due largely to pushback from neighbors.

Arlington’s long history of community involvement is a good one. Taking neighborhood concerns into consideration, particularly when it comes to mitigating traffic volume around the hospital, is not without merit. The Planning Commission, however, wants to send the hospital back to the drawing board largely for aesthetics, asking that they move some of the taller buildings to a different location in the plans to create less of a “wall” between the hospital and the neighboring single family homes.

While the Metro corridor has a natural step down effect from large buildings into residential neighborhoods, the hospital has long been established in the middle of single family homes. And these neighbors moved into the area with the full knowledge that Arlington’s only hospital was there.

Our population continues to grow as the County Board adds more density to our major corridors. In addition to impacts on schools, it means our healthcare needs will grow as well. Allowing the hospital to expand will add 101 beds to that capacity right here in our community and meet the needs for the next decade or so.

The hospital already adds upwards of $50 million a year in community benefit, according to the Chamber of Commerce. The proposed expansion will add not only short-term construction jobs but permanent jobs for doctors, nurses, clinical professionals and many other support staff here in Arlington.

As the County Board knows from its own projects, construction delays add to construction costs.  This is an important factor in favor of quick approval of this project, particularly in the face of healthcare costs that are already growing faster than inflation.

Virginia Hospital Center is an asset to Arlington. It is needed to meet our healthcare needs and it provides good jobs. That is why there is little doubt that the Board intends to ultimately approve this project, and almost just as certainly additional expansion will be needed in the future. With all of this in mind, they should move forward as quickly as they can rather than causing an extensive delay.

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Planning Commission Looks to Pump the Brakes on Virginia Hospital Center Expansion

Arlington’s Planning Commission isn’t ready to lend its seal of approval to a major expansion of the Virginia Hospital Center, urging the county’s lone hospital to re-work its plans for the project.

The commission unanimously voted last night (Tuesday) to urge the County Board to delay its consideration of the project, perhaps providing a major speed bump for an expansion the hospital has claimed is essential for serving the county’s growing population in the coming years.

VHC has hoped for roughly a year now to acquire a parcel of land adjacent to the hospital’s campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, and use it to construct a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage. That would enable the hospital to convert some of its existing outpatient space into 101 new hospital beds to better meet local demand, and pave the way for a wholesale redevelopment of the hospital’s campus.

But VHC’s plans have consistently run into opposition over the last few months, with neighbors worried that the new buildings will tower over residential neighborhoods in the area and transit advocates fretting that the large new garage will spur hospital employees to choose driving over more environmentally friendly transportation options.

The hospital addressed the latter concern by slightly shrinking the size of the garage from 2,093 spaces down to about 1,800, but the neighbors’ concerns about density proved persuasive to the Planning Commission. While they can only recommend that the County Board push back its planned Sept. 22 vote on the project, with the final decision resting with the Board itself, the commission forcefully outlined a series of changes they hope to see to the expansion effort before it becomes a reality.

“We all know it’s necessary, but we want to be respectful to the neighbors to north of the property as well as to the south,” said Commission Vice Chair James Schroll.

Specifically, the commission wants to see the hospital move some of the largest buildings toward the center of the land it hopes to acquire, which is bounded by 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street. Commissioners were perturbed that the current plans place some of the tallest structures just across the street from single family homes — Commission Chair Jane Siegel compared the new design to a “wall” between the hospital and the nearby neighborhoods.

“You’re not transitioning to other large buildings, you’re transitioning to single family neighborhoods,” said Commissioner Nancy Iacomini.

Nan Walsh, an attorney representing VHC, argued that the hospital was doing all it could to provide the necessary setbacks and vegetation to help the new structures blend into the neighborhood. However, she stressed that the hospital is fundamentally constrained by the fact it will someday seek to fully redevelop its existing campus and is looking to build on “every single inch of land” it owns in the area.

“We have 10 very, very old buildings there, but we can’t take them down until we construct these new buildings to replace them,” Walsh said. “This is it for us.”

Walsh doesn’t expect any redevelopment of the existing hospital campus to take place over the next 10 years, but she repeatedly stressed that VHC will eventually need to make such an overhaul happen.

Accordingly, commissioners frequently wondered why they couldn’t pursue a more holistic “phased development site plan” process, similar to the one developers are currently pursuing for the PenPlace project in Pentagon City. Such a planning process would give the county a chance to study each phase of the hospital’s development as it proceeds, and it’s one commissioners urged VHC to consider going forward.

“The hospital is an amazing resource to the community and we want it to be the best it possibly can, and the way to do that’s through a PDSP,” said Commissioner James Lantelme. “That will help it fit into its community as best as it possibly can.”

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Letter to the Editor: VHC Expansion Too Important to be ‘Held Hostage’ By Neighbors

After many long months of debate, county officials are set to have their say next month on an extensive proposal for the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion.

