Category: Development

Shirlington Village Slated for Densification

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

I am the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board. I also am a member of the Transportation Commission speaking on my own behalf only. On July 2 the Commission voted unanimously to recommend deferral of a vote on the Shirlington General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study until outstanding transportation issues can be addressed.

While I agree with most of the Transportation Commission report, I disassociate myself from the following:

“While the commission feels confident and satisfied that the automotive trips generated by the additional homes, businesses and offices proposed in the GLUP Study Plus can be readily handled by the existing street network, the comission is concerned that the recommendations and planning for transit, walking and biking are insufficient and will leave Shirlington ill-equipped to support non-automotive modes as it grows under this study.”

Actually I am concerned about inadequate attention given to all modes of transportation in the area, particularly the study’s claim that “even a level of density greater than what would be approved for the Village at Shirlington could be accommodated without a noticeable diminution of service at the key intersections in and around the study area.” 

On July 2, I asked staff how it is so sure of this, given that no Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) had been done. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs. The TIA will be produced at site plan review. This reasoning is circular, since we all know that the adopted GLUP study will provide the rationale for approving several site plans in Shirlington irrespective of the TIA. Circular reasoning also explains why there is no discussion in the GLUP study of impacts on schools, green space, historic structures and public safety—in other words, all the things that matter.

My concerns are heightened by the applicant’s objection to the height limits imposed by the study and the fact that under the GLUP amendments soon to be adopted, the applicant could in fact double the density of the entire neighborhood.

Equally alarming is the applicant’s objection to building preservation. Instead it proposes to preserve facades on a case by case basis. Shirlington Village’s selling point is its historic restaurant district. When those structures are reduced to rubble and replaced with mere facades, its attraction as a destination will disappear.

While full scale densification will surely ruin the Shirlington Village restaurant district, partial densification will also fail unless impacts are addressed.

Arlington Think Tank Says “Missing Middle” Housing Is Unaffordable

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

The following are excerpts from a July 15 statement issued by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) on the cost of so-called missing middle housing.

Arlington County’s “Housing Arlington” Missing Middle initiative — launched in December 2019 — is premised on the assumption that increasing the supply of housing even in an elastic/high demand market will provide significantly more affordable housing.

In particular, proponents of this initiative have speculated that Missing Middle housing “types” would be affordable for those at or near Arlington’s Area Median Income (AMI) of about $120,000 a year. By rezoning districts that are now limited to detached single-family homes (SFHs) to allow for duplex, triplex or townhouse development, as the country is strongly hinting, more homes might indeed be built — but at great cost in new services, infrastructure, traffic/transportation, school seats, environmental impact and park demand.

This assumption is challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on SFH sites by Dr. Jon Huntley, a senior economist and Kody Carmody, a communications specialist, both employed at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Huntley and Carmody show that Arlington property and land values are so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the means of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in all but a few neighborhoods. In order to make them attractive for builders, new duplexes will need to compete on price with new SFHs, which typically start at $1 million and above in all areas of the county. Thus they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing. So much for affordable Missing Middle housing.

What Goes Around Comes Around on North Vermont Street in Ballston

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, June 13, 2020.

Plans to redevelop the North Vermont and 11th Street site in Ballston have been on the drawing boards for more than four years. During this time Ballston has added 2,000 additional high-rise housing units with 1,000 more on the way.

Residents of the neighborhood protested the first site plan adopted by the Board in February, 2018 because of unmitigated impacts in the form of impaired views and increased traffic congestion. Now comes a new developer with a plan to increase density even more.

At an LRPC hearing in 2017, North Ballston neighbor Annette Lang, explained why the original site plan had little community support. She put it this way.

“Specifically, residents should not bear the burden of proving that exceptions to land use plans and modifications to zoning codes are appropriate. Rather, developers should bear the burden of establishing that unless an exception and/or modification to current plans and zoning codes is granted, development of a particular property will not occur. That is the core meaning of ‘exception’.”

County staff, were as unswayed by this argument then as they are today. The fact that the Vermont Street developer needed a GLUP amendment to rezone the site is irrelevant. All that matters is that the Ballston Sector Plan encourages high density development.

The fact that a sector plan trumps the zoning ordinance makes the zoning ordinance a dead letter. Any developer with sufficient financial resources can leverage any site plan he wants irrespective of its impacts on streets, schools, open space and/or public safety. In 2018 residents of North Ballston had reason to feel discouraged because they had lost a battle to preserve their neighborhood. Today they have reason to believe that what goes around comes around, because the pandemic thrives in densely packed neighborhoods, such as the future Vermont Street development

Marriott Hotel Redevelopment To Dump More Traffic at Key Bridge

Comments for Arlington County Board Meeting, March 24, 2020

I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission of which I am a member.

Approval of the Master Transportation Plan for the Key Bridge Marriott site was heard by the Transportation Commission on March 5.

While I spoke in favor of the design, I abstained from the vote for want of an adequate traffic impact analysis (TIA).

Specifically I objected to the fact that traffic impact of three important pipeline developments was excluded from the TIA: Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

Failing to report the impact of the latter site is egregious since the Transportation Commission heard that item on March 5 also, and a TIA for it has already been prepared.

The Ames Center alone will dump 630 vehicles from 788 new residential units on Rosslyn streets a block away from the Marriott. The redeveloped Marriott site will dump another 623 vehicles. The Holiday Inn site directly across the street from the Marriott will dump 818 vehicles housed in two garages.

These three developments could easily triple the amount of traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is currently operating at LOS F.

According to the Marriott TIA, the combined impacts of the Holiday Inn and four other major developments in the immediate vicinity will generate 21,517 weekday trips exclusive of the Marriott (Table 5-1, p.44).

Rosslyn developers refuse to scale back the amount of built parking, even though Arlington County recommends doing just that. These developers evidently believe that they can’t market their luxury condos unless they provide at least 1 parking space per unit.

Will someone tell them that if buyers can’t get their car out of the garage, and can’t make headway on Lee Highway at rush hour, they will sell?Developers should focus on marketing spectacular views of the DC skyline, not the ability to park a car.

Misconceptions About “Missing Middle” Housing

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, February 22, 2020

On February 6, housing planner Russell Schroeder outlined the Housing Division’s “Missing Middle” housing study to the Transportation Commission. According to the study’s framework document, one of the goals is to arrive at “a shared definition for the term ‘missing middle housing’ for Arlington”.

The Transportation Commission, which embraced the plan, conceded that missing middle does not mean affordable housing. Indeed, ARLnow quoted Commissioner Kristin Calkins, who said: “The point of the Missing Middle Study is not to create affordable housing, but is to create housing for different needs.”

Commissioner James Lantelme said the purpose of Missing Middle is to further densify the County in order to reduce suburban sprawl and provide people who can afford to do so the opportunity to live here–in other words, to promote “Smart Growth”.

There was no concern expressed about the impacts of densification on County residents, including increased congestion, overcrowded schools, loss of green space and tree canopy and attendant runoff and flooding. To housing advocates like AHC who believe that Missing Middle will provide affordable housing, civic activist Suzanne Sundburg has this to say:

So all these folks who claim to support increasing the number of “people of color” and/or “affordability” are being intellectually dishonest. Increased density inflates land values. And inflated land values drive up assessments, which, in turn, drive up the tax burden. That increased tax burden falls heaviest on fixed- and low-income households . . . which often comprise people of color, seniors and the disabled. These developer welfare upzoning/densification programs increase the cost of housing for all Arlingtonians, and result in the displacement of the very people that they and the county claim they want to “help.”

