Residents of Arlington’s Crystal City and other nearby neighborhoods went about their daily business on Tuesday — intrigued by the possibilities that will accompany Amazon’s just-announced outpost, but also worried about potential problems.
A bicycle commuter who gave his name as S. Wynn (“everybody knows me as S.”) pondered the massive influx of jobs in a neighborhood that lost thousands of military and federal workers over the last decade. Carol Fuller, who heads the relatively new Crystal City Civic Association, envisioned a makeover that would transform Route 1 from a roaring, multilane highway to an attractive boulevard.
And retired airline worker Skip Wallace thought about small businesses in Crystal City that have struggled in recent years. If they aren’t priced out by an influx of 25,000 new workers, they may not have to struggle anymore.
“Frankly, it’s kind of exciting, and I’m looking forward to all the construction,” Wallace said as he headed into Harris Teeter for groceries. “But Northern Virginia is notorious for its traffic, and that could bollix up the works.”
Fuller has lived in Crystal City for 13 years, since retiring from her Foreign Service job. She said she loves the neighborhood and its residents, about 90 percent of whom are renters, and said the Business Improvement District already has increased activities and enlivened the streets.
“People really underestimate Crystal City,” she said. “I used to be able to go out at night and get into any of our 60 restaurants with no trouble at all. Now, I often have to wait. This is an up-and-coming place.”
The prospect of tens of thousands of well-paid jobs and spinoff businesses attracted lots of praise — and some worry — from the commuter crowd as they hustled between high-rise offices on chilly Crystal Drive.
“The area could use a boost,” said Carla Williams, a Prince George’s County resident who was taking her son to the pediatrician in the building above Harris Teeter. “It could do a lot for people who are underemployed or unemployed. But I think they should require a certain percentage of people hired to be local residents.”
At the same time, the region’s infuriating traffic jams, lack of affordable housing and overcrowded schools caused most residents to pause.
“We, like everybody else who lives near here, have questions,” said Jenny Sammis, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at nearby Oak Ridge Elementary School.
“Questions about traffic — our neighborhood already has cut-through traffic. Questions about affordable housing,” she said. “We have teachers who drive in from Manassas and Woodbridge because they can’t afford to live in Arlington even with the relatively good salaries they make here.”
Oak Ridge has about 850 students when it should have 600 or so, Sammis said. A boundary change is supposed to alleviate that crowding next year, but now parents are worried about what will happen when Amazon workers with children move in.
“Are we going to go back up again?,” Sammis asked. “I don’t know, but those are the questions we’re having.”
Across Route 1 from Crystal City, in the Alexandria neighborhood of Del Ray, former civic association president Rod Kuckro said he wants to protect existing housing from what some fear will be an Amazon-fueled, raze-and-raise real estate fever.
“There needs to be an ordinance — similar to that protecting Old Town — to prevent the demolition of a [historic] building without city council approval,” Kuckro said. “Real estate speculators are already tearing down historic buildings.”
The most widespread concern may be about the impact Amazon’s arrival will have on already congested streets.
The potential traffic nightmare came into clear focus just last Friday, when Metro shut down two stations before the Veterans Day weekend, construction slowed traffic through Reagan National Airport and, then, it rained.
The backup on the George Washington Parkway was epic, and it enraged those caught in it.
“I think this area needs 25,000 more jobs like a hole in its head,” said a still-upset father, who lives in Falls Church, works in Crystal City and was escorting his child into the Bright Horizons day-care center. “Friday, it took me an hour to get across the street. I don’t think we can stand any more traffic.”