Planning 101: Active Site Plan Proposals in Arlington

Planning 101: Active Site Plan Proposals in Arlington

Arlington County has certainly undergone significant change and will continue to do so, because of our great location in the metropolitan Washington area. Most of the high-density development that occurs in the County is done through Arlington’s unique Special Exception Process. The Special Exception process is just that — a collection of approvals and agreements between the County and a developer related to form, use, and density of a development that is out of the norm.

The Process

These requests, usually in the form of site plans and in some cases Unified Residential Developments (URDs), generally produce developments greater than those permitted “by-right.” By-right is a form of development in which a land owner can proceed to tear down and/or build on their land with no interaction with the County except for demolition or building permits.

Key Boulevard Apartments, slated to be demolished to make way for a new residential building. Photo courtesy Paul Derby
Key Boulevard Apartments, slated to be demolished to make way for a new residential building.
Photo courtesy of Paul Derby

The site plan process provides the County Board flexibility to approve projects with a range of modifications based on unique circumstances of a particular site. These modifications are offset generally by benefits to the community that take various forms, one of which is historic preservation. The County has guidelines for what can be modified and also a template of conditions that are agreed upon prior to approval. For more information, visit the County’s website.

The recent approval of the redevelopment of 1000 North Glebe Road, which will involve the demolition of the Blue Goose building, is an example of a project that went through the site plan process. During the approval process there were a series of meetings by the Site Plan Review Subcommittee (SPRC) of the Planning Commission. At these meetings, issues are raised, discussed, and hopefully solved. The SPRC makes a report back to the Planning Commission that then forwards a recommendation to the County Board for action. During those discussions key players and the County Historic Preservation staff worked hard to make sure historical components were discussed and included in the final site plan agreement between the County and the developer.

As of the beginning of February 2014, there are 12 active site plan development proposals. These are proposals that have been accepted by the County to begin the review process. Two projects have submitted preliminary applications, which the County will continue to review before “accepting.”

Preservation Arlington would like to increase its participation and input in these discussions in 2014. As a first step, it would be best to review the projects that are currently active to see what level of historic features or historical characteristics are involved in each proposal. Three of the projects should be very important to supporters of Preservation Arlington.

Key Boulevard Apartments: The Key Boulevard Apartments are under threat in 2014. A Site Plan application has been accepted by the County to redevelop this site. The proposal calls to amend the existing site plan and construct a new residential building with 158 units, which will include 82 affordable units and 76 market-rate condo units. This proposal calls for the demolition of the existing buildings.

Built in 1943, Key Boulevard Apartments are a nearly perfect garden apartment complex with all the right details and scaling. Many people are probably wondering why it is a request to amend the site plan instead of submitting a new one. The Key Boulevard Apartments are part of an existing site plan, approved in 1981, involving the Atrium Condominium on the south side of Key Boulevard.

When the Atrium development was approved, the Key Boulevard Apartments were included in the site plan so that the unused density (a total of 68 units) could be moved into the Atrium building. Moving this unused density allowed the Atrium to increase its unit count from 289 units to a total of 357 units.

The proposal, by AHC (Arlington Housing Corporation), which has been submitted to the County, calls for the transfer of 100 residential units of “unused” density from a project in Ballston to Rosslyn, and the demolition of the existing Key Boulevard Apartments. The Historic Resources Inventory (HRI), which was adopted by the County Board in October 2011, lists the Key Boulevard Apartments in the top third of buildings and includes them in the “Important” category. One of the goals of the HRI is to “Promote the Preservation of the Important Historic Buildings.”

The unused density is coming from the Gates of Ballston, also owned by AHC. The Gates of Ballston is a local historic district and has won a national preservation award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. So density from one saved garden apartment project would be used to enable the demolition of another historic garden apartment project that already had its excess density used in a modern hi-rise luxury condominium. Stay tuned.

The Deep Throat Garage.
The Deep Throat Garage.

1401 Wilson Boulevard: This is the redevelopment of the building that contains the famous “Deep Throat” Garage. This is an important story that changed and made history — in a garage in Arlington. Preservation Arlington does not plan or expect to keep this redevelopment from occurring. Rather, we feel it would be important to commemorate the events of that site, possibly in a manner similar to how Chicago commemorates where the Great Chicago Fire started.

Shreve Apartments: This project, located on the western end of Arlington, is currently on hold. The site sits adjacent to the W&OD bike trail. There is a siding from the old W&OD tracks that serves this site and it the only remaining rail still left from a system that helped shape growth in Arlington. Preliminary discussions between the developer, Arlington County, and the NVRPA (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) on developing a visitors center and interpretative area had been going well. If this project is reactivated it is hoped that these discussions can also continue. This East Falls Church plan, adopted in 2011 specifically noted this historic resource and called for its preservation. A local historic designation has been prepared for this site.

The county has a great interactive map showing all the site plans that are currently in process or approved:
* Current Filings
* Preliminary Filings
* Approved


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