Our last meeting of 2019 saw several firsts and new approaches to old problems. We approved the first permit for a new Amazon office building; found a solution to the parking issues for “Restaurant Row” on 23rd Street South; received a building for affordable housing with the approval of Crystal Houses development; and adopted new zoning regulations to permit assisted living facilities in more areas of Arlington. We also heard about more disruption coming to Columbia Pike.
After the tumultuous meeting last March when we approved the package to bring Amazon to Crystal City, we were pleasantly surprised with a relatively quiet public hearing on the first Amazon office building at Met Park. Although labor agreements with permits like this are not something the Board addresses, we have been encouraging discussions about a labor agreement to ensure fair pay and prevent wage theft during the construction of Amazon facilities. Wage theft is a major problem in our region. I am pleased that Amazon has been working with labor unions and will be adhering to Davis Bacon rules to pay prevailing wages to construction workers here, as well as using systems to safeguard against wage theft. Amazon representatives made strong statements about their commitment to ensure that their construction workers are treated legally and fairly. I am hopeful that these projects will signal the end of the pernicious practice of wage theft and mistreatment of workers throughout our region.
The Board voted on Amazon’s package of conditions on the site, which included their contributions of $20M to our Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF); $14M towards the construction and future maintenance of Met Park (to be designed with public participation); as well as a number of transportation improvements in the area; and LEED platinum design. The large event space planned in Amazon’s building will be available for public use when not used by the company.
We approved additional residential apartments and some townhouses on the Crystal Houses site in Crystal City. As part of the package, the developer conveyed a building to us to use for affordable housing. Usually we have contributions of money or actual affordable units as a public benefit. Receiving a building for affordable housing is a new approach. As anyone who lives in the County understands, the cost of land is often the biggest obstacle to providing affordable housing in Arlington. Additionally, the Board plans to provide parking on that site for patrons of 23rd Street restaurants, where parking is quite limited and has long been a problem for those small businesses.
There is a large and increasing need for assisted care facilities for our aging residents. However, zoning limitations were a barrier to more construction of needed facilities. Our staff recommended, and we adopted, zoning regulations for elder care uses. I am pleased our staff moved quickly to help us enact these needed changes. We updated our definitions and expanded the ability to build elder-care facilities in 18 more zoning districts.
Finally, the Manager reported about new issues regarding the Columbia Pike street improvement project and under-grounding of electric wires. (The affected portion is marked in red on the map.) In order to accomplish this work as quickly as possible (within a year), the westbound traffic will have only one travel lane during this time. Among many questions, Board members asked staff to estimate the financial cost and the time savings gained by working at night. We should have an answer to that question soon and then will decide if the added cost is worth the improved time line.
At the moment, this construction and limiting a lane of travel will start in early January. We are working hard to get the word out, but inevitably this will cause headaches for everyone using the portion of the Pike west of Four Mile Run. If you use the Pike, please consider alternate routes. After the new year, we will have a meeting at Arlington Mill Community Center to discuss the project and answer questions. I plan to attend.
As always, I hope this information has been helpful, and I welcome comments, suggestions or questions from my readers.
All best wishes to you and yours for a happy holiday season!
P.S.: Please save January 26th from 2:00 — 4:00 pm for my campaign kick-off event. Our special guest will be my friend Aneesh Chopra, whom Barak Obama appointed the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States.; I expect some interesting discussions on innovation and hope to see you there at New District Brewery, 2709 S. Oakland St, Arlington, VA 22206.