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Officials Expect Plenty of Amazon Votes in Coming Years, Giving County Some Say in Shaping New HQ

Though Amazon skeptics fret that Arlington officials will offer them only limited opportunities to have their say on the new headquarters, county leaders stress that the complexity of the tech giant’s plans for the area means there will be plenty of chances for the public to weigh in.

Critics of the county and state’s proposal to Amazon have centered on the secrecy of the “HQ2” negotiations in the days following the company’s big announcement, arguing that it may well be an uphill battle for lawmakers to change the structure of the deal after Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff already hammered out most of the details with Amazon. Though both the General Assembly and the Arlington County Board will hold votes on the proposed headquarters agreement, opponents of Amazon’s arrival argue those will mainly be for show, and won’t include a robust community debate about the company’s impact on the region.

In Arlington, at least, officials say that such fears are unfounded. While Board members have pledged to hold a series of virtual town halls addressing all manner of Amazon issues in the months leading up to their planned February vote on the deal, they add that there will be a bevy of future hearings and discussions to guide the development of the headquarters in the (admittedly likely) event it wins the Board’s approval.

Officials note that, at first, Amazon workers will simply move into existing office space around Crystal City — JBG Smith, the area’s dominant property owner, plans to lease the company 500,000 square feet of space in three buildings, to start.

But the tech company also bought several Pentagon City properties from JBG that it plans to develop itself: the site of the planned “PenPlace” development near the intersection of S. Fern Street and Army Navy Drive and the planned “Metropolitan Park” development at 1400 S. Eads Street.

Amazon’s decision to buy the Met Park properties, in particular, raised eyebrows, as they’re zoned to become home to an apartment complex rather than office space.

County Board member Erik Gutshall replied to that tweet, noting that Amazon will ask for a change to allow the office construction, promising a “FULL public process” as part of that discussion to let the community guide the development. Gutshall subsequently told ARLnow that he expects that the company will need to secure a site plan amendment for the change, a step that requires the County Board’s approval, with deliberations to come should the February vote go Amazon’s way.

In an interview on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 Friday, Board Chair Katie Cristol pointed out that there will likely be similar discussions around PenPlace “as that ramp up continues” by the company in the coming years. While Amazon opponents might not be able to block the company’s arrival as part of such land use discussions, Cristol pointed out that it will be a chance for the county to extract concessions from the tech firm, like new green space for the area or contributions to the county’s affordable housing loan fund.

“What’s exciting to me is not only the potential to see these buildings go up, but to realize some of these community benefits that have been envisioned,” Cristol said.

At Saturday’s Board meeting, Vice Chair Christian Dorsey added that “with each individual land use decision, we’ll have more data to figure out what the impacts are” of Amazon’s projects on the community, therefore further guiding how the county presses for mitigating resources from the company.

Of course, anti-Amazon activists are skeptical of how the county might manage that process. Tim Dempsey, a member of the steering committee for the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, urged the Board Saturday to “turn these deals into a community wealth-building opportunity that would ensure more inclusive and regenerative economic development.”

“The county can wield the land-use approval process to support a coalition of citizens in reaching a private community benefits agreement with corporations and developers,” Dempsey said. “This a chance to give the community a voice. Please be a partner to us: your friends, neighbors and constituents.”

Board members repeatedly stressed that they do their best on that front, but also noted that state officials have taken much of the process out of their hands. Cristol said she only found out that Amazon would be coming to Arlington about eight hours before the news went public, and the bulk of the negotiations over the preliminary deal were handled by Northam’s staff (though state lawmakers were read into some of the details).

“There really wasn’t a whole lot coming to the Board on this,” Gutshall said Saturday. “It really was driven by the state.”

County attorney Steve MacIsaac pointed out that the state has handled so much of the process, in fact, that the county doesn’t even have all of the documents connected to the Amazon proposal. It all adds up to Board members promising transparency in their own Amazon decision-making, but urging skeptics to pay attention to state-level machinations in Richmond just as closely.

“If you have an issue with it, there is a venue to take that up,” Dorsey said Saturday. “It’s not in this room.”

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County Inspectors Issue Goody’s A Warning for Painting Unapproved Mural on Storefront

Arlington officials say Goody’s pizzeria in Clarendon didn’t earn the county approval it needed before painting a new mural on its storefront — but the county won’t be taking drastic action against the restaurant just yet.

Helen Duong, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, told ARLnow that zoning inspectors visited the restaurant and “concluded that the artwork is considered a sign under Arlington County’s zoning ordinance because the artwork relates to the advertisement of a business and its services.”