Suzanne Sundburg

Upzoning the Arlington Way

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, December 14, 2019

The Arlington Connection recently ran a story on upzoning the Arlington way. It went like this. A large lot on North River Street in Chain Bridge Forest was recently sold by the estate of its former owner to a developer. He leveled the home and all 200 trees on it to make way for 4 new McMansions.

At a recent County Board meeting Christian Dorsey informed one of the impacted neighbors that the County Board couldn’t do anything about it. Appeals to the County Manager’s office, CPHD and the Zoning Administrator likewise fell on deaf ears. The reason is by right development according to Libby Garvey, who commented on “the need to examine regs that can discourage such projects.”

But that’s not likely to happen when the County Board votes to upzone residential neighborhoods. Then the plight of Chain Bridge Forest will play out across the County. Housing advocates like Affordable Housing Solutions are cheering the developers on, because they  naïvely believe that upzoning will produce affordable housing. That’s delusional. Upzoning will simply replace each million dollar tear down with 4 equally unaffordable pre-fabs.

A recent Sun Gazette editorial opined that upzoning will pit single family homeowners against recently “woke” voters who own no property and have no interest in preserving single family neighborhoods. Their votes will be bought by outside money from the likes of George Soros, who recently purchased the election of the County’s new Commonwealth Attorney.

 “Woke” voters are no doubt easily led. But their votes won’t be needed once existing owners realize that they can make a killing by selling to a developer, who will then cannibalize their property and immiserate their neighbors.

County Board Doubles Down on Massive Parking Facility at HT Development Site

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting: 11/16/19

I am speaking on my own behalf as a long-time bike commuter, not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

However, I voted with the majority of the commission on October 30, when it recommended that this item be deferred until the developer produces a more realistic parking plan. HT currently proposes 946 parking spaces or 812 more than the current HT parking lot. The Parking Guidelines for Multi-Family Residential Projects requires only 506 spaces for this site. So HT is effectively doubling what the County recommends.

The Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA) produced by Gorove/Slave discounts the impact of the development at the intersection of Glebe Road and Randolph Street, trotting out its usual argument that since the intersection is already operating at an unacceptable level of service (LOS F), the predicted net increase of about 100 cars during peak hours isn’t going to make things worse.

According to neighbors at nearby Hyde Park Condominium the intersection at Glebe and Randolph is already dangerous, because due to the lack of a westbound left turn lane at Glebe and Henderson Road, residents of Hyde Park must use the Glebe and Randolph intersection to execute westbound turns into the condominium.

The staff report indicates that the project provides almost 300 bicycle parking spaces, with bike access afforded by bike lanes on adjoining streets. But there are no current or planned bike lanes along Glebe Road. 300 bikes competing with hundreds of cars and thousands of pedestrians to get into and out of 600 Glebe Road every day gives new meaning to the term “traffic hazard”.

To get an idea of just how dangerous the HT location already is, the other day I road my bike during rush hour on the sidewalk of Glebe Road from Fairfax Drive to Route 50 and back. En route I jockeyed for space with numerous pedestrians, other bikers and turning cars on uneven pavement. It was a hazardous trip that will become exponentially more dangerous with new HT development. Time to hit the reset button on 600 Glebe Road and come up with a new safety conscious parking plan.

PRESS RELEASE: More Densification Planned for Ballston

Most people view development as a good thing. But too much of a good thing is bad, and that’s what’s happening to Ballston, where densification has become the new mantra. According to community activist Suzanne Sundburg, who has tracked the greater Ballston planning pipeline from a variety of public sources, about 3,000 new residential rental units have been built or are under construction there.

Major projects underway include the redevelopment of the Harris Teeter / Mercedes site on N. Glebe Road (732 residential units, 965 parking spaces). Other Ballston housing projects completed, under construction or planned include:

The .6 acre park planned for the Harris Teeter / Mercedes site is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the more than 1,000 residents who will live there. In fact .6 acres is the average size of just 3 single family home lots. Nearby Mosaic Park will have to serve the recreation needs of the thousands of others moving into the units listed above.

