Despite continued high office vacancy rates, developer JBG Smith has abruptly reversed course on a plan to convert an aging Crystal City office building to apartments.
At an Arlington County Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Monday, the company presented an updated plan to renovate the 12-floor, 242,000 square foot building at 1750 Crystal Drive and modernize the building facade. The change comes less than a year after JBG Smith filed a plan to convert the office building into a 21-story residential tower, which in turn was a change in course from an approved circa-2015 plan to modernize the building and keep it as office space.
The new-new plan changes the building’s address to 1770 Crystal Drive and better integrates it into planned pedestrian improvements and the “Central District” retail cluster, which is to include an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, restaurants with outdoor seating and a possible small-format grocery store.
The flip back to office will undoubtedly pique the interest of those trying to read the Amazon HQ2 tea leaves.
Betting markets and industry observers think the D.C. area is the most likely destination for the company’s second headquarters, and sources tell ARLnow.com that Crystal City is by far the most likely D.C. area location for it. Meanwhile, office vacancy in Crystal City remains high — it was just below 20 percent as of a year ago, according to county data — and the neighborhood’s largest and most influential landowner has scrapped an ambitious residential conversion plan in favor of sprucing up currently-vacant office space.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said last week that an HQ2 decision will be announced by the end of the year. The company’s request for proposals specifies that HQ2 will require a large amount of office space — 500,000+ square feet — in a relatively short period of time after the announcement.
A spokesman for JBG Smith was not immediately available to comment, according to a PR rep for the company.
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.
Multiple restaurants and stores are either closing or relocating in the Crystal City Shops at 1750.
Potbelly Sandwich Shop, one of the departing tenants, will be closed after today (July 25).
A sign inside the restaurant says they are relocating to an existing Potbelly location in Alexandria (401 John Carlyle Street), and a manager said the Crystal City location is closing because the building managers are renovating.
“The building we are located in is being redeveloped by the landlord and it’s time for them to take our space back,” the post reads, in part. The restaurant has plans to open a new neighborhood pub in the Crystal City area, according to the post.
Some stores within the shopping complex also had moving signs up.
Crystal Cleaners has moved to 1235 S. Clark Street under the name Crystal Gateway Cleaners. Crystal City Dental Arts Center also plans to move to that location at the end of the month. JBG Smith operates the Crystal City Shops, with a main entrance at 1750 Crystal Drive, and the 1235 S. Clark Street site.
A Touch of Art & Framing will relocate to a different space within the 1750 complex July 31, according to a sign on its door.
JBG Smith has significant development plans for the area surrounding the shopping center. That development includes the conversion of a 12-story office building at 1750 Crystal Drive into a 21-story residential building.
A spokesman for JBG Smith said that changes in the Crystal City Shops at 1750 are related to the Central District Retail Phase II development, which includes the office building conversion and the construction of a new two-story retail building, though tenants have been given options to stay or move to new space at street-level, he added.
What Arlington Residents Think About Arlington — “Arlington residents of all ages are concerned about housing costs. Many like new urban amenities and denser development but are worried about displacing lower-income neighbors. Others point to the county’s affluence and pockets of racially homogenous communities and wonder what that says about their progressive values.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Salt Storage Facility to Be Torn Down — Arlington County is planning to dismantle the rusted-out road salt storage tank on Old Dominion Drive near 25th Road N. later this year, deeming it unsafe for use during the upcoming winter season. In its place, the county hopes to build a temporary facility that could remain functional for several years. [InsideNova]
New Restaurant Kiosks Planned in Crystal City — “Two new funky restaurant spaces could be coming to Crystal City in 2019… JBG Smith wants to build two unusual standalone restaurant buildings, one that resembles a green house and one that calls to mind a tree house, in green space that sits in front of 2121 Crystal Drive. The green is currently a mix of walking paths, open seating, trees and lawn.” [Washington Business Journal]
How Critics Could Fight W-L Name Change — Those opposed to changing the name of Washington-Lee High School have floated the idea of a community-wide referendum, though state law does not currently allow Arlington to hold an advisory referendum. One more fruitful path may be convincing the Republican-controlled state legislature to block the name change, though any such action would likely not survive Gov. Ralph Northam (D)’s veto pen. [InsideNova]
Employer Moving Out of Rosslyn — Amid a series of economic wins for Rosslyn and Arlington, there are also some losses. Among them, The Carlyle Group is planning to consolidate its Rosslyn office — with some 300 employees — into its larger D.C. office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, after striking a deal to expand its lease and modernize its space. [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy StardogCZ
Yorktown Grad Chosen in NFL Draft — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Yorktown High School graduate M.J. Stewart in the 2018 NFL draft. Stewart was working with his youth foundation at Langston-Brown Community Center when he learned that he was the 21st pick in the second round of the draft. [InsideNova, Twitter]
Amazon Speculation Boosts JBG Stock — JBG Smith Properties’ stock is up 13 percent in the past month on speculation that Amazon could build its second headquarters in the D.C. metro area. Many of the company’s holdings are based in Crystal City, which is seen as a contender for the site of Amazon’s new HQ2. [Washington Business Journal]
Drug Take-Back Day Numbers Up — Arlington police collected nearly one-third more prescription drugs at Saturday’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day than at last spring’s event. Residents handed over 744 pounds of prescription drugs to police on Saturday, compared with 562 pounds last April. [Twitter]
Arlington Recognized for Tourism Event — The Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organizations presented the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service with an award for its June 2017 Monumental Views IPW Travel Trade Reception, which showcased Arlington to international travel trade and media during the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW 2017 event in Washington, D.C. [Arlington County]
Rosslyn Circle Beautification — Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol was among the volunteers with the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria and the Children’s International School to team up with the National Park Service to beautify Rosslyn Circle on Sunday (photo above). They planted 32 trees and plan to add more later this year.