That means Goody’s needed a permit before adding the painting earlier this month, but Duong says the eatery “did not receive prior approvals from the county.”

She added that inspectors delivered a “courtesy notice” to the restaurant last Thursday (Nov. 15), laying out steps for how the business can remedy that issue, but has not forced Goody’s to cover up the new artwork or taken any other punitive measures against the restaurant. The county has taken such steps against other businesses in the past, including when it briefly tangled with Wag More Dogs on S. Four Mile Run Drive over similar murals.

Glenda Alvarez, the restaurant’s owner, says she has yet to seek any county approval for the mural, a fact Duong confirmed. She was unaware of any need for a permit before commissioning the artwork, which she says she hoped to add because the building “was not attractive enough.”

“We just wanted to get a little more attention from people walking by,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez took over ownership of the restaurant earlier this spring, after its previous owners sold her the business. Goody’s closed briefly in April to account for the changeover before reopening in May.

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In a Bid to Preserve Affordable Housing, County Allows For More Changes to Older Homes

The Arlington County Board has signed off on some zoning changes to make it easier for the owners of older townhouses and duplexes to renovate or expand their homes.

The Board voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to amend the county zoning ordinance to allow for more changes to “nonconforming homes” — structures built before the county’s zoning rules took effect back in 1942 that might not match current standards. The move will simultaneously remove some headaches for certain homeowners and help preserve affordable housing options for the county’s middle class.

The county’s old rules have frequently frustrated the owners of certain types of homes, who were previously barred from commissioning even simple renovations without enduring a lengthy county appeals process. That incentivized tear-downs over renovations, which in turn reduced the county’s stock of market rate affordable housing.

“This is the kind of stock we hope will age over time and become more affordable,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said Tuesday. “I feel so strongly that this is a move for the better, not only for these individual homeowners, but for the preservation of this stock, that will allow the current and next generation of Arlington’s middle class to move in and own a piece of this community, or rent a piece of this community.”

County planner Kellie Brown told the Board that the changes could allow for interior “by right” renovations at more than 600 homes, which won’t require extensive county review, and exterior additions or expansions at roughly 1,500 partially detached homes or townhouses. While the changes will impact all nonconforming homes in areas zoned “R2-7,” county staffers say that the bulk of the impacted houses are located along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and in Nauck.

John Quirk, who owns a duplex with his wife in the North Highlands neighborhood near Rosslyn, counts himself among the homeowners who plan to take advantage of the change. He launched a petition urging the Board to make just these sort of zoning changes last December, after the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals denied his family’s attempts to convert an unused attic into a third-story bedroom.

“At first we didn’t even know you were prevented from doing that, so we were really frustrated,” Quirk told ARLnow. “But this is just an example of the government working for people. The Board was very receptive to all this.”

Quirk says he worked with his neighbors and other homeowners to make the Board aware of these challenges, and he credits the county’s “measured approach” in studying the issue in more detail before moving ahead with the changes.

He also lauded the Board for living up to its stated goal of preserving affordable housing in the county, noting that he and his wife were considering moving elsewhere in Northern Virginia, as they “can’t afford a $1.1 million house in Lyon Village.” Quirk fully expects that plenty of others have faced the same problems maintaining a reasonable “work-life balance” of commuting into D.C. while coping with Arlington’s rising housing costs, and he looks forward to starting work on his own duplex sometime early next year.

“By living in these smaller homes, we’re a demographic that creates population density,” Quirk said. “And that makes Arlington the great, walkable community that it is.”

Quirk noted that he encountered virtually no opposition during his push for the zoning changes, and Board member Erik Gutshall similarly lauded the effort’s “broad community support” Tuesday.

The lone complaints about the issue came courtesy of local activist and frequent county government critic Jim Hurysz, who charged that allowing more renovations will actually drive up the prices of the homes in question and hurt the very middle-class residents the county hopes to help.

“Mr. Gutshall ought to be very happy at least, as he owns a construction company,” Hurysz said.

While the affordable housing advocates with the Alliance for Housing Solutions agree that there is “some possibility that streamlining additions to two-family homes may increase their values, and thus reduce affordability,” they too supported the changes as a key way to preserve older homes.

“We believe that the typical arrangement and size of the homes and housing type itself will help maintain its relative affordability over time, particularly when compared to the typical single-family home in Arlington,” Executive Director Michelle Winters wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to the Board. “Furthermore, these kinds of changes can help provide more opportunities for middle-income households to stay in Arlington to raise families rather than leaving in search of other housing options.”