A New Planning Approach Needed

Considering the growing congestion at major intersections such as Wilson Blvd. and Glebe Road in Ballston; schoolyards overflowing with trailers; acres of new flood inducing surfaces from infill development; Arlington County Government’s planning paradigm falls well short of the kind of reality-driven planning that Arlingtonians deserve.

As an Independent candidate for County Board, I don’t think we need buzzwords that local officials bandy about like “Car-Free Diet,” “Affordable Housing,” “Smart Growth” and “Urban Village”. We need comprehensive studies that include the fiscal and practical costs of increasing Arlington’s population.

If elected, I will insist on a new approach to redevelopment. In addition, if elected, I will:

  • Say NO to more tax rate increases and a recently authorized County Board pay grab.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission, I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Dawn Redwood Report Greenwashes Development in Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 6/15/19

Last week Arlington County issued a long awaited report on how it approved the demolition of a 75 year old Dawn Redwood to make way for the redevelopment of a property on North Ohio Street located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA) in North Arlington.

The County’s Chesapeake Bay Ordinance expressly prohibits redevelopments that increase the amount of runoff inducing impervious surface in RPAs. The report claims that “there was no increase in impervious cover.” So the redevelopment was “allowable”.

Anyone familiar with the North Ohio Street site knows that the McMansion built on it dwarfs the original home that was demolished along with the Dawn Redwood in 2018. How could this oversized structure NOT generate more runoff?

Maps contained in the report, show that the developer, Richmond Homes, subdivided the lot, placing the old property on a parcel inside the RPA perimeter and the new property on an adjacent parcel just outside the RPA. He then demolished the old home along with the redwood, eliminating all impervious surface on that parcel. By this sleight of hand, the new oversized home actually occupies less of the RPA buffer than the original.

A neat trick, one that not only enriches Richmond Homes, but also establishes a precedent for demolishing homes and trees on properties throughout the County that were previously off limits to redevelopment.

If you live adjacent to an RPA and want to make a killing on the sale of your home, rest assured. The County is open for business. If you are the neighbor of such a homeowner, you might also want to sell when the additional runoff impacts your property. As for the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance itself? Well that’s a dead letter.

Detached ADUs Will Upzone Arlington Neighborhoods

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/18/19

Here is Suzanne Sundburg’s take on detached affordable dwelling units (ADUs).

“This is the first step to eliminate single-family zoning. Any land use attorney worth his/her salt should easily be able to get a judge to determine that properties with independent/ detached accessory dwellings are 2-family lots, which does not meet the standard for single-family zoning, as staff contends. I do believe staff understands this weakness and these changes are part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate many restrictions in the remaining low-density areas, which also happen to be where most of our dwindling mature tree canopy remains.

“This is not about affordable housing; this is about enabling developers and builders to line their pockets by opening up more buildable lots that heretofore have been beyond reach. Don’t take my word for it.

“Here’s what the Federal Reserve has to say about upzoning in existing low-density neighborhoods in a 2018 study highlighted in Forbes magazine:

“The Fed report suggests that housing will be much the same:

The implication of this finding is that even if a city were able to ease some supply constraints to achieve a marginal increase in its housing stock, the city will not experience a meaningful reduction in rental burdens.

Add 5% more housing to the most expensive neighborhoods and the rents would drop only by 0.5%.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2018/08/03/additional-building-wont-make-city-housing-more-affordable-says-fed-study/#16c6e4f1218b

“The inflation of land values is easily predictable, as is the increase in real estate taxes. Staff and board members will finally be able to force older, long-time homeowners off of their properties while trying to shield themselves from blame for their continued economic cleansing of Arlington. The truly poor (who haven’t be able to wrangle a subsidy) have been forced out. Now it’s middle-class’s turn.

“This is what you get when you permit developers and real estate interests to control public policy from the shadows.”

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