I missed the NRCA Sept 9 meeting due to being out of town on a business trip. Based on my comments at the past NRCA meeting where AHC presented their Key Blvd development plans and further discussions with AHC staff during the Walking Town Hall meeting, Rick Holliday contacted me and offered to present the updated proposed plans given at the NRCA Sept 9 meeting and to listen to any input I might have regarding the Key Blvd project. I met with Rick and his colleague, Joe Weatherly this past Friday afternoon, Sept 17th. We had a good exchange and an extremely interesting discussion. I was impressed with their genuine interest in listening to ideas and their openness to addressing community ideas and concerns.
Here is the email I sent to Joe and Rick as followup to our meeting. I'm posting this to further discussion across the community regarding the Key Blvd development approach.
Joe and Rick,
Thank you for asking me to meet with you regarding the proposed redevelopment of the Key Blvd Apartments. I appreciate your efforts to seek out, invite and listen to various stakeholders effected by this redevelopment project. As you know, I'm active in several Arlington community organizations including serving on the boards of both the North Rosslyn Civic Association and the Highview Homeowners Association. The observations and comments I made at our meeting and these written comments are my own, not the organizations that I belong to. I do think these comments have considerable overlap with many of the ideas being put forth by NRCA, Highview HOA and other organizations and citizens working toward the best redevelopment approach for the Key Blvd Apartments.
I've documented what I experienced and heard from our conversation of last Friday and hope this will help in the shaping of the ultimate plans for redevelopment of the Key Blvd Apartments:
- I raised the concern of AHC having another "25 year building" since the Key Blvd apartments were completely renovated 25 years ago and now we are told they need to be torn down due to the building's condition. I commented that it was sad the existing building was allowed to deteriorate to the point it needs replacing after only 15 years of a total renovation. We had a discussion about what it takes in building reserves and doing proactive maintenance to keep a building going, especially when the building starts aging around 15 to 20 years and needs major repairs such as a new roof, elevator cab and controls refurbishment, water infiltration repairs, window replacement, landscape renewal, appliances, HVAC replacement, etc. etc. I asked if AHC would provide data on how reserves would be accrued and used proactively for repairs. You commented that AHC has factored in substantial maintenance and repair reserves and you would look into providing these data to us for verification. You commented that banks now require a good reserve plan for maintenance and repairs as a part of the loan underwriting.
- We talked about the North Rosslyn height situation and I pointed out that I and others I've spoken with in the community wish to see stair stepping from the planned and existing extremely tall buildings in the center of Rosslyn to our 2 to 4 story residential areas. I commented that until Turnberry Tower was completed, many of us including myself had not idea how large a building was going up so close to the residential areas. I commented that I would like to see all buildings in excess of 4 stories restricted to the north of Key Blvd and to the east of Nash St. I commented that I thought borrowing density from across town to allow construction of a 6 story building replacing Key Blvd apartments was still too tall for the location, especially with 3 story townhouses to the east and 1 and 2 story residences to the west. I also commented that if the county board allowed density to be "borrowed" from across town, they were setting a terrible precedent that goes contrary to the fundamental reason we have zoning. I commented that when the apartments to the west of Turnberry are developed the community needs to carefully work with the county to make sure density isn't "borrowed" to put even more height between the existing residential area and Turnberry Tower.
- You showed me the "updated proposal" that was presented at the Sept 9 NRCA meeting. I commented that while the updated proposal was going in a better direction than the original proposal, I had serious concerns with their new proposal. I commented that capturing the green space in a courtyard made the green space "private" and that green space should be visible from the streets and sidewalks so the space benefits the community. Hiding green space in a courtyard makes the building look even more massive than it is, because the green space is not visible except from the interior of the building. I commended the AHC plan to keep the public passageway intact from 19th street to Key Blvd. You commented that after hearing the comments at the first presentation to NRCA and participating in the Walking Town Hall meeting, you understood how integral pedestrian passageways are to the neighborhood. Joe said each time he has visited the site he has noted the heavy pedestrian traffic from 19th street to Wilson Blvd. I commented that even though the building setbacks have been slightly increased and the height reduced from 8 to 6 stories, the residents in Rosslyn Mews east of the proposed building will be staring at a 6 story wall from their windows and patios. We talked at length about the extreme importance of "stair stepping" from central Rosslyn to the residential area providing a height transition relative to the hieght of the private/public portions of the proposed building.
- I expressed serious concerns about the long term viability of having one building divided on a property line between private ownership and public ownership. AHC are proposing to divide the lot with the private condos on one lot and the public on another lot. The building will span the two lots and there will be a "party wall" between the two areas of the building with one area owned by AHC and the other owned by the condo HOA. These are two separate and independent organizations: the AHC for the rental side and a homeowners association on the private side. I expressed concerns about the challenges in having two owners maintain one building sitting on two lots when it comes to roofing, repairs, etc. etc. The financial motivations and resulting maintenance efforts of the condo association and AHC will more than likely be quite different as the building ages.
- Given the concerns I raised about the proposed shared building and having two organizations owning and maintaing separate portions of ONE building, I made these suggestions: 1) don't build one building with divided ownership. Instead, consider a plan where AHC places their rental units in a building on the Key Blvd frontage that is totally separate form the private effort. This portion be the bulkier portion of the project... preferably 4 stories max, limited to height that is allowed through current zoning without borrowing density from across town. Take the property along N 19th street and consider dividing it into 28 foot town home lots and build two rows of town homes along 19th street that are each located on fee simple lots. This makes the town homes far more attractive than condos that are commingled into a building with a party wall. Currently 4 story, 28 foot town homes are selling for $1M+ in our neighborhood. I provided Joe several addresses of recent nearby sales to back up this observation. There is room to do two rows of townhouses facing 19th street with a common driveway between the two rows. Two rows of 6 town homes that fit into the neighborhood similar in design to Highgate and Highview could sell for more than $12 million. Yes, the proposed 88 condos at $400K each would sell for around $35M which is substantially more project dollars. But this approach maximizes the finances to do the project and ignores the considerable negative impact to the neighborhood. To make the project work both financially and improve the neighborhood and provide good, long term affordable housing, reduce the number of affordable rental units. This would provide housing that fits into the neighborhood without blowing out the height and maximizing building footprint forcing density where it isn't appropriate. If the ratios suggested in the proposed project are approximately correct, building 12 townhouses would provide financing for a building housing around 36 affordable rental units. While this approach doesn't double the affordable units, it does modernize the property, increase the tax base, and would fit well into North Rosslyn. To have more money and space for affordable housing, I would also suggest not including community rooms in the AHC building and minimize the AHC garage space. People living here have the metro and numerous ZIP cars, parking isn't as necessary here as locations without these transportation assets. North Rosslyn would benefit greatly having a community center for the entire community. This could happen as part of redevelopment of the Wilson School property and would bring people across the community together. Not incorporating a community room in the AHC building further reduces the cost of the proposed affordable housing project and this space would be better used for additional affordable rental unit space. With less density, less garage space is needed and the parking impact on the neighborhood is lessened.
Again, thank you for asking me over to meet with both of you. I and many others from the community look forward to finding what is best for redeveloping the Key Blvd. property. I hope you find these comments beneficial and I'm more than willing to continue the dialogue as the planning evolves.