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County Overhauls Zoning Rules for Community Pools, Allowing Nauck Project to Advance

A Nauck church now has the green light to redevelop a former YMCA center into a new community pool, after Arlington officials signed off on a host of new zoning changes designed to make the construction of such pool projects a bit less onerous.

In back-to-back unanimous votes yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board approved the pool zoning tweaks, then used those new rules to give Macedonia Baptist Church the go-ahead to build the new pool at 3440 22nd Street S.

The site has been home to a pool and bathhouse since the 1960s, but the YMCA’s closure back in the mid-2000s left the building empty. Yet, when Macedonia sought to redevelop the site into a new “family life center,” the church ran into some zoning restrictions that could’ve made the whole project impossible to complete.

The Board was unwilling to completely re-write its zoning rules, but it would agree to make community pool projects (which are backed by nonprofit groups and not limited to a specific neighborhood) eligible for “use permits” in order to give the Board discretion to review the projects on a case-by-case basis, rather than subjecting every pool to the same standards.

That mean that the Board could sign off on Macedonia project under the newly approved zoning ordinance, even though it would’ve previously run afoul of rules requiring larger setbacks from the neighborhood’s streets. Board member John Vihstadt even dubbed the twin votes “a double win” for the community, and the county.

“We are demonstrating some nimbleness and alacrity in making a needed change that responds to new trends,” Vihstadt said. “This is so important, not just for the youth and individuals in the Nauck community… but also for entire Nauck neighborhood.”

The Macedonia project will include a seven-lane pool, a “seasonal dome” to allow year-round swimming and an auxiliary community center to sit alongside the existing Funshine Preschool. The church also anticipates allowing the Arlington Water Polo Club to use the facility for practice and training, though church representatives stressed that the pool will be open to anyone.

“Years ago, when the pool was there, it was beneficial to children and adults as well,” Macedonia congregant Laverne Langhorne told the Board. “We really do miss the pool.”

But beyond the importance of the Macedonia project on the micro level, Board members said they view the changes as an important step for the whole county.

The county currently has only five other community pools, and with zoning rules last revised in the 1950s, Board member Erik Gutshall said it was reasonable to assume that the old regulations meant “we really were never going to get another pool again.”

“This is the recognition by the Board that large parts of the county are no longer suburban,” Gutshall said. “We had a suburban style zoning ordinance… and while there are still parts of the county that are more suburban than others, what we’re doing now is untying our hands. We won’t just look at this with a suburban zoning code again.”

Photo via Arlington County

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County Weighs Allowing More Renovations, Additions to Older Duplexes and Townhomes

Arlington could soon make it easier for owners of older duplexes and townhomes to renovate the buildings or tack on additions.

Plenty of Arlington homeowners looking to make a change to a home built before the 1940s have encountered a vexing conundrum in the county’s zoning ordinance; the building could well be deemed “nonconforming” with Arlington’s zoning rules, as it wasn’t built to match the standards the county’s been using since 1942. That means any sort of renovation or addition to the home would require extensive county review, and could ultimately be prohibited, restrictions that have persistently frustrated property owners over the years.

But the County Board is weighing a change to loosen some of those restrictions on two-family homes in some sections of the county.

Not only could the change result in less headaches for homeowners, but county staff expect it would help preserve more affordable housing around Arlington, a key conundrum officials have looked to address in recent years.

“Staff finds that the proposed amendments… allow for reinvestment in existing housing stock that contributes to the overall diversity of housing countywide,” staffers wrote in a report prepared for the Board ahead of its meeting this weekend. “These proposed changes are intended to remove zoning barriers that have existed for decades that limit the type of reinvestment and renovation activities for nearly all of the county’s supply of two-family, and some one-family, dwellings.”

County staff estimate that the change, targeted at homes zoned “R2-7,” would affect as many as 1,488 structures around the county, giving those homeowners the chance to make a range of changes “by right” instead of pursuing county approval first.

Staff noted that the Board of Zoning Appeals, which hears requests from the owners of nonconforming homes, has reviewed 12 cases involving “R2-7” homes over the last two years alone. In all, they believe the bulk of such homes are concentrated “along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Wilson Boulevard, and in Nauck.”

The county also doesn’t expect that these “proposed amendments will significantly alter existing neighborhood character where these one- and two-family dwellings occur,” a fear frequently cited by zoning officials reviewing previous cases.

Staff added that the county will “consider opportunities to encourage development of new, two-family dwellings” in the future, noting that officials could someday commence a more detailed study of “missing middle” housing in the county, or homes falling in the price range between affordable housing and luxury apartments.

