Land Swap Creates a Smooth Transition
For decades, Wilson Boulevard from Roslyn to Ballston has been the pride of Arlington’s transit-oriented development. Over the past two decades or so the county facilitated the replacement of low-rise commercial and residential units along the corridor, dating mostly from the 1940s and ’50s, with mid- and high-rise apartment, hotel, and office buildings along with street-level retail strongly supported by Metro’s bus and rail services.
Once Wilson moves southwest past Glebe Road, though, the edge-cityscape settles into a more suburban mix of garden apartment complexes and single-family neighborhoods. That transition was once demarcated by the eye-catching diamond-necklace façade of the Bob Peck Chevrolet showroom. When that went away in 2008, it left a transitional gap at one of Arlington’s best-known crossroads.
Enter the JBC Companies, a high-end developer that brought on Cooper Cary to design a 10-story mixed-use office building to anchor that site. The building’s sweeping 10-story curtainwall façade accentuates the sight lines of both North Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard and includes its own diamond necklace at street level to emulate the former dealership’s signature identity.
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At the same time, JBG planned a block of high-end townhouses for the adjacent lot, and affordable-housing developer AHC owned a nearby parcel on which it wanted to replace a 21-apartment property and a subdivided house with a 90-unit apartment building.
Arlington County wanted the affordable housing as well as an acceptable transition between the signature 800/900 Glebe Road building and the low-rise residential areas beyond.
“The neighborhood drove this development in many ways,” says AHC Vice President John Welsh. “They had a very solid civic association with a lot of support. They were steadfast and there was not a lot of vitriol, so the county council members took them very seriously.”
The site AHC had to develop was small, which would require a tall building. Neighbors didn’t like that and, initially, JBG did not want to be involved with AHC. Both developers’ projects languished while the civic association debated acceptable building heights and the county continued to push for affordable housing units. Eventually, JBG warmed to the idea of somehow incorporating the affordable housing development into their overall plan.
“We ultimately got together on a mutual arrangement for working together and going through the site-plan approval process,” Welsh remembers. The resulting solution included a swap of parcels that put the Earthcraft-certified, 90-unit Jordan, designed by Bonstra|Haresign, next to 800 Glebe. The 19 luxury townhomes, now under construction by JBG, go on the lot originally owned by AHC and serve as an elegant transition to the existing neighborhoods to the southwest. The market-rate and affordable-housing developer partnership ended up being close enough that parking for the new AHC units is sandwiched into the parking levels for the JBG mixed-use office building.
“The Jordan land swap was a little tricky,” says Arlington County Council Member Christopher Zimmerman. “On the one hand you have a major high-value real-estate deal on Glebe Road. On the other hand, we have a residential neighborhood. Those are politically sensitive, and one of the things that Arlington has been particularly successful with is its transitions between high-density areas near Metro to much lower density single-family neighborhoods. Part of the challenge of this kind of development is creating less of a barrier and more of a transition. The county considered this to be a terminal vista going west on Wilson Boulevard, and we wanted something there that made a statement.”
“People viewed our affordable housing project as a great transitional use and physical step-down from Ballston’s high-rises to Bluemont’s townhouses and single-family residences,” summarizes Bonstra|Haresign Principal David Haresign, FAIA, of the balancing act. “We essentially rode JBG’s coattails on the entitlements side and gave JBG the public benefit they needed to get approval.”