Crystal City guidelines get the green light

One intention of the Crystal City Sector Plan is to make more residential units available, so the area will remain vibrant after work hours. The plan is expected to boost property values, as well.
One intention of the Crystal City Sector Plan is to make more residential units available, so the area will remain vibrant after work hours. The plan is expected to boost property values, as well. (2007 Photo By James M. Thresher/the Washington Post)
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By Christy Goodman
Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved guidelines last week that will steer the redevelopment of Crystal City for the next 40 years.

The framework provides for 60 percent more density than exists in Crystal City, buildings up to 300 feet tall and an improved street grid with more links to public transportation.

County Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) called the Crystal City Sector Plan, five years in the making, "an amazing moment and a startling success."

Board member Barbara A. Favola (D) agreed and said, "Once again, we have lived up to our reputation."

Neighbors lobbied successfully for a residents group that will monitor traffic and other development measures throughout the process.

"Obviously we live here and like being close to Crystal City," said Kit Whitely of the Arlington Ridge neighborhood. "We think they are making progress, but there are some long-standing issues with citizen involvement and having people truly listen to what the concerns are."

Those issues include encroachment of buildings on the west side of Route 1 into neighborhoods, creating "concrete canyons" and underestimating transportation usage, especially in the Route 1 corridor, the Rev. Stephen B. Hassmer of Calvary United Methodist Church said during the public comment period of the board meeting Sept. 28.

Board member Mary H. Hynes (D) said a residents advisory group will be developed because "how we make progress on these plans is extremely important." She said a charter for the group and a list of proposed members will be brought to the board before the end of the year.

Arlington transportation chief Dennis Leach said early traffic modeling for an 80 percent increase in density showed little affect on the street structure. The planned streetcar system that will connect proposed Columbia Pike routes through Crystal City and Alexandria is central to the development and adds another way to get people out of their vehicles, he said.

An improved street grid also is included in the sector plan, which will switch one-way streets to two-way.

The tallest buildings will be east of Route 1, with buildings being shorter the closer they are to communities with single-family homes, said county planner Anthony Fusarelli. He said the plan will draw residents to the area, making it more vibrant after work hours.

The plan increases the number of affordable housing units to 2,000, 800 more than county staff members had planned originally, Fusarelli said.

Christer Ahl, a member of the Crystal City task force, which started work on the sector plan, said the plan as it stands will not fully convince community skeptics, but it is a great introductory document that will allow the county to "move ahead and act on the basis of actual experience, instead of spending more time now on speculating, fine-tuning and debating."

The board also approved an October public hearing for a tax incremental financing, or TIF, plan to fund the more than $200 million of infrastructure improvements that the plan says will be needed.

The sector plan and diverse transit options should boost property values, said board member Chris Zimmerman (D). Those features draw the economic development, and "that is what ultimately has to pay for the system," he said.

County officials estimate that if they earmark 33 percent of the real property assessments expected to increase with the development and along the Route 1 corridor, the county will raise from $82 million to $112 million in six years.

Mitchell N. Shear, president of Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the largest property owner in Crystal City, called Crystal City the "most significant economic engine in Arlington." He said two of his properties are vacant because of BRAC relocations, and his company is ready to lead the redevelopment efforts to "shape the next generation of Crystal City."

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