Pentagon City project 'PenPlace' draws nearby residents' ire

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Homeowners in one Arlington County neighborhood are urging county officials to block the construction of what would be five of the tallest buildings in Pentagon City, saying the development is contrary to the area's vision of smart growth and would clog local roads.

The 2,000-plus residents of Arlington Ridge are trying to derail a project known as PenPlace, which includes two office buildings, two secure Defense Department buildings and a 300-room hotel, all on a 9-acre tract one block from the Pentagon City Metro. The buildings would be as high as 22 stories -- far higher than the current limit of 12 stories -- and would need the approval of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors to exceed that limit.

"If this development gets approval ... then what stops another developer from coming in [and building something like it]?" said Katie Buck, president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association. "This sets a precedent."

But the county has its own stake in the massive development that could take priority over the concerns of the neighborhood.

In exchange for the exemption from the height limit, the project's developer, Vornado/Charles E. Smith, would give the county up to $20 million toward an $80 million swimming complex along the banks of the Potomac River and construction of a streetcar line.

Residents said they had hoped the land would be developed on a smaller scale and are now trying to rally opposition against PenPlace with a yard-sign campaign that urges the County Board to "Build a community, not a compound" and warns against increased traffic and oversized buildings.

"I've seen the signs and received emails from residents [about PenPlace]," said County Board member Libby Garvey. "In response, I've asked for briefings from county staff to better understand the project."

County planner Jason Beske previously told The Washington Examiner that PenPlace would blend well with the area's existing and planned residential communities and create "a lively, mixed-use environment." PenPlace would also become a transportation hub because it would be built along both Metro and streetcar lines, he said.

The County Board isn't expected to vote on PenPlace until early next year, so the community has plenty of time to "keep ordering signs until every bare spot is filled," said Maggie Gaffen, another member of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association.

"The theme has been build first, plan later," Gaffen said. "So this time, we think it's very important to let the County Board know how people in our neighborhood feel."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner