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.