The county’s ongoing review of “housing conservation districts” to promote the preservation, and perhaps redevelopment, of older apartments and duplexes will also offer more clarity on the matter in the coming months.

The Board will take up these zoning changes at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).

Photo via Google Maps

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County Details Possible Zoning, Permit Changes Designed to Make Childcare More Accessible

Arlington officials are outlining more details about potential changes on the way for the county’s childcare policies, raising the possibility that Arlington could soon allow more children in small daycare centers, cut back on the permitting and zoning requirements for daycares and reduce the number of staff required for each center to operate.

County leaders have spent years studying what they could do to make childcare more accessible and affordable for Arlington parents, signing off on some broad goals with a “Childcare Action Plan” this summer. But the County Board is also hoping to make some more specific tweaks to its childcare ordinances, and a survey released this week reveals some of the proposals officials could consider before the year is up.

The Board has already agreed to set up a new subsidy to defray childcare costs for families that don’t qualify for state assistance, and plans to streamline some of its online resources for parents looking to find childcare options. Yet, after holding a community forum on the topic this month, the Board could endorse a dozen or more separate policy changes this December.

The new survey looks to collect yet more opinions on the proposed changes. Chiefly, the county could soon allow up to 12 children in small, family daycare homes, up from the current limit of nine. That change would match state law, which permits up to 12 kids in such a setting.

The Board could also do away with its requirement that anyone looking to open a new family childcare center first secure separate “use permits” from the county, making the process “by-right” instead to speed the proliferation of those daycare facilities. Additionally, the Board could eliminate limits on operating hours for those centers, or allow them to open earlier or stay open later to better accommodate working parents.

Another option the Board could consider would be changing its zoning ordinance to set more uniform standards for daycares, in order to help compensate for a lack of permit reviews. New guidelines could include limits on the hours of outdoor playtime for kids or requirements surrounding screening and buffering for playgrounds.

As for larger daycare centers, the Board may also allow them to bump up classroom sizes across kids of various age ranges. For instance, the county currently caps daycares at 10 children per class for two-year-olds, 16 per class for three-year-olds, and 25 per class for kids ranging from 6 to 14.

The Board could choose to adopt state standards instead, including a limit of 24 kids for age 2 and 30 for age three, with no cap on the number of kids per class above the age of six.

Finally, the Board could reduce the number of caregivers each daycare is required to have on staff, or change up its educational requirements for daycare staffers. The county currently stipulates that daycare providers should have two years of college experience, with evidence of childcare-focused coursework — the Board could move instead to state standards, which require a high school diploma and a set amount of relevant experience and training.

The survey on childcare changes is set to close by Friday (Oct. 12).

Photo via Arlington County

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County Planning Zoning Tweaks to Ease Construction of Community Pools

Arlington officials are gearing up to loosen some of the zoning rules governing community swimming pools, in a bid to make it easier for organizations to build or renovate pools across the county.

The Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the zoning tweaks this coming Wednesday (Oct. 10), with the County Board considering the changes soon afterward.

Primarily, the changes would give the Board more latitude to hand out “use permits” for the pools, giving officials the chance to review standards for things like fencing and setbacks on a case-by-case basis, rather than subjecting every pool to the same rigid standard.

The county doesn’t currently boast a large number of community pools, by any stretch of the imagination — there are just five pools around Arlington that aren’t owned by the county or restricted for a specific neighborhood or development’s use — but the zoning changes have sped through the county’s engagement process, nonetheless.

That’s largely due to the fact that the Macedonia Baptist Church is currently hoping to redevelop a former YMCA community center in Nauck, located at 3440 22nd Street S., into a community pool, and has been pressing the county for changes to the zoning standards.

Most of those documents haven’t changed since the mid-1950s, according to a county staff report, when many of the original community pools were first built. Staff notes that those standards “were originally intended to buffer residential communities adjacent to community swimming pools from the impacts of the use, and to ensure that the pool provided ample parking on site that did not congest nearby on street parking or other off-site parking facilities.”

But as Arlington has urbanized over the years, staff believes those standards have become increasingly out of date.

For instance, the zoning ordinance currently requires pools to be built with a 100-foot setback from a residential street, a standard designed to “minimize the audible and visual impacts of the pool on nearby neighbors,” staff wrote. But with space in Arlington increasingly at a premium, county officials believe “a combination of opaque fencing and landscaping” can accomplish the same goal without requiring quite so many design headaches.

County staff don’t want to see the Board do away with that sort of limit entirely, noting that there could be plenty of future instances where the “100-foot setback requirement could be warranted to prevent mechanical equipment, storage buildings, and other pool-related facilities from being located too close to an adjacent neighborhood or property.”

