A Northern Virginia developer, rebuffed on a previous plan to redevelop the aging Washington-Lee Shopping Center in Arlington, is drafting a new proposal for a $65 million, low-rise office complex of five buildings.
Last fall, the Arlington County Board scratched the previous plans of the Fairfax-based Sequoia Building Corp. for a high-rise office-hotel-town house complex at an 11-acre site across Rte. 50 from Fort Myer after widespread opposition from neighbors and shopping center businesses.
The board sided with neighborhood complaints that Sequoia's proposed project of two office buildings ranging from three to eight stories and a 10-story hotel was too close to nearby single-family neighborhoods and too dense for a development outside a Metro corridor. The triangular site, anchored by the Byrd Theater known for its adult movie fare, is bordered by S. Uhle, Wise and First streets.
Members of nearby neighborhood groups said they are relieved at Sequoia's new plans. "It's a far improvement over what was proposed initially, especially as it relates to traffic and density problems," said Charles Funn of the Central Arlington Civic Association.
The plans do not need County Board approval because they are keyed to existing development rights under current zoning and land use designations. Ray F. Smith, Sequoia's president, said the plans call for closing S. Wayne Street, which would need board approval. But the project can be redesigned to exclude the street if the board denies the request, Smith said.
Sequoia's plans, the fourth set in a year, call for five four-story office buildings, a 1,307-space garage, a small number of office-oriented retailers, such as a travel agency or photocopying service, and a cafeteria, Smith said.
Smith said he expects each building would bear the name of a major trade association tenant, and provide offices for smaller trade associations that want their lobbyists located near Washington.
David Shurtz, a tenant in the shopping center and a lawyer for the merchants there, said they are concerned about being displaced, and hope the county might use some of the proceeds from the closing of S. Wayne Street to help businesses relocate.
He complained that no Sequoia officials had attended meetings of an ad hoc group the board appointed to discuss future development possibilities at the site.
"They seemed to be saying that they didn't like what the county did to them the first time and were going to do their own thing," Shurtz said. "There could have been greater cooperation."
"They Sequoia pretty well have a right to decide for themselves how they're going to go," said County Board Chairman John G. Milliken. "I think the board would have preferred they go another route, but they've decided they can't do that economically."
Milliken also said he has asked the county staff to investigate whether the county might give financial aid to relocating displaced businesses.