Arlington County staff are recommending that the County Board approve a proposed mixed-use development for the Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning site on Lee Highway.
Last month, the county’s Planning Commission voted against the project, which includes a 10-story apartment tower. The commission said Arlington should have a development plan in place for Lee Highway before any big, potentially precedent-setting developments are approved.
The Planning Commission’s vote was cheered by some residents, who think the 10-story building is too tall, and jeered by other residents, who like the grocery store component of the development plan (MOM’s Organic Market has signed on to the project) and who think the 1950s era Bergmann’s plant is an “eye sore.”
The development proposes a total of 202 residences, including apartments and row houses, and 13,257 square feet of retail space. In addition to the height of the building, some residents also worried about increased traffic.
While expressing some reservations about building height, county staff said the development is appropriate for the area — located at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street, near I-66, 0.4 miles from the Courthouse Metro station — and will benefit the community thanks to its “placemaking” retail and affordable housing components.
“Placemaking involves providing a vibrant space that meets the needs and desires of a community,” said the staff report. “In this instance, the proposed project will provide for a broader mix of uses on a site occupied by a former dry cleaning plant and [vacant] single-family houses. The proposed grocery store and potential ancillary retail space would provide a retail component lacking in this area that residents in the surrounding neighborhoods could easily access on foot or by bicycle.”
While staff said that an 8-story building might be more appropriate for the area in the general, they said 10-stories is appropriate for this specific development.
Staff believes that the proposed height of the East block is appropriate for the site for the following reasons:
The general area of the proposed site plan, Lee Highway west of Rosslyn and east of Cherrydale, consists largely of medium density apartment and townhouse residential development, with a few pre-World War II frame single family houses dispersed throughout. The general area had been almost entirely rezoned for apartments between the 1940s and 1960s. The tallest apartment building in the vicinity, Potomac Towers (located at 2001 N. Adams Street), was constructed by-right in 1961, and is approximately 90 feet in height and has 10 stories.
Similarly, the Circle Condominiums constructed in 1964 at 2030 N. Adams St., varies in height from eight (8) stories and 12 stories (due to the sloping grade). Most of the development surrounding the Bergmann’s site is of older garden apartments of generally no more than eight (8) stories, and townhouses of more recent construction (1980s- present) of no more than four stories or 40 feet.
Therefore, for the above reasons staff believes that, in general, the appropriate maximum height in the neighborhood would be no more than eight (8) stories. However, staff can support a building of 10 stories on this particular site, because it is unique within the area for the following reasons:
The site for the proposed East building is the only location on Lee Highway within a half-mile radius from a Metro Station, outside of East Falls Church and Rosslyn, that is bordered on two sides by a major highway and a major arterial: I-66 and Lee Highway. The site for the proposed 10-story building is located on a full block, separated from other uses by the Interstate 66 right-of-way on the east and north (approximately 230 feet), the Lee Highway right-of-way to the South (150 feet in width including a 45-foot landscaped buffer area acquired as Lee Highway right-of-way but not used), and will be buffered on the west by the retail/mixed use block, transitioning down to the townhouses on the west. Furthermore, the grade at this site is lower than in the immediate vicinity.
Most of the Lee Highway corridor is more than one-half-mile from the nearest Metro station.
The applicant is proposing bonus dwelling units for the provision of on-site affordable housing, under the provisions of Section 36.H.7 of the Zoning Ordinance, where the applicant is permitted additional density of up to 25% of the base number of dwelling units, and up to six (6) stories of additional height. The applicant is requesting 33 bonus dwelling units, eight (8) of which will be on-site committed affordable dwelling units, 24% of the total number of bonus units, which is similar to recent site plans, and exceeds the County’s adopted target of 20% of the bonus. Each floor of the 10-story East building has 16 dwelling units. Staff believes the proposed East Building as an eight (8) story building with two (2) stories of bonus height, accommodating the 33 bonus units. Again, it is important to note that 10 stories is the maximum height for apartment buildings, exclusive of possible bonus height, in the “C-O-1.5” Zoning district.