By changing zoning rules to give the Board the chance to review future community pool designs, however, staffers believe members would be able to examine each application on its own and evaluate “the specific circumstances of individual properties,” making the whole process a bit less rigid.

After the Planning Commission gets a chance to offer a recommendation on the zoning changes next week, the Board is set to consider them at its Oct. 20 meeting.

Flickr pool photo by Alves Family

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Salt Storage Dome Replacement Plans Move Ahead, Despite Some Community Complaints

Arlington’s plans to demolish a roughly 90-year-old storage “dome” for road salt and build a temporary replacement are inching forward, even as some neighbors have cried foul about the county’s rushed public engagement process for the project.

The county Planning Commission unanimously lent its seal of approval last night (Thursday) to a series of zoning changes to let work on the salt dome move ahead, keeping the county on track to move about 4,500 tons of salt into a new shelter in time for the first threats of snow in late November.

Officials discovered this spring that the old dome, made out of a repurposed water tank and located on a piece of county property near the intersection of 25th Road N. and Old Dominion Drive, was on the verge of collapse. Considering that the dome was one of just two of the county’s facilities for road salt storage, staff wanted to take urgent action to commission a replacement.

The County Board agreed to kick off that process in July, but people living nearby were peeved that officials would push ahead with these changes on a considerably more expedited timeline than Arlington’s notoriously lengthy engagement guidelines might normally allow. Many neighbors were particularly concerned that the temporary replacement for the dome might become permanent, lending a considerably more industrial feel to the neighborhood, which is just near Marymount University.

“It will be the defining feature of the entrance of our neighborhood, and it will say ‘Welcome to Industrialville,'” Mike Hogan, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, told the commission. “Never have so many planning rules been violated in one proposal as this one.”

Arlington Department of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel stressed to the commission the rushed process is “clearly not how we prefer to do our work,” offering a mea culpa for his staff’s failure to identify the problem a bit earlier. But he also emphasized that the project was so important that it was worth speeding things along — should the dome fail, he expects the county would see its response time to a snowstorm increase anywhere from 30 to 40 percent.

“There should’ve been a public process, there’s no question about it,” Planning Commission Chair Jane Siegel told ARLnow. “Nobody’s trying to hide the ball here… but if there is no salt storage in the appropriate part of the county, we risk people getting injured.”

Siegel expects that county staffers managed to overlook the salt dome’s degrading status because the property was at one time slated to become the home of a replacement for Fire Station 8. When those plans fell apart, she suspects the salt dome got lost in the shuffle, as officials were initially expecting it to be removed.

Some neighbors, however, were not so convinced of the county’s good intentions.

“We’ve all known for a long time this is failing,” Jacqueline Smith, another Old Dominion resident, told the commission. “This is a really predictable crisis… and we’re being put under this pressure, saying we have no other options. And personally, I don’t see that.”

But Emanuel told the commission that staff did examine other options for the temporary salt dome, like a site the county uses for storing leaf removal and the Buck property, a piece of county land near Ballston eyed for all manner of uses over the years. Neither option, however, would quite fit the county’s needs, Emanuel said.

Even with the county stuck using the Old Dominion property, Siegel pointed out that vocal community scrutiny of the project managed to force some concessions from the county to make the effort a bit more tolerable. For instance, the county shrank the amount of land it plans to use for the project, and will save all but three trees it originally planned to cut down on the site.

“Even though it was not a full public process, the public did weigh in and get some wins out of this,” Siegel said.

Still, Old Dominion neighbors worry about the site’s future.

“We recognize this is intended to be temporary, but we’d like to know what temporary means,” Hogan said.

Manuel estimates that the temporary structure will stay in place for the next three to four years, until the county can build a new salt storage tank. And for any concerned neighbors, Siegel also points out that the County Board will soon convene a working group on a “master plan” for the property, a process she says might not have started for quite some time without the community’s interest in the salt dome.

“Temporary things become permanent if there’s no opposing group or force or idea, but here there obviously will be,” Siegel said. “There is a bulwark against the drift.”

The County Board will get a chance to weigh in on the salt dome zoning changes at its Sept. 22 and Sept. 25 meetings.

