It was recently revealed that County Board has agreed to trade county parkland to developer Penzance in exchange for a fire station to be incorporated as part of a mixed use office development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn. This deal was done in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till a couple of months ago.
Not only was this deal undertaken in a non-transparent manner, it also violates the County’s Natural Resources Management Plan, which mandates “zero-loss of County owned natural lands.”
There is also a serious question whether the deal is financially prudent. Consider that at 23 percent Arlington’s office vacancy rate is at an all time high. The Washington Business Journal reports a Rosslyn vacancy rate of 30.8 percent, with more than 2.7 million square feet of empty office space including a 35-story trophy office building at 1812 Moore Street that remains vacant a year and a half after construction.
Across the street from 1812 Moore two new office towers are going up that will glut Rosslyn with empty office space for years to come. No prudent developer would construct office space in Rosslyn in the present bear real estate market.
The Planning Commission can’t tell developers what to do. But it can reject the WRAPS plan until it is amended to remove the provision that trades irreplaceable county parkland for a high rise development of questionable value to taxpayers and the County.
The Planning Commission shouldn’t worry that County Board might reject its advice. For if County Board goes ahead with the plan, it is likely that some of the office space constructed at the site of the park will remain unrented for years to come. If that occurs the developer might encounter problems financing the new fire station. In the face of this eventuality the Planning Commission would do well to wash its hands of the deal.