by Joan Quinn
It began with a telephone call re a brief survey. Did the responder live in zip code 22202, was he or she a homeowner in that neighborhood, and, if so, for how long. Satisfactory answers resulted in an offer. In exchange for participating in a 90-minute opinion poll at an office in Old Town Alexandria, the responder would receive $100 in cash. The topic was not identified. The date and time for the meeting was Monday, November 29, 2010, at 7:30 p.m.
About 12 individuals waited in the lobby of the designated location. Some participants recognized one another. All were told, “No cell phones allowed inside”. Not until 7:45 p.m., when some 12 people left the conference room, was the 7:30 group permitted inside. Nobody knew the subject matter of the meeting. It was to be video-taped.
Participants were asked what they liked and disliked about living in the 22202 zip code. The conversation was steered to the overgrown plot of land near 12th and Fern Streets behind Costco.
What did the participants think should be done with that land? Someone suggested turning it into a park, a place to which one could take their grandchildren on Sunday afternoon. The facilitating pollster suggested an alternative vision—a vision of 5 more office towers of 18-22 stories each, two of which were already designated for the Department of Defense. An uproar resulted. And the group now understood that they were dealing with Pen Place. The group was universally opposed to such a suggestion. They wanted something that served the neighborhood; not something that just generated revenue for the County.
The facilitator asked how such office development might be made acceptable to the neighborhood. He suggested that ground floor shops and restaurants; venues open at night and on weekends with parking availability would be nice. That vision was not acceptable. People objected to existing traffic and the fact that public transportation was inadequate. Traffic and transportation needed to be addressed.
In response, the facilitator noted that I-395 was right there. Vehicles would go directly from the highway into the proposed new office buildings, and people would have access via the Columbia Pike trolley that would include a stop at the development. And the County Board was in favor of the development. The County only earned $700,000 in property taxes from the land now but with the proposed development it would garner $10,000,000. And he claimed that the area was deficient in office space.
The meeting was characterized as exhausting, “heated” and “stressful”. There is no office space remaining for development in Pentagon City under the phased development plan adopted by the County to determine development type in the area.
by Don Clarke
When the site plan for the development of Pentagon City was presented, the owners’ agents and the County Board maintained that the Phased Development Site Plan (PDSP) and the many conditions attached to the rezoning would mitigate the significant increase in density and protect the adjacent neighborhood. Based on these assurances, the rezoning was approved in February 1976. Different land parcels in the 116-acre tract were to be built on at various densities and uses, providing an orderly transition from the residential neighborhood to the high-density area around the Metro station.
Within a few years, major amendments were proposed to concentrate all the commercial square footage allowed by the PDSP into a single parcel. When these amendments were approved, the result was the Fashion Center, which was to be the end of retail and office development; the remainder was to be residential. Nevertheless, time and economic tide shifted, and some years later the owner/developers proposed amendments to permit Pentagon Row, which was duly approved.
If the reader sees the beginning of a pattern here, it has certainly continued until the present day, with the County Board, its staff, and the current developers cooperating to come up with imaginative justifications for replacing “residential” designations in the PDSP with profitable office/retail. The “transfer of density tool” praised by Board member Barbara Favola in her January 1 remarks is another unfortunate precedent of finding ways to accommodate developers who promise additional revenue at the expense of additional high-traffic uses in an area that already is experiencing serious rush-hour congestion and environmental degradation.
by Dick HerbstDownload Dick's historical overview of the Crystal City Redevelopment Phased Development Site Plan.