Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

 The days are numbered for the Ballston Macy’s (near the Hecht Co. Parkington site in 1951) at the central Arlington intersection of N. Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd.

In December, the county board signed a deal with construction firm Insight Property Group (headquartered across the street) to demolish the department store and build a 16-story complex with 555 residential units, a grocery store and retail slots, plus some “workforce housing.”

Coming at a time of furious county government and nonprofit action to boost the supply of housing, the project required tricky policy tradeoffs: the construction company is exchanging a modest-income apartment complex it owns in South Arlington for permission to build pricier ones in Ballston.

The reconfiguring “demonstrates the adaptability and resilience of our commercial market by re-envisioning an office product as residential,” said county board Chair Katie Cristol.  “And by drawing, for the first time, on the transfer of development rights tools envisioned in the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Form Based Code plan, it will also preserve both the affordability and historic resource of one of the Pike’s signature garden apartment complexes, the Haven Apartments. All together, these actions represent gains for Arlington’s goals in transit-oriented development, historic preservation and retaining our affordable homes for lower-income neighbors.”  

After some negotiating with officials and the community, the company agreed on a first-of-its-type deal to make a dozen of the new apartments officially affordable, I’m told by Sarah Davidson, a principal at the Insight Property Group (which is also building the new Whole Foods mixed-use complex in Falls Church at Broad and Washington streets). “We hope to be in a position to start construction in the second quarter of 2024, and take 36-38 months.” Macy’s—which has been closing stores around the country due to pandemic-related sales drops—is the only retailer affected, she said, and will depart sometime early next year. Costs are still uncertain, but will top $200 million, she said.

The transfer of density rights to the apartments near Columbia Pike (805 S. Florida St.) will preserve 100 percent of 118 units (listed on the county’s historic resources inventory) as affordable according to area median income, 80 of which are two-bedroom, and seven of which contain three.

“The most significant conversation during planning involved access,” Davidson said. Currently there’s no way into the “superblock” of Ballston Quarter from Glebe Rd. moving eastward. So planners will add a left-turn entrance from Glebe in the space currently an alley. Additional parking will be built for residents, though some of the current parking complex will be dedicated to employees of the building. The new structure also received bonus density by promising LEED gold certification for energy efficiency.

“The community will benefit,” she added. “We not only support Ballston Mall with a grocery anchor, but will bring more traffic to the whole corridor.” The presence of a Harris-Teeter across Glebe Rd. is not a problem, she said.

The Ballston BID, with its 942 businesses and 15,000 residents, is unworried by Macy’s departure. “Even through the pandemic, our resident population continued to grow as new apartment buildings opened, and there are an additional 2,500 apartment units in the pipeline,” said CEO Tina Leone. Ballston has the region’s top three densest census tracts. “Those merchants in Ballston Quarter will only benefit from people choosing Ballston as their new home right on site.”


The wrecking ball is headed for the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel on Rosslyn Circle.

Though purchased in 2018 by developer KBLH with plans for a partial reconstruction, its hotel operations folded in 2021 during the pandemic. Last week, county officials condemned the property as unsafe, sending crews to evict the unhoused people occupying it during cold months. Specialists in care for the homeless were part of the “whole of government” action.

The site is the former home to a Hot Shoppes, the Cherry Smash plant, and Arlington Brewing Co., not to mention the trolley and D.C. streetcar turn-around site. Also site of the Yorktown High School ’71 10th year reunion.