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Morning Notes

Flash Flooding Hits Arlington — Yesterday’s rain closed a series of roads around the county. First responders had to pull 40 people from 25 stranded vehicles on the G.W. Parkway, which was closed for several hours due to standing water. [Twitter]

How to Beat the I-66 Tolls Inside the Beltway — A new study suggests the best way to save some cash on I-66 is to leave home early, particularly before 6:30 a.m. [WTOP]

Zoning Problems Bedevil Carlin Springs Daycare — The Bright Horizons Child Care and Education Center, located on the county-owned Carlin Springs Road property, could be bound for demolition, even though the county doesn’t have enough money to pursue long-term plans at the site. [Arlington Connection]

Tree Activists Blast the County Board — Local conservationists took the Board to task on a variety of tree canopy issues Saturday, including the fate of the large dawn redwood tree set to be cut down in Williamsburg. However, Board members lamented there’s not much they can do to meet the activists’ demands. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo via Dennis Dimick

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State Supreme Court Could Decide Fate of Highlander Motel Redevelopment

The Virginia Supreme Court could soon decide the fate of the Highlander Motel near Virginia Square, as the property’s owner continues to push to redevelop the site.

Arlington County has been locked in a legal battle with local businessman Bill Bayne for nearly two years now over the property at 3336 Wilson Blvd, arguing that Bayne shouldn’t be able to use an existing parking lot for the same purpose after replacing the 55-year-old motel with a CVS Pharmacy.

The matter went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2016, and was twice considered by Arlington’s circuit court, with a judge ultimately deciding last year that Bayne should be able to move ahead with his plans. But Bayne says the county is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court, which could drag out any redevelopment of the property indefinitely.

“There is no reason for them to fight it,” said Bayne, who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant and co-owns Crystal City Sports Pub. “There’s no upside benefit for them… You’re dealing with an old, outdated property that’s behind its time. It’s much better for a neighborhood to have a CVS than an old, beat-up hotel.”

Bayne hopes the Supreme Court will decide by late August whether or not it will hear the county’s appeal. If the court takes the case, Bayne fears it could drag out the process for “another year” or more, further endangering his already damaged plans to redevelop the property.

But even if the court rejects Arlington’s appeal, Bayne worries his deal with CVS has already likely “fallen apart.” He was set to sign a 50-year lease to bring the pharmacy to the site, bringing him close to $45 million over the term of the lease, and believes he may never engineer a redevelopment of the lot even if he emerges successful in court.

“There would’ve already been a CVS built and open, but they’ve dragged me through a legal process that’s taken years,” Bayne said.

County Attorney Steve MacIsaac did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarity on why the county is appealing the court’s ruling.

The county’s legal filings over the years suggest Arlington officials were concerned with the size of the pharmacy Bayne hoped to build, particularly on a site bordering residential neighborhoods just on the edge of Clarendon, even though county lawyers challenged the project on the basis of some arcane zoning laws.

The legal spat over the Highlander began when Bayne asked for permission from the county to use a parking lot just behind the motel on N. Kenmore Street as parking for the proposed CVS.

A county zoning administrator pointed out that the hotel’s owners received permission when the motel was built back in 1963 to use that lot as “transitional” parking, and never sought any subsequent zoning change. That same lot would help Bayne’s company meet the county’s parking requirement for a retail building of the CVS’s size, a shop that would essentially replace the motel in its entirety.

The county changed its zoning ordinance in 1983 to ban the use of transitional lots for meeting minimum parking requirements, as Arlington moved toward a more transit-focused mentality and officials viewed requests for large parking lots more skeptically. Accordingly, the zoning administrator rejected Bayne’s proposal, setting up a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Board members pressed Bayne’s lawyers on whether he couldn’t simply shrink the proposed CVS and reduce the need for more parking. Land use attorney Evan Pritchard noted in the July 16, 2016 hearing that CVS viewed a smaller location as “no longer worth the trouble” of pursuing.

The Board unanimously denied Bayne’s appeal, arguing that the zoning administrator’s interpretation of the law was the correct one, even if such a distinction over parking lots seemed trivial.

“I’m not saying the proposed commercial use is a bad one, or that it even isn’t in the interest of Arlington County, but the County Board has written the zoning ordinance this way,” Board member Peter Owen said during the hearing.

Bayne appealed that ruling to the county’s circuit court, arguing in an Aug. 11, 2016 complaint that simply using the parking lot for a different establishment would not “change the character or intensity” of the property.

But in motions opposing Bayne’s appeal, county attorneys reiterated their historical zoning arguments and repeatedly cited the size of Bayne’s proposed CVS as a troublesome factor.

“It is as a result of the size of the CVS that all required parking can’t be located on the site,” assistant county attorney Christine Sanders argued in a trial on the matter.

In an Oct. 26, 2017 motion, Sanders also dubbed Bayne’s effort “an end run around the public process of a rezoning” from a residential designation to a commercial one, which “continues to foist upon the neighborhood a noxious use” of the property.

