Sunday, November 19, 2006

BV: Scenario 8, Townhouses, GOP

Buckingham Village 2, Scenario 8

Look sideways at the latest plan for Buckingham Village 1—maybe squint a little—and you’ll see a Native American ceremonial mask. A couple rows of townhouses make up the eyes, and the large green space along N. 4th Street is a longish nose. The two large, forked and angular buildings are stripes of face paint on the cheeks. The N. 3rd Street Extension is a mouth.

I imagine I’m seeing this because (aside from my obvious dementia) this is the first plan that is quite symmetrical, like a face. Fourth Street now runs “horizontally” through the property, dividing it north and south from N. George Mason Drive to the 3rd Street Extension.

The village plan now sports two sets of townhouses running parallel to George Mason Drive, north of 4th Street and south of 4th Street. The two, large apartment buildings are closer in size now, one north of 4th Street, the other south. Symmetry. (Once again, I’m sorry that blogs are no place to show most any image.)

If the comments around the table at Thursday’s Site Plan Review Committee meeting are any indication, people were quite happy with this plan. If the county approves the money, this might just be the plan that makes its way to the Planning Commission, the sort of parent group of the SPRC, Nancy Hunt told me in a phone interview on Saturday. She is the chair of the SPRC and is a member of the Planning Commission, a county-appointed, state mandated group.


Gone are the “Octopus” and the “Stick” buildings (see the Oct. 1 and 29 posts). Turns out, the Stick existed, at least partially, for tax purposes. The size of the building at 150-some apartments, which at one point were planned to be affordable units, hit certain requirements for federal tax relief.

Paradigm Development Company, the owners of the property, still needed more than 500 units to make the property cost effective, so the Octopus had to run more than 350 units; its first iteration had 375.

County staff and Paradigm think they found some rather cost-effective ways around that tax problem, they said at the meeting Thursday. So in “Scenario 8”—somehow in a month they jumped from 2 to 8—they now have two buildings, at 240 and 284 units apiece. Each building has an underground parking garage, accessible from the 3rd Street extension.

If this plan is fully implemented, the neighborhood gets a new traffic light at George Mason Drive and 4th Street.

Cost effective does not necessarily mean cheap, mind you. This plan is decidedly more expensive than the first plan (potentially upwards of 10 million). I’ll have more about the funding on Wednesday’s post.

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Scenario 8: My Take…

Overall, I like the plan, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s just because it looks nice from above. People like things symmetrical—any philosophical study of aesthetics will devote time to the beauty of symmetry.

But who cares if it looks good from above? The only time we’ll see it that way is in aerial photos or when we’re landing at National.

Building A, the south building, is 50 feet tall, a full four floors plus a pitched roof. Swing by Village 2 and look to the top of the cupola of the George Mason Apartments (you can see it now since everything around it has been razed). That is probably a little over 50 feet, but it should give a decent sense of the height.

Building A will stand across Pershing Drive from Arlington Oaks with its 30 foot buildings. One wing of Building B, also 50 feet, fronts North Henderson Road across the street from two-story, single-family homes. Buildings A and B will, no doubt, be noticeable and perhaps imposing.

I must admit, though, the courtyards facing Pershing are deep and might be enough of a break to soften the look. Henderson Road has no such luck.

The large green space along 4th Street, nearly the size of a football field (without end zones), will be a nice place for some activities. However, the plan encircles that space with the cut-through 4th Street, and it might not be a space parents want children to play in. One person at the SPRC meeting suggested making one side of that road more of a driveway, and that might work better.

Still, the traffic pattern makes more sense, and we’re going to have a couple of big buildings no matter what, so I can’t say I really dislike, overall, what I see.

I have one suggestion—the plans have always had two pools with the idea that each building would want its own amenities. However, that was when there was no central space for a pool. Putting a larger pool in the 4th Street green space might do the trick. Pools require fences which secure the green space to assuage parents’ fears, yet there would still be plenty of space for other activities on the green.

If the pool was centrally located, the courtyards where the pools are currently planned would be freed up, and would be more secure, for play space or for other uses.

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A little bonus at the SPRC meeting, Thurday.

In order to show the height differences with the buildings of Village 1 and surrounding buildings, the plans show the basic layout of the townhouses soon to grow from the scorched earth of Village 2. This image is of the buildings running along N. George Mason Drive. A similar layout will run along N. Thomas Street.

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One more bit about the GOP

Reading the Post on Friday, I came across an article about how the Republicans will have to take a long hard look at themselves given the loss this year of Senator George Allen and Jerry Kilgore last year in the governor’s race.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said:

"I think it is important for the Republican Party to remain committed to conservative values, lower taxes, less government, individual rights and responsibilities. We are the party that believes values still matter to Virginians, but at the same time it is important to talk about how our values relate to issues."

Now both of you who
read my column in the Arlington Connection last week might recognize that this is exactly what I was talking about with the Republicans. Cutting taxes, especially in Democrat-heavy northern Virginia, is not a vision for the state or county. That cicada just won’t buzz up here. Show me a vision for a better county, Republicans, and I’ll pay attention.

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