The project has attracted plenty of criticism from neighbors and transit advocates alike, prompting a brief delay of the county’s consideration of the 101-bed expansion of Arlington’s lone hospital.

But the county’s business community recently threw its support behind a swift approval of the project, as has another longtime civic leader. Julian Fore, a former president of the Arlington Community Foundation, is also urging the County Board to lend the project a full approval in a letter he shared with ARLnow.

Letter to the Editor:

I am an Arlingtonian and frequent user of Virginia Hospital Center (VHC).  This first-rate hospital provides excellent acute care and places an emphasis on needed follow-up services and disease management. VHC is a community jewel and is deserving of our support for its expansion project. I urge the County Board to approve the VHC application.

We should all be in favor of VHC’s desire to improve the efficiency, convenience and accessibility of healthcare. These are important community benefits and should be acknowledged. Moreover, the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center will enable our friends and neighbors who are suffering from mental illness to receive immediate outpatient care. The VHC proposal also expands the number of psychiatric beds based on a community-negotiated formula and subject to State approval.

It is important to note that under the VHC proposal, 1.3 acres of the 5.5 acre Edison Street site are either landscaped or open space to bring visual relief and more greenery to the site.  The placement of the landscaping and open space creates a “sense of place” and a welcome oasis to an urban village. This action demonstrates VHC’s commitment to enhancing the appearance and livability of the surrounding neighborhood.

At this point, we need to acknowledge that the cumulative effect of additional requested changes to the VHC proposal will affect the broader community goal of increasing the availability of low-cost, high-quality, patient-centered healthcare. VHC is the only stand-alone community hospital in the greater Washington D.C. Metro area. It is in the public’s interest to enable VHC to contain development costs, so the Hospital has more dollars available for needed state-of-the-art equipment and other patient related services.

I hope the County Board recognizes that the overall public benefits provided by the VHC expansion are too important to be held hostage by the narrow concerns of nearby neighbors.

Sincerely,

Julian Fore

ARLnow occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via HDR

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Virginia Hospital Center Earns $70,000 Grant to Support Pregnant Women

The Virginia Hospital Center’s Outpatient Clinic has an additional $70,354 to support uninsured and low-income pregnant women in the area, thanks to a recent grant from the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation.

The bulk of the grant money — $64,354 — will support the second year of a telemedicine pilot program, which facilitates virtual appointments for patients with high-risk pregnancies who are unable to schedule some appointments in-person due to work, child care commitments or transportation barriers.

Another $5,000 will go to “transportation cards” for pregnant women who are low-income. The remaining $1,000 will go to purchasing “pack-and-plays,” which provide a safe place for newborns to sleep, for families in need.

The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation was founded in memory of Jennifer Lawson, a mother of three who died in a 2014 accident. Registration is now open for the fourth annual Jennifer Bush-Lawson 5K & Family Fun Day, scheduled for Nov. 17. The event will raise additional funds for the Virginia Hospital Center’s Outpatient Clinic.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation

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Chamber Urges Swift Approval for Virginia Hospital Center Expansion

Arlington’s business community is urging county leaders to approve the Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans, arguing the project’s delays have already cost the company dearly.

The county’s lone hospital rolled out plans last fall to add a seven-story outpatient facility and a 10-story parking garage next to its existing campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. The County Board approved a land swap last summer to make the expansion possible, trading a parcel of land near the hospital on N. Edison Street for a property along S. Carlin Springs Road, and VHC has spent the ensuing months hammering out designs for the new buildings.

Yet some of the hospital’s plans have drawn ire from neighbors and transit advocates alike, convincing the Board to push back any consideration of the expansion until the fall.

In a letter to the Board on July 23, Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Kate Bates called that decision “very disappointing,” and urged county leaders to lend the project an “expeditious approval.”

“The hospital is doing everything it can to accommodate the requests of neighbors and to honor good planning principles,” Bates wrote. “At this point, however, the cumulative effect of additional changes needs to be evaluated within the broader context of providing convenient, high-quality, patient-centered healthcare in a fiscally prudent way for the next 50 years.”

Bates argued in the letter that the hospital desperately needs the expansion to cope with Arlington’s growing population — VHC expects it’ll need an additional 85 hospital beds over the next five years to handle the county’s growth, and could use another 130 beds over the next 15 years. The hospital currently plans to convert around 120,000 square feet of existing outpatient space to 101 new beds once it can complete the proposed expansion.

Bates adds that “patients and visitors are frequently frustrated and unnecessarily delayed by current parking constraints” at the hospital, making the roughly 1,800 parking spaces in the new garage a key element of the plan as well. However, the garage has attracted some of the fiercest opposition of any element of the project, with neighbors worried about its size and staff and activists worried that it overly encourages driving at the expense of biking or transit options.

Yet Bates points out that VHC has already agreed to shrink the garage by about 200 spaces from its original proposal, bringing down its height to about 67 feet in all.

