Site plans under discussion by commissions right now could drastically alter the face of Pentagon City. They could also eliminate one site proposed for a baseball stadium in the area, or increase the price of the land.
But the project in question, an apartment complex, would have impact far beyond the baseball question. Numbers alone show this could be the largest residential development the county has ever seen.
KSI, a Vienna-based developer, has submitted site plans to the county to begin work on “One Metropolitan Park,” an eight-stage redevelopment of the block defined by 15th Street South, South Fern Street, South Eads Street, and a proposed extension of 12th Street South.
The first building would be an 18-story, 488-unit tower. By the end of the project, the block could hold about 3,000 rental units.
But the singularity goes beyond numbers. Representatives of the developer, KSI Services Inc., will say as much, though they are careful not to say too much. “If this were a normal zoning, I would just chat away with you, but it’s not a normal zoning,” said Barnes Lawson, an attorney working on the project. “Because of the baseball thing.”
Efforts to bring the Montreal Expos to Northern Virginia, and the possibility of a stadium in Pentagon City, are clouding a number of redevelopment questions, including a site plan proposal that could lead to redevelopment of an entire block within the next decade.
It’s a rare proposal, said Ted Saks, chair of the Planning Commission. “It’s one of the more dense and certainly the largest chunk of property we’ve seen in a long time,” said Saks at a meeting of the Site Plan Review Commission on Tuesday, May 20.
LAND FOR the apartment project is part of a tract of land owned primarily by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. Part of that land has been identified as one of five possible locations for a major league baseball stadium.
Currently the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, the group that would contract for the stadium, estimates that a stadium built on the site would cost $393.6 million – one of the cheapest options under consideration.
Redevelopment of the site, where several warehouses currently stand, has become a topic of discussion for stadium supporters and opponents alike. “Our community is definitely opposed to the stadium,” said Rich Pforte, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association. “We would much prefer to have the regular development there.”
Residential towers would be subject to all the usual taxes. Most tax revenue collected at a stadium would go to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority to pay off 30-year bonds issued to cover construction costs. Pforte says that alone is reason enough to support projects like KSI’s.
But Tom Brooke, co-chair of the Arlington Baseball Coalition, a group that supports Arlington stadium plans, says neighbors aren’t anticipating problems that dense residential development will bring.
“The impact of a bunch of high rises is certainly going to be far more than a baseball stadium. More high rises is not the way to go,” said Brooke. “What you want is a community-centering device.”
It’s “really unfortunate” that the apaartments in the building would be rental instead of condos, said Ellen Armbruster, Site Plan Review Committee member. “Folks moving into those highrises don’t stay long.”
There’s also a question of aesthetics when considering such large buildings. “It doesn’t look like Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria, which really is fun to walk by,” said Armbruster. “With this, you’re going to get massive apartment buildings.”
BASEBALL SUPPORTERS, landowners and developers are all keeping an eye on the redevelopment plans and the progress toward building a stadium. “They’re concerned,” said Lawson.
John Barron, attorney for the landowners, said his clients would “vigorously oppose” any attempts to acquire their land for a stadium, and that they are proceeding with development plans assuming that a stadium will not be built.
Brian Hannigan, a spokesperson for the Stadium Authority, said those development plans serve as notice to neighbors that “the future is not the status quo.”
Indeed, redevelopment in Pentagon City is not likely to stop with One Metropolitan Park. The Costco property located just a few blocks away is also likely to be home to large residential towers, said Saks. That site is another possible location for a stadium. “In the long-term, yes, something more dense and higher will be built,” said Saks.
MEMBERS OF THE review committee expressed other concerns about the development plans. To break up the block, KSI would construct several private streets between buildings. Paul Whalen, one of the architects on the project, said Fire Department officials expressed concerns that the winding roads could make it difficult for emergency vehicles to access the site. “We didn’t design it for the fire department,” said Whalen.
Saks and Planning Commissioner Carrie Johnson both expressed concerns regarding the project on a conceptual level. “Most of my problems have to do with the overall site plan,” said Johnson. Furthermore, the project is unlike any previous ones. “This is such a contrast with anything around it,” said Johnson.
Saks described the layout as “extremely internal.” That would insulate residents of the complex from the surrounding neighborhood and send the message, “You’re not welcome there,” Saks said.
BASEBALL SUPPORTERS say a Pentagon City stadium would be a way of providing something different to the community.
Les Garrison, a Pentagon City resident and stadium opponent, admitted there could be problems associated with high-density residential development but is confident that a stadium would be worse.
With residential development, “there’s no inherent risk of default, costing Virginia state taxpayers money,” he said.
Armbruster said development plans are likely to improve over the next few months as planning commissioners and county board members work with KSI. “Who knows what it will look like once people get finished with it,” she said.
One thing not likely to change is the scale of the development. County board members approved zoning changes years ago that shifted extra commercial density to accommodate Pentagon Row. That leaves considerable residential density elsewhere in Pentagon City.
So by-right development of One Metropolitan Park can accommodate 2,700 residential units and 900 hotel units, said Durwood Dixon, one of the architects working on the project.
“The density we’re talking about, it’s already there,” he said. “And we’re doing everything that’s there.”