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. Continue reading
Arlington’s Affordable Housing Task Force has reported that 13,000 affordable units in Arlington County were lost between 2000 and 2013. At that rate the remaining stock of market rate affordable housing will be gone by 2020.
What the task force hasn’t reported is the dollar cost of luxury style densification on other county residents in the form of unmet infrastructure needs.
On April 18 Arlington County Board voted overwhelming to demolish historic Wilson School to make way for development at the WRAPS site in West Rosslyn over the objections of the Rosslyn civic leaders and the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB).
Advocates of restoring the historic Wilson School were told that preservation must make way for other more important uses, among them an office building, a mega school, a fire station and a park.
According to preservationists restoring Wilson School would actually expand green space by eliminating the superstructure built around the original building, reducing its footprint by two thirds.
Citing Barrett Branch Library in Old Town Alexandria where an historic 1937 building was expanded with a new addition in 1995, preservationists indicated that a new high school and the Wilson School on the WRAPS site are not mutually exclusive.
Since a fire station and the Wilson School currently co-exist on the site, there is no reason why a rebuilt fire station could not co-exist with a restored school.
The only use that cannot accommodate the school is the high rise mixed use complex to be constructed by Penzance. County Board acceded to the deal in a secret Letter of Intent (LOI) in January 2013, the existence of which WRAPS itself had been ignorant till now.
Not only was this deal undertaken in a non-transparent manner, it is also imprudent. 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 developer in his right mind would contemplate let alone construct office space in Rosslyn at the present time.
County Board can’t tell developers what to do. But it could exercise its power of site plan review to deny a permit that will trade irreplaceable county parkland for a high rise development of questionable value to taxpayers both residential and commercial. County Board would have done Penzance a favor by refusing to sell it the county owned land it needs to further this speculative, imprudent and unwise business venture.
The decision to scrap Wilson School sealed the Penzance deal since preservation of the school interfered with Penzance’s plans for the site. There is poetic justice here because the state of the office market in Rosslyn right now is so dire that any new office building will be hard to rent, and that might prove to be an albatross around the developer’s neck.
County Board member John Vihstadt questioned the priorities of the WRAPS planning process for west Rosslyn at the February 21 County Board meeting. He said:
“The [WRAPS] charge also very clearly specified that the desire is to accommodate: a new school, new affordable housing, a new fire station, private redevelopment and green space . . . and we may be faced with the issue ‘something’s got to give’.”
Last December during morning rush hour I shuttled with my bike from the Wiehle Reston Metro Station to Herndon Park and Ride, where I then boarded a standing room only 5A bus to L’Enfant Plaza.
I commented to the 5A bus driver that he must be very popular with commuters to attract such a crowd. No, retorted an irate middle aged passenger. She said it takes more than an hour to get into town via the slow moving Silver Line, whereas it takes only 45 minutes via the 5A bus, which stops at Rosslyn Metro en route to L’Enfant Plaza.
The County Manager’s proposed budget indicates that commercial real estate tax assessments dropped by $537 million in 2014 or 2.6% from the previous year. This is the first significant drop in commercial real estate assessments since the BRAC closures in 2011-12 and reflects the 23% office vacancy rate reported by the Washington Post in September, 2014.
Clearly the County must consider business tax relief or otherwise face the likely exodus of more commercial tenants like NSF and Fish and Wildlife Service. One candidate for elimination is the 12.5 percent commercial real estate surcharge tax, the proceeds of which go to the Transportation Capital Fund for projects like new ART buses and the scuttled Columbia Pike trolley.
As an advocate of preserving Wilson School, I am delighted with the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board’s (AHALRB) recent decision to designate the site of the Wilson School as a local historic district. Yet I agree with Rosslyn community leader Stan Karson, that the battle to preserve the school is uphill. That’s because both County Board and the School Board want to demolish the historic structure to make way for a megaschool.
There’s a widespread misperception among elected officials in Northern Virginia that Arlington County is obstructionist, because it opposes widening of I-66 inside the Beltway. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are looking at the only Arlington resident who publicly opposed the ill fated Spot Improvement project–which has widened I-66 piecemeal–by suing VDOT in federal district court.
I lost the court battle but not the war. Rush hour bottlenecks on westbound I-66 persist at the locus of Spot 1, because most outbound traffic is forced back on the I-66 main line at the Sycamore Street exit. In fact the only drivers who benefit from Spot 1 are local motorists who use the added merge lane as an alternative to parallel arteries between Ballston and Falls Church.
The Department of Environmental Services should be commended for strengthening the Arlington Recycling Ordinance by adding a new Section 10-32 requiring owners of apartment dwellings and commercial establishments to co-locate recycling bins wherever trash receptacles are located on the property.
I commend the TJ Working Group (TJWG) for its excellent report detailing the options and the risks associated with constructing a 725 seat elementary school adjacent to TJ Middle School and park. The group asked two questions: whether APS could build a school there and whether ACB should approve the plan.
Of the four designs presented, the group recommended Scheme 2, placing the school at the northwest corner of the site as having the least detrimental impact. I agree with this assessment of the options presented. However, I’m concerned about the options that aren’t on the table, such as reserving the site for needed middle school expansion in the form of an addition to the existing structure. Continue reading