Thursday, October 16, 2008

Summer Flashback: Founders Square and Mosaic Park

This is another in the series of short stories from events and activities that happened while I was on Summer Hiatus (from late June to early October). These two were sent in by Tom Lauria, a HeraldTrib reader and Hyde Park board member. For much more on the Founders Square and Mosaic Park redevelopment, scroll to the bottom of these stories and check the county's web site, linked there.--ST

County moves to change an EPA "Brown Field" into a LEED certified block.
(August 2008)

In a PowerPoint presentation to the Hyde Park during the July 16 Board of Directors meeting, developer John Shooshan and attorney John Kinney presented the final renderings of the Founders Square site plan. The redevelopment to replace the Metro bus yards recently sailed through the Planning Commission with 9-to-1 approval. On Saturday, July 19, the Arlington County Board swiftly gave Founders Square a final OK. We expect construction to commence by early winter, 2008. It’s a huge project and it will take years to complete.
View Larger Map

The evolved, second-generation schematic renderings of Founders Square show increased emphasis on ground floor retail and open public spaces, parkway and sidewalk cafes. There’s now a twenty-foot wide walkway between Quincy and Randolph that cuts through the middle of the project. It is clear that Ashton Heights voices were heard on this matter. An “axis-to-the-mall” pass-through in this block has been discussed for decades. Lo and behold, it is finally here.

When? Construction of the one story retail annex on Quincy (for now, the recycling lot) could start as early as this winter. Chicken shack “Super Pollo” has a long lease but agreed to transfer to the one-floor, neighborhood-facing retail area. The super-secure Department of Defense tower for DARPA and the 12 floor residential tower on Quincy are slated to start construction by spring 2009. In Phase Two: a 15 floor office building (now the Shell station) and its 17-to-19 story residential tower at the corner of Quincy and Wilson will open in 6 to 7 years, given the current market conditions.

What’s New? Environmentally-aware Hyde Park residents, rejoice! The aging asphalt bus yards are an EPA “brown field” classification – not good. Founders Square as a development site was just awarded a LEED Platinum level certification. That’s an unprecedented designation for new eco-savvy projects, and it will be right next door. A total of 51 percent of the 5.35 acre site footprint is green space, open to public. The developers noted the site’s many green areas are being designed by a “world-class” landscape architect firm. They plan two edgy slim-panel water curtain fountains that look great in a slide. We’ll see. The buildings themselves will be LEED Silver rating when they are finally erected.

What's the Nicest Feature? We return to that important new sidewalk/promenade that cuts through that huge block. It will be dramatically paved with translucent, recycled glass block. The 20 foot wide glass path is edged with the two fountains, space-age lighting and lined with sidewalk cafes and benches. It promises to be a unique destination in its own right.

With final approval in hand, there’s still time for a few site amendments. The County wants a larger, greener, more expensive Mosaic Park (which will be discussed here next month) and they are willing to trade extra stories in nearby towers for a few developer-provided amenities.



Piecing Together Mosaic Park
(September 2008)

Let’s start with a quote from County Board Chair Walter Tejada: “Founders Square replaces a bus garage that paid no property taxes with an outstanding mixed-use development that will provide transit-oriented offices, homes and shopping in the heart of Ballston. In addition, residents will get a bigger, better Mosaic Park.” Mr. Tejada refers to the community benefit of the land exchange that will significantly expand Mosaic Park in granting bonus density and height for Founders Square.

These days, Mosaic Park is a spare 1.08 acre playground for kids but as a landscaped “park” it is a bit of an odd-duck. Bordered by Quincy Street, 5th Street and Pollard Streets, the park’s few trees are immature and the parched lawn is just heavily-mowed crabgrass for the most part. There is a climbing wall and a 3-D Spider Web that look like props from “The Jetsons.” Fortunately, the two modish climbing apparatus are often teeming with kids. That is good; it is in use. A further expansion of Mosaic Park with new landscaped areas dotted with benches and some donated amenities (to be announced) would be a huge neighborhood benefit. The two tall residential towers going up at Founders Square will be directly across from it on Quincy. Fifty-one percent of the entire footprint of Founders Square is open space and it will flow seamlessly into Mosaic Park for added pedestrian greenway. Good for Ballston.

When? We’re all eager to view the landscape plan for Mosaic Park, but a final design is at least a year away. When completed, Mosaic Park will cover two-and-one-half acres. The new areas of expansion are the current asphalt Metro parking lot and the tiny, in-fill property that Mack’s garage sits on. The county already owns cleared land fronting Pollard Street. Once the Metro buses move, likely by spring 2009, their parking lot on Quincy will then convey to the county. Mack’s faces eviction and will have to relocate. The landscapers will then fill-in behