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’.”
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.
At the December 18 County Board meeting, Katie Elmore, spokesperson for the North Rosslyn Civic Association, complained about WRAPS, the planning group that advised County Board on what to do with the site of the current Wilson School. She was unhappy that WRAPS did not consider preservation of historic Wilson School.
I was happy to learn at the May 22 and June 8 School Board meetings that other Arlington residents are concerned about plans to build a 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the Wilson School in Rosslyn. I was particularly impressed with Arlington lawyer Kristin Woody’s rationale for recommending the M5 alternative instead. The M5 alternative described in Arlington Public Schools (APS) Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposal, would relocate the Reed School to Madison Community Center; relocate HB Woodlawn HS to the Reed School and renovate the HB Woodlawn building for use as a new Stratford MS.
I want to pay tribute to Bob Atkins, prominent GOP civic activist, who died recently. Bob grabbed headlines when at a budget hearing last spring he commented on the impact of impending federal budget cuts, saying: “The goose that laid the golden egg has reached menopause.”
This hilarious mixed metaphor should give pause to those wondering about the cost of the Ashlawn Elementary School extension, which has ballooned from $12 million to $20 million in a year’s time. Continue reading
Arlington County has trumpeted the opening of the new Arlington Mill Community Center (AMCC) and the completion of 122 units of “affordable” housing at Arlington Mill Residences located nearby. But the price tag on Arlington Mill shows why the County’s approach to affordable housing isn’t working.
The apartments cost $31 million to build, which comes to about $250,000 per unit. The Washington Post reports that there’s already a waiting list of 3,600 people for those units, and families earning less than $64,000 per year need not apply, as most units aren’t affordable to people earning less.
A recent Arlington Ridge Civic Association (ARCA) email alert pointed out that Vornado’s plan to construct two office towers twice the size of the current zoning limit with over 2,200 parking spaces and 6,800 car trips per day adjacent to a major Metro stop isn’t smart growth. It’s stupid. Not only that but Vornado and the County have steadfastly refused to consider the community’s recommendations for making the proposed PenPlace office complex more livable–by mixing office space with residential, eliminating setbacks and creating more open space. Continue reading