Arlington ap­proves Ross­lyn area re­de­vel­op­ment project

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY PA­TRI­CIA SUL­LI­VAN pa­tri­cia.sul­li­van@wash­post.com

A com­plex and controversial re­de­vel­op­ment project in­clud­ing a new school, park, fire sta­tion, af­ford­able-hous­ing build­ing and two res­i­den­tial-re­tail high-rises in the western Ross­lyn neigh­bor­hood won fi­nal ap­proval from the Arlington County Board on Saturday.

When the en­tire project is fin­ished in the early 2020s, the “su­perblock” along the north side of the 1500-1600 block of Wil­son Boule­vard will be split in two; the cen­tury-old Wil­son School will be re­placed with a con­tem­po­rary, fan-shaped 775-stu­dent school; and an ag­ing fire sta­tion will be re­built, tucked into the ground floor of a new re­tail-res­i­den­tial tower.

That’s not even men­tion­ing the most controversial seg­ment — the re­place­ment of the small and heav­ily used Ross­lyn High­lands Park — or the re­place­ment of the low-rise Queen’s Court res­i­dences at 1801 N. Quinn St. with a 12-story apart­ment build­ing that in­cludes 249 af­ford­able-hous­ing units.

Few de­vel­op­ments bet­ter il­lus­trate Arlington’s tran­si­tion from what was once a small sub­urb dom­i­nated by sin­gle-family homes and gar­den apart­ments to an ur­ban com­mu­nity with high­rise apart­ments, side­walk-level re­tail stores and in­tensely de­vel­oped green spa­ces.

Stu­dents will be strongly urged to take Metrorail, buses or bi­cy­cles to get to classes; their school rooftops will in­clude space for in­struc­tion and recreation; and at least for the first few years, a tem­po­rary fire sta­tion will oc­cupy what will even­tu­ally be their ath­letic field.

The last ma­jor stick­ing point Saturday was whether the county would de­lay ap­proval of a 93-space park­ing garage be­neath an ath­letic field at Quinn and 18th streets.

Pen­zance Prop­er­ties, the de­vel­oper of the res­i­den­tial high-rises, of­fered the schools 100 free park­ing spa­ces in its garages, and the county man­ager’s staff sug­gested that the un­der­ground garage might not be needed, sav­ing the school district about $5 mil­lion on its $108 mil­lion school.

But Nancy Van Doren, the school board chair, ar­gued that teach­ers, staff, par­ents and vis­i­tors to the school need about 150 spa­ces. The school district had no guar­an­tees that spa­ces in the pri­vate garage would be eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble at all times, Van Doren said.

County Board mem­bers voted to de­lay the con­struc­tion of an un­der­ground park­ing garage and to try the 100 garage spa­ces to see whether those spa­ces are ad­e­quate.

The County Board also wres­tled with el­e­va­tor ac­cess from the pri­vate garage to the park, and an ac­ces­si­ble school en­trance that forces the ath­letic field to tilt up at one end. But board mem­bers praised the 180,000-square-foot school’s de­sign by the Bjarke In­gels Group and Leo A. Daly. The school district ex­pects sig­nif­i­cant com­mu­nity use for the build­ing.

“I wanted a lot more park and open space out of this project,” said board mem­ber Chris­tian Dorsey (D). “[But] by try­ing to fit so much into a fairly lim­ited area, there are go­ing to be com­pro­mises all around.”

Nearly ev­ery piece of the plan, known as the Western Ross­lyn Area Plan­ning Study, drew heated de­bate over the past four years, start­ing with a se­cret let­ter of in­tent be­tween the county and Pen­zance, which al­lowed the de­vel­oper to lease county-owned land be­neath the ex­ist­ing fire sta­tion and take a por­tion of the park for its own use.

Neigh­bors strongly ob­jected to the im­pact of the devel­op­ment and the school on their lo­cal park. His­toric preser­va­tion ad­vo­cates un­suc­cess­fully fought to save the 107-year-old Wil­son School, which will be de­mol­ished for the new school con­tain­ing the H-B Wood­lawn Sec­ondary Pro­gram and the Strat­ford Pro­gram. They lost twice.

Stu­dents fought for a full out­door field for sports and recreation; par­ents of stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties who at­tend Strat­ford ar­gued for buses to have ground­floor ac­cess to the school. The county man­ager, seek­ing a tem­po­rary lo­ca­tion for the fire sta­tion, sug­gested putting it on an­other park, which trig­gered that neigh­bor­hood’s op­po­si­tion. The County Board even­tu­ally de­cided to put it on the new school’s ath­letic field.

The Pen­zance build­ings will hold 892 new res­i­den­tial units as well as ground-floor re­tail space.

The board also voted to ap­prove the re­place­ment of 39 low-cost gar­den apart­ments at Queen’s Court with 249 com­mit­ted af­ford­able-hous­ing units. The prop­erty will also con­trib­ute a 9,000square-foot park ease­ment with a chil­dren’s play­ground.

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