Development Update

by Aaron Schuetz

Arlington County has changed rapidly over the past few decades, but with Amazon coming, change seems to have accelerated. Many of us who have been here for more than a decade find things have changed in both good ways, and bad. Gone are many of the modest neighborhood homes built for the federal workforce. Gone are many small commercial buildings with surface parking lots. As we continue to urbanize and up-build, we have gained a lot and have welcomed many more people into our community. But we’ve also lost a lot. We might be losing the sense of community that has been so important to many who choose to live in Lyon Park. Striking a balance and deciding when to ride the wave, and when to push back against it, can be challenging.

When I first became involved with the LPCA and Development issues, the 2201 Pershing project was just beginning. Concern about how development would change our community and ensuring it would be an asset was foremost. A decade later, what do you think? Do you like it? Do you pine for what used to be there? Do you wish there was even more? Well, more is coming. Just across Pershing Drive, the Days Inn site is being prepared for redevelopment. The County just approved changes to the General Land Use Plan, paving the way for a similarly large development. These two developments will define a “Gateway” into our neighborhood. While a decade ago, the 2201 building was deemed by many to be “too large” for being so far from the metro, Arlington staff now considers an even larger building to be OK. At the same time, even more effort is being put into how that building’s “massing” is arranged on the site—both in how it relates to the neighboring houses and apartments, and also in how it “feels” for pedestrians walking the street. We’ve invited the owner/developer to come to our January LPCA meeting to present their plan for this site. Our engagement can help them design something that is a neighborhood asset. We can’t ask them for a community swimming pool, but we can make suggestions and raise our concerns about traffic, retail, open space, and affordable housing. I hope you can make that meeting.

Just outside our neighborhood, there’s lots more happening. Most important for us, the Silver Diner/Joyce Motors block will be redeveloped with a hotel on the point closest to the metro, and two residential buildings that border 10th Street. While the block involves two separate developers, they are working together on certain aspects (like a single underground parking structure). The largest issue for our neighborhood is how it affects Ashton Heights. While the development is on the far side of 10th street from Ashton Heights, the County seems to be softening about some height tapering issues, meaning the building could “tower over” 10th street. That would be in stark contrast to Ashton Heights’s single-family dwellings (although some commercial sites border 10th with residential set back). I’ve been working with other Civic Associations to push back on the County’s decisions like these, because later, developers will use them as a precedent for developments that are in our neighborhood.

In addition, Arlington is considering updates to the Clarendon Sector Plan. This plan (now 15 years old) created the overall vision for Clarendon’s redevelopment. It has helped guide the area’s growth and success, even if many of us miss the old Clarendon and feel “too old” to hang there now. The Sector Plan includes the sites I mentioned, and nearby sites (St. Charles Church, the Fire Station, and the Wells Fargo bank site) that will soon be redeveloped. While some people believe parts of the plan need tweaking (like incorporating Arlington’s Vision Zero plan for making streets safe for everyone, not just cars and trucks), others are unhappy that County staff seem to be undermining parts of the plan. My biggest concern is that the fire station block, which was once designated as a future park space, will likely not become a park. In Rosslyn, the great new fire station is integrated into a new development, which freed up county land. The Arlington Fire Department seems not to be interested in pursuing a similar solution in Clarendon, preferring to rebuild the station on the current site.