Red Flag Warning Today — Northern Virginia is under a Red Flag Warning through 8 p.m. today, indicating a heightened danger of outdoor fires. “Dry and windy conditions will create an environment conducive for the rapid spread of wildfires,” the National Weather Service said. “All outdoor burning is discouraged today.” [Twitter]
Photo via Katie Cristol on Twitter
Arlington Woman Killed in Freak Accident — Anne Viviani, an Arlington resident and world class triathlete, was killed when the car she was a passenger in struck a deer on I-85 in South Carolina Monday morning. Viviani, 68, was pronounced dead at the scene. [Greenville News]
Arlington Man Killed in Fiery Crash — A 32-year-old Arlington man, Antwuan Barnes, was killed early Sunday in Martinsburg, W. Va. Police say the driver of a car in which he was passenger tried to take a turn too fast and slid into a tree, shearing the vehicle in two and causing it to burst into flames. [Martinsburg Journal, MetroNews]
Fairlington Condo Association Rolls Out Trash Cans — The Fairlington Villages condo association has rolled out dozens of large black trash bins for residents to deposit their garbage. The move follows a series of raccoon attacks in north Fairlington and is intended to discourage the nocturnal critters from taking up residence. Following the roll out, the association suspended its raccoon trapping campaign. [Fairlington Villages]
Crystal City Building Wraps, Explained — Washington Post columnist John Kelly has an explanation for why property owner JBG Smith commissioned a series of four colorful building wraps to spruce up some of its older office buildings in Crystal City. Not mentioned in the article: that the neighborhood is a top contender for Amazon’s HQ2. [Washington Post]
Thousands Ticketed for Driving Slow in Left Lane — “Thousands of people have been fined since Virginia implemented a law setting penalties for driving too slowly in the left lane of a highway… from July 1, 2017, through April 3, more than 16,000 people were cited under various portions of the law.” [NBC Washington]
Late Night Hot Pot — Chinese hot pot restaurant Mala Tang has extended its hours until 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, according to a press release.
School Walkouts Today — Student walkouts are planned at Arlington’s high schools today, part of a national demonstration against gun violence. The walkout is happening at 10 a.m., is expected to last 17 minutes, and is being treated as an excused absence by Arlington Public Schools. Middle schoolers at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, meanwhile, have organized a 2:30 p.m. prayer service to honor the victims.
JBG Talks HQ2 in Quarterly Earnings — Property owner JBG Smith has stayed largely mum about its wooing of Amazon — until now. In its quarterly earnings report, JBG said it believes that its Crystal City properties are well-positioned to win the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. The D.C. area’s tech prowess “combined with our blend of walkable places, in-place infrastructure and low-cost housing makes Crystal City a compelling location,” the company wrote. “Our holdings alone can accommodate Amazon’s entire long-term space requirement and we have a cost advantage over our competitors given the existing in-place parking and substantial infrastructure.” [Washington Business Journal]
Lobbyist Claims Attack at Local Hotel — Jack Burkman, a “conservative lobbyist known for his controversial positions” who in January told police he was pepper sprayed outside his house near Rosslyn, is alleging another attack. Burkman claims, in a press release, that he was “run down by a large, black SUV” last night while “working with an FBI whistleblower” at the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn. [Twitter]
Two Charged in Murder of Arlington Man — Two suspected gang members from Maryland have been charged in the fatal stabbing of an Arlington resident in Oxon Hill, Md. on Feb. 25. [Town of Morningside]
Arlington House Closing for Rehab Project — Arlington House, the iconic historic mansion at Arlington National Cemetery that was formerly home to Gen. Robert E. Lee, “is closing to the public beginning Monday, March 19, so it can undergo a monthslong rehabilitation project… part of a $12.35 million restoration plan.” [WTOP]
National PTA Meeting in Arlington — The National Parent Teacher Association is holding its annual legislative conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Crystal City this week. The conference runs from March 13-15 and kicked off yesterday with a keynote address by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. [National PTA]
(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) Two warehouses along S. Eads Street in Pentagon City are being razed to eventually make way for a redevelopment project.
