Image: FXFowle Architects via Vornado and Arlington County. Illustration: Steve Thurston
What is the nature of a Pentagon City neighborhood? That question might sum up the issues surrounding the PenPlace megablock proposal in the south Arlington neighborhood. The site is one of the few nearly undeveloped blocks in the county and is the focus of a Phased Development Site Plan.
PDSPs, as they are called, take a large block owned by one entity and plan for its future use, designating the number, type and placement of buildings on the site. In this case, PenPlace covers 9.2 acres owned by Vornado/Charles E. Smith company in the 500 block of Army Navy Drive, next to the Residence Inn. This block has been working its way through the planning process over the past year.
The PDSP nails down where new streets will go and what type of amenities the community will need. This direction gives a developer a solid plan to move forward, yet each building will still go through the site review process to hash out details.
In the case of PenPlace, neighbors and some planners are concerned about the amount of space that will be devoted to secure sites for use by the Department of Defense and its contractors. Vornado offered two options: a version with two secure buildings and a version with one.
Stan Rosenbluth said the plans for the block are “getting better,” but he worries about those secure buildings. They change the nature of what a good neighborhood is.
Rosenbluth lives nearby in the Representative Condominium and said the secure buildings already in Pentagon City--which house the Transportation Security Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration--deaden life on that block near the Pentagon City Metro station. The TSA building sits along S. Fern Street, across from the PenPlace site.
Secure buildings can be locked down and blocked off so that no one can get near them, even on the streets in front of them. Resident Benny Glenn said he does not like the way the TSA and DEA block feels disconnected from the community. He is afraid this block will feel the same.
“It’s just not a very good thing for a residential community,” said Glenn, a neighbor of Rosenbluth’s at the Representative Condominium in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood.
Companies will naturally try for more options on a site, such as having a plan that allows for one or two secure buildings. These sites take years to build out, and the conventional wisdom is that a company will not know exactly what will be needed. It wants to keep options open.