On a night when Clarendon residents reveled in their annual Mardi Gras parade, the County Board took a giant leap forward in guiding the future development of the neighborhood.
DURING ITS Feb. 28 meeting the County Board unanimously approved a set of policy directives for the new Clarendon Sector Plan, which will provide a framework for how development will proceed over the next 10 to 15 years.
With their new guidelines, the board members struck a delicate balance between preserving the unique, historic character of the neighborhood and their long-held goal of attracting more commercial and residential projects.
The plan seeks to cluster medium-density, mixed-use development around the Clarendon Metro station, to provide a blend of residential, shopping and office buildings. It calls for lower-density buildings closer to nearby single-family homes, and provides incentives to retain historic buildings and shop frontages.
"The new Clarendon will be of modest height, ensure a mix of housing and jobs and will retain its historic character," County Board member Jay Fisette said. "We recognize that every neighborhood is unique and requires a different scale."
Though the details of the plan still have to be finalized, the County Board codified its vision for Clarendon by approving the policy directives. Board members are expected to vote on the final version of the sector plan during their April meeting.
"THOUGH THESE guidelines will be adopted today, the conversation will continue," County Board member Walter Tejada said during the meeting. "There are many adjustments that can still be suggested, and there will be more opportunity for comments" from the public.
The county first began drawing up plans for a new Clarendon plan more than three years ago, and two different preliminary drafts have been presented to the public.
At community forums last November, most Clarendon residents in attendance said the draft plan was ambiguous in its intent and would not provide predictability for development in the neighborhood. Others complained that the county was moving ahead too quickly on the plan, and not listening to the residents’ concerns.
"In the draft plan it was hard to figure out what was going on," said Peter Owen, chair of the Transportation Commission. "It was supposed to inform both citizens and developers about how to proceed, but it was difficult to follow."
Yet at the Feb. 28 board meeting, almost all public speakers expressed satisfaction with the new guidelines, which better define Clarendon’s height and density limits.
"We’ve come a long way in a short period of time," said Larry Mayer, a resident of Lyon Park. "Originally [the community] was vocal about the problems, but all of those have been resolved. ... Now is the time to move forward."
DUE TO the close proximity of single-family homes to the Clarendon Metro station, residents have pushed for strict limits on building heights. The last thing they want to see is for Clarendon to begin to resemble Ballston or Rosslyn, with rows of gleaming glass towers.
The County Board established a maximum height for each block in Clarendon. Some buildings abutting Washington and Clarendon Boulevards are permitted to be up to seven stories and 110-feet high. Those further from the Metro station can have between three and six stories and be between 55 and 76 feet tall.
The Board can grant developers increased density beyond these initial limits, if it feels the county will receive a compelling package of community benefits in return. Such benefits could include additional affordable units or public open space.
"There is a much more concerted effort to tie height and density to community benefits," said County Board member Barbara Favola. "The board is trying to give itself latitude to not approve projects that do not meet a very high bar."
To help preserve the scale and character of Clarendon, the County Board is requiring step backs on buildings. When a building is higher than 60 feet, it must now have a step back starting after the second floor.
Part of the county’s goal in Clarendon is to ensure there is a successful business district in the community, and to create a vibrant environment during both the day and evening.
To achieve this, the plan designates 10 areas in Clarendon as "Prime Office sites," where 60 percent of the buildings will have to be used for commercial purposes.
Many of Clarendon’s buildings were constructed in the early to mid part of the 20th century.
"Clarendon was a downtown for quite sometime before modern Arlington came along, so there’s a collective memory in the buildings that are still there," County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said. "The feel of the place reflects a different age."
IN ORDER to retain the charm of Clarendon, the board will provide developers with an incentive to preserve the area’s historic buildings, and building facades. Developers will get a 500 percent increase in density for the first 10,000 square feet of a building area that is preserved.
The sector plan also strives to create more open space in Clarendon. The Central Park region by the Metro station will be redesigned for larger public gatherings, and a park and enclosed market pavilion may be built on the west end of the Washington-Wilson-Clarendon interchange.
To make Clarendon more pedestrian friendly, that intersection will be revamped, and several other streets, including Washington Boulevard, 13th Street and 10th Street, will undergo changes.
Zimmerman acknowledged that disagreements still exist in the community over the plan, but said it was time for the county to move forward on a new framework for the neighborhood.
"This is an important beginning of the closure to the process, but that doesn’t mean its an end to the discussion about Clarendon."