JBG Smith is expected to begin demolition of the warehouses at some point in April or May 2018. The project is scheduled to take six to eight weeks.
At this point, it’s unclear what will replace the buildings, located between 12th and 15th streets. The company is backing away from plans approved by the county in July 2016 to build a 22-story, 577-unit residential tower.
JBG Smith has “no plans at the moment” to build the county-approved project due to uncertain market conditions, said a PR representative for the company.
“It’s unknown and sort of depending on where things go in the market,” the rep said.
On Friday (February 1), the company hosted a community meeting to discuss the demolition project. Several people attended and voiced concerns about noise generated from demolition, we’re told.
Demolition crews will work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays, according to meeting materials. Construction traffic will enter the site through S. Eads Street. The exit point is either north on S. Eads to Army Drive or south on S. Eads Street to 15th Street.
Photos by Fatimah Waseem
PenPlace Plan Revived with Apartments — JBG Smith plans to revive its stalled PenPlace project in Pentagon City by building apartment buildings rather than office buildings in the first phase of the project. The updated plans will be open to community input during a new site plan review process. The original plans were approved in 2013 over the objections of some nearby residents. [Washington Business Journal]
Traffic at DCA to Get Heavier During Construction — “Drivers heading to Reagan National Airport might soon begin to feel the impact of a major project to transform the facility. Construction crews will begin overnight work in the lower-level roadway in the next couple of weeks, and that work will spill into daytime hours come spring.” [WTOP]
More Dirt Coming to DCA — Another portion of the expansion project at Reagan National Airport will bring a big mound of dirt to the airport grounds. The dirt is needed to support the weight of a new regional jet concourse. DCA was built on land reclaimed from the Potomac River. [InsideNova]
Photo by Anna Merod
Disparities in New Middle School Boundaries — “Under a staff plan slated to go to the School Board Dec. 14, middle schools will have economically-disadvantaged populations ranging from 1 percent of the student body at Williamsburg Middle School to 52 percent of the student body at Kenmore Middle School, with the other schools falling in between.” [InsideNova]
Winner of Marine Corps Marathon Works at 7-Eleven — The winner of this year’s Marine Corps Marathon lives in Nauck and works at an Arlington 7-Eleven store. Desta Beriso Morkama, a 32-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, arrived in the U.S. in September 2016. He has been receiving training and assistance settling into his new Arlington life from a number of local people and groups, including local running coach Jay Jacob Wind. [Falls Church News-Press]
JBG Installing Giant Screens at Central Place — JBG Smith plans to exceed the county-imposed public art requirement at its new Central Place development, thanks to a project that will install giant screens in various places around the apartment and office building. The screens will display moving images, including artwork and nature scenes. [Washington Business Journal]
Hybla Valley = The Next Shirlington? — Fairfax County has big plans for a car-oriented neighborhood south of Alexandria: “The plans also include a 3.1-mile extension of the Yellow Line that would connect the Huntington station to the Hybla Valley section of Richmond Highway, in hopes of creating a pedestrian-friendly urban neighborhood akin to nearby Shirlington.” [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Joe Green
Eastern Foundry Expanding Again — Government contracting startup accelerator Eastern Foundry is expanding once again. The accelerator is taking a 6,175-square-foot space directly below its Crystal City offices and dividing it into four suites “to attract larger companies that want a foothold in the co-working world.” [Washington Business Journal]
JBG’s Big Plans for Crystal City, Potomac Yard — The newly-merged JBG Smith sees an opportunity to transform its holdings in Pentagon City, Crystal City, Potomac Yard and North Old Town Alexandria into “24/7 environments” that “feel more like the [Rosslyn-Ballston] Corridor.” In Crystal City, the company wants to add new amenities. “What we want to do there is add retail amenities and residential to convince people who work there to live and play there,” said an executive. [Bisnow]
Real Estate Market Continues Upward Trajectory — “Year-over-year home sales and average sales prices across Northern Virginia were up slightly in July, leading to a 6.6-percent increase in total sales volume, according to new figures.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
County Opts to Acquire Hospital Site — Arlington County Board members on Tuesday voted to formally seek a large tract of land along S. Carlin Springs Road in a land swap with Virginia Hospital Center. In exchange, the county is offering to VHC county-owned land next to the hospital, which would allow it to expand. [Arlington County, InsideNova]
Bike Thefts Up in Arlington — Bike thefts were up for the first 6 months of 2017, compared to a year prior. No one seems to be safe from the prolific bike thieves, who often target high-end bikes parked in garages and bike lockers; among those reporting recent thefts were Henry Dunbar, the director of BikeArlington and Capital Bikeshare in Arlington, and an ABC 7 employee. [WJLA]
Gondola Project Not Dead — Though Arlington County has moved on from it, D.C. is still budgeting money to advance the proposed Rosslyn-to-Georgetown gondola project, including $250,000 for an environmental review of a potential gondola site near the C&O canal. One other intriguing factor: should the gondola run north of the Key Bridge, as shown in renderings, it may reach Arlington at the Key Bridge Marriott property, which is in the early stages of a potentially large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment. [Bisnow]
County Buys Office Building — As expected, the Arlington County Board has voted to purchase a low-slung office building at 2920 S. Glebe Road, to house Arlington’s head start program. The program is currently housed in the Edison Center next to Virginia Hospital Center, which is slated to be transferred to VHC in a land swap (see above). Arlington is paying $3.885 million for the Glebe Road property, nearly $1.5 million above its assessed value. [Arlington County]
JBG Has Big Plans for Crystal City — JBG Smith, the newly-formed combination of JBG and the Washington properties of Vornado, says repositioning and enhancing its 7 million square foot portfolio in Crystal City is a “top priority.” Among the changes in the works for the Bethesda-based firm: expanding the vacant office building at 1750 Crystal Drive, converting it to residential, and adding an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and a grocery store. [Washington Business Journal]
DOE Highlights Discovery Elementary — The U.S. Department of Energy has profiled Arlington’s Discovery Elementary in a new video. DOE lauds the school for its net zero energy design, which “saves $100,000 per year in utility costs, enough to cover the salaries of two teachers” and was implemented under-budget. [YouTube, Blue Virginia]
Hackathon in Clarendon — Capital One is holding a Women in Tech hackathon at its Clarendon “lab” office next week. “Attendees will have the opportunity to ‘create a technical solution for Women Who Code that empowers girls and women to stay in the tech field.'” [Technical.ly DC, Women in Tech Demo Day]
Arlington Native Pens New Bodice Ripper — On the heels of the success of her debut novel, Seven Days, Arlington’s Ariel Atwell (the pen name of Leslie Aun) has written a follow-up, Twenty-One Nights. The Regency romance is No. 28 on Amazon’s chart for that category. [Amazon]
Nearby: JBG Announces New HQ in Bethesda — In a bit of a blow to Arlington, JBG has announced that it will be opening a new headquarters in downtown Bethesda. JBG has numerous properties in Arlington and will soon be merging with Vornado’s D.C. division, which includes extensive holdings in Arlington. [Bethesda Beat]
Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards
The concession stand at the Crystal City Water Park has closed.
The concession’s last day was Friday, after landlord Vornado declined to renew vendor Adel Ishak’s lease, we’re told. Ishak, who was a prominent attorney in Egypt before he fled to the United States with his family due to safety concerns, had run the kiosk for at least six years.
ARLnow.com has learned that landlord Vornado — soon to be JBG Smith — is planning an expanded retail presence in the park, perhaps a more full-featured restaurant or a beer garden. A major residential redevelopment anchored by an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is planned across the street.
Some local residents who heard that the concession stand would be closing started a petition calling for it to remain open, but to no avail.
“Rain, sleet, snow and shine, Adel was there,” one customer lamented to ARLnow.com. “He has built this business from the ground up – he started with nothing and now has run the stand year-round because of his customers. My hope is… that perhaps Vornado can move his concession to another part of Crystal City or Arlington.”
A building adjacent the Crystal City Metro station is getting a bold new red paint job.
Property owner Vornado will be adding color to its currently beige office building at 251 18th Street S. The painting is expected to begin soon.
The new color “will create an iconic new landmark at [the Metro station] and at the gateway to Crystal City at 18th Street,” according to the Crystal City Business Improvement District, which has been “adding color, vibrancy and art to Crystal City” via projects like Artomatic, Art Underground and various murals around the neighborhood.
While efforts to add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and improve its aesthetics have been well-received — they were a main topic of an extensive Washingtonian feature last week — the reality is that many of the buildings around Crystal City date back to the 60s and 70s; 251 18th Street was built in 1975 according to Loopnet.
With a wholesale redevelopment of older buildings financially infeasible at a time of high office vacancy rates, Crystal City and its property owners have instead been finding ways to refurbish, creatively re-purpose — and now repaint — existing buildings.