Furthermore, she wrote that the hospital has worked with the community to add more buffers and greenery to both 19th Street N. and N. Edison Street, demonstrating “a commitment to enhance the appearance and livability of the surrounding neighborhood.”

According to a VHC presentation at a May community meeting, the hospital is planning 27,000 square feet of buffers around the hospital’s perimeter, in addition to lots of green space on the property itself. In all, the hospital hopes to build a  11,000-square-foot entry plaza with a similarly sized “welcome garden” nearby, and a 9,000-square-foot courtyard complete with a “sunken garden” of tiered planters.

The hospital will also sketch out a “master plan” for the site to give the community a roadmap for its designs on future expansion efforts, including a push to someday buy more land for the redevelopment of its older buildings and the construction of a new “central power plant.”

In all, the Chamber sees this work as plenty of evidence that the Board shouldn’t press for any additional changes from the hospital and let the expansion move ahead quickly.

“Since the initial VHC project application, the hospital has made more than 100 modifications to the design in an effort to address issues raised by county staff and community stakeholders,” Bates wrote. “The Chamber respectfully requests that the Board prioritizes this effort and approves the VHC site plan application so this important project can move forward.”

Both the Planning Commission and the County Board are set to hold public hearings on the project in September.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Mall Garage Floods — “The heavy rain that roared through our region Tuesday evening did more than just saturate the ground. A parking garage near the Ballston Mall in Arlington County was transformed into a figurative beach complete with waves.” [WJLA]

Officials Reconsidering No-Left-Turn Sign on Route 50 — The late Carrie Johnson’s last act of civic activism may be bearing fruit. County officials are reaching out to the community in an effort to reconsider a no-left-turn sign on Route 50 at N. Irving Street. [InsideNova]

Proclamation for Gun Violence Awareness Day — At its meeting last night, the Arlington County Board presented the group Moms Demand Action with a proclamation declaring June 1, 2018 to be National Gun Violence Awareness Day in Arlington. [Twitter]

VHC Planning Too Rushed, Critics Say — “Plans to have the Arlington Planning Commission and County Board pass judgment on Virginia Hospital Center’s expansion plans in early July have run into community opposition, with critics saying any action then would be premature and would interfere with vacation plans of those who hope to influence the outcome.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Bike and Walk to School Day — Today was Bike and Walk to School Day for Arlington Public Schools. The yearly event encourages families to use their feet — rather than cars — to get to school, at least for a day. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

Hospital Expansion Meets Some Resistance — Some neighbors are at odds with Virginia Hospital Center over its plan to expand its campus. Complaints include objections to “height and mass in close proximity to single-family homes” and the large number of proposed parking spaces. [Greater Greater Washington]

Machinery Topples Over, Blocking Road — A piece of heavy machinery toppled over on Little Falls Road at N. Sycamore Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood yesterday. The cleanup temporarily blocked Little Falls Road. [Twitter]

Fourth High School Could Cost >$250 Million — “Redeveloping portions of the Arlington Career Center campus near Columbia Pike to accommodate a fourth general high school in Arlington could end up costing a quarter-billion dollars or more depending on amenities, according to preliminary cost estimates being fleshed out by school officials.” [InsideNova]

Another Farmers Market Opens — Arlington County is now home to ten farmers markets, with another on the way. The Arlington Mill farmers market opened over the weekend and hosted a Latin jazz band and Arlington’s Art Truck, in addition to numerous food vendors. [Arlington County]

More on Controversial Favola Auction Item — “Brian White of Winchester was the winning Democratic bidder. He said in an interview Monday that he thought the offer blurred the line of appropriateness, but had an idea: ‘I was looking at how much it was and I was like, Dominion [Energy] pays a whole lot more for this type of access.’ He said he plans to offer the day in Richmond to Theresa ‘Red’ Terry, the Roanoke County woman who spent 34 days living in a tree stand to protest incursion of a natural gas pipeline through her land.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Man Arrested for Sexual Battery in Medical Office

A man inside a medical office grabbed a woman from behind, “began to thrust against her” and refused to stop, according to an Arlington County Police Department crime report.

The incident happened Sunday morning at a “care center” on the 1700 block of N. George Mason Drive, police said. That is the same block as Virginia Hospital Center and a number of medical offices.

Security guards responded an detained the suspect until police arrived. A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged with sexual battery.

More from ACPD:

SEXUAL BATTERY, 2018-05060092, 1700 block of N. George Mason Drive. At approximately 9:57 a.m. on May 6, police were dispatched to the report of an assault that had just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that while inside a care center, the male suspect approached the female victim from behind, grabbed her waist and began to thrust against her. The victim demanded the suspect to stop and when he refused, she dropped to the floor. Security then arrived on scene and detained the suspect until police arrived. Tebebe Tessema Makonnen, 26, of No Fixed Address was arrested and charged with Sexual Battery. He was held on no bond.

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