Retired Judge Alfred Swersky sided with Bayne, and denied the county’s subsequent request for another hearing, setting up a potential state Supreme Court fight.

Bayne says he “fully expects” to emerge victorious in the end, whether he’s ultimately able to realize his vision of a CVS on the property or not. He simply remains frustrated that this process has even dragged on for so long in the first place.

“It’s a good thing for the county, how can you argue with it?” Bayne said. “They’ve been told they’re wrong twice by a judge, why do you need to be told a third time?”

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County Board Approves Expanded Seating, Music Hours at Westover Market

(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) The Arlington County Board approved two of the new use permit requests from Westover Market last night (March 20).

The market and beer garden sought to expand its current 29 outdoor cafe seats to 102, which was approved unanimously, but with conditions. The requested, expanded “piped-in” music hours were also approved.

“Previously, the beer garden could not play a radio, recorded, or piped-in music in the outdoor cafe area unless it was during the same hours as the live music,” noted County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “Now, they’re free to do so any evening until 10 p.m. on weeknights or 11 p.m. on weekend nights.”

The County Manager’s staff had recommended approving the expanding seating and music hours. The business withdrew a request, not supported by county staff, to expand the permitted hours of outdoor live entertainment.

The Westover Market also asked for a code modification for outdoor fireplaces, which was denied due to “life and safety concerns.” However, other forms of outdoor heating are still permitted.

An amendment was added that Westover Market would be required to have a representative on site at all times to comply with the new regulations and handle complaints. Board members said their votes were in the interest of helping a local business serve its customers.

“We’re losing the uniqueness,” lamented Board Member John Vihstadt. He said Arlington was losing its “funky” character, citing the recent closure of Clarendon’s Iota Club and Cafe and explaining his view that the most desirable neighborhoods to live in in the county are those with more unique neighborhood amenities and going-out options.

A number of beer garden customers spoke in favor of the permit changes during the public comment period. David Calhoun, the market’s bar manager, told the Board that the beer garden is trying to be a good neighbor.

“We jumped through every hoop, every hurdle that we could,” he said. “We’re not asking for too much and we’re always willing to tone it down if there is a complaint.”

Though the new use permits were approved, some Board members acknowledged and echoed the concerns of those opposed to the market’s requests.

Board Chair Katie Cristol said any enforcement of the new use permits would be difficult and would require responding police officers to have very specific zoning law knowledge, such as knowing the difference between amplified, live, or piped in music permissions.

“All of these things somehow have to find a balance,” said Board Member Christian Dorsey, explaining the difficulty in determining how to limit what he said is the only outdoor cafe with live entertainment in the county.

The market at 5863 Washington Boulevard has become an entertainment and drinking destination, popular with local residents and families, but the county has struggled with how to regulate it given little existing precedent for a business of its kind.

File photo

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Residents Launch Petition to Change Zoning Ordinance After Home Extension Denied

Two residents have launched a petition to try to change the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance after the Board of Zoning Appeals denied their plan to add a story to their home.

John and Gina Quirk, who live on 20th Road N. in the North Highlands neighborhood north of Rosslyn, had an application to convert an unused attic at their duplex home (pictured above) into a third-story bedroom rejected by the BZA late last year.

John Quirk said the “minimal” addition to make more room for their expanding family had the support of all their neighbors. It also had the support of some BZA members, who said at their December meeting that the fact that it stayed within the property was laudable.

“I think this is a really wonderful attempt to gain more space without increasing the footprint, and if we don’t grant these kinds of variances, then we’re faced with variances where they want to expand with the footprint,” said BZA member Charles Smith. “I think this gives developers and builders a [really] good model on how you can gain more with less.”

But the BZA voted down the proposal by a 3-2 margin on the grounds that the R2-7 zone for the property, a residential zone for townhouses and two-family homes, does not allow for such expansions by homes that were built before the Zoning Ordinance took effect. This home was built in 1939.

Such extensions are allowed for homes in other, similar residential zones, but in the Quirks’ zone it requires a special exception from the BZA.

In denying the extension, BZA members urged the Quirks to petition the County Board to change the Zoning Ordinance to allow the extensions in the zone where their home is.

“There’s hundreds like you, so maybe it could be a worthwhile community project for you to be the poster child for,” said BZA member Peter Owen, who also said the Zoning Ordinance is “broken.”

So the Quirks have done just that, and launched an online petition that has 91 supporters so far. The pair said their efforts could help the county address its lack of affordable housing and help people not be priced out of the county when they need more space.

“New county initiatives champion Missing Middle Housing as a strategy to support walkable, urban neighborhoods,” they wrote. “Duplexes are a perfect example of Missing Middle Housing if they can be improved to be compatible in scale to single family homes.”

Image via John and Gina Quirk

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Morning Notes

Arlington Chamber Seeking State Help — Possibly in response to the push for housing conservation districts, “the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is asking the General Assembly to ‘serve as a backstop and a safeguard’ against overreach by localities on planning and zoning matters.” [InsideNova]

Reminder: SmarTrip Change Next Week — As of Monday, Metro riders will no longer be able to run a negative balance on their SmarTrip cards. [WMATA]

‘Meet the Chair’ Scheduled — Arlington residents will be able to meet newly-minted Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol on the evening of Jan. 18, when the Leadership Center for Excellence holds its annual Meet the Chair event. [Leadership Center for Excellence]

SoberRide New Year’s Record — A record 1,225 people used the free safe ride service SoberRide on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Thanks to its new partnership with Lyft, SoberRide’s organizer says it “has removed well more than two times as many would-be drunk drivers from Greater Washington’s roadways as compared with the previous year.” [PDF]

District Taco Continues to Expand — Five Guys may be given a run for its money as the most successful Arlington-born restaurant chain. District Taco is now opening a location in the Center City section of Philadelphia. [Eater]

Snow Shovel Contest Winner — “This is Susan. She won our snow shovel, writing that her favorite phase of snow treatment/removal is Phase 1. Brine makes her giddy. Susan’s old shovel is from Nebraska and cracking. Way to go, Susan.” [Twitter]

Photo courtesy @BoccatoGelatos

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Board to Discuss Outdoor Seating Changes After Westover Beer Garden Troubles

After the recent fight over the Westover Beer Garden’s outdoor seating, the Arlington County Board will consider some changes at its meeting next month.

Under a plan put forward by staff, the County Board could review the seating capacity and hours of piped-in music in outdoor seats governed by a use permit, like the Westover Beer Garden, on a case-by-case basis. It would mean the Board can approve exceptions to the rules of a use permit individually.

Standards that cannot be modified under a use permit include parking requirements, the use of portable lights and furniture and tying their opening hours to the attached restaurant’s.

The beer garden at 5863 Washington Blvd ran into difficulties earlier this year when it tried to add to its outdoor seating as county use permits expressly forbid having more outdoor seats than indoor seats.

That stands in contrast to the just-open Continental Beer Garden in Rosslyn, which has many more seats outside than inside and can do so because it went through a site plan process, which requires County Board approval and is much more involved than a standard administrative permit process.

Similarly, the proposed beer garden known as “The Lot” in Clarendon would need to go through a site plan process to ensure it can have more seats outside than inside under the current rules.

Staff said outdoor seating cannot be considered as permanent seating for a restaurant, and must continue to be treated as an optional extra.

“Because it is an accessory use, an outdoor café is not considered a permanent expansion of a restaurant’s seating capacity, as it is a transitory use which provides patrons with additional seating options on days with pleasant weather,” staff wrote. “The accessory outdoor café also goes largely unused during periods of cold, snow, and rain.”

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday to hold a public hearing on the subject at its November meeting. Staff will make a recommendation on whether the Board should adopt the changes beforehand, with the Planning Commission also set to weigh in.

Photo via Facebook.

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Morning Notes

Summer ride (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Minor Charges for Man Who Ran from Cops — The man who ran from police Tuesday in Ballston did so, apparently, to avoid being charged with driving on a suspended license and improper registration. He’s now also facing eluding and failure to I.D. charges. The passenger in the car did not flee and is being charged with identity theft and possession of drug paraphernalia. [Arlington County]

I-395 HOT Lanes ‘Pretty Close to a Done Deal’ — A plan to convert the I-395 HOV lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes appears to be proceeding. Thanks to promises to use toll revenue to enhance carpooling and express bus service, Arlington officials have been generally supportive of the plan so far. That, after the county sued to block a previous I-395 HOT lane plan. [Washington Post]

Arlington Names New Zoning Administrator — Arlova Vonhm, the county’s Acting Zoning Administrator, has been appointed to the position on a permanent basis. “Vonhm, who joined the County in 2012 as a principal planner, leads a team of 30 Zoning staff. Her team collaborates with Inspection Services and other County staff to process and approve building permits, while actively enforcing the County’s Zoning Ordinance,” notes a press release. In the past few years, Arlington’s zoning administrators have drawn the ire of many in the business community for a heavy-handed approach to enforcing Arlington’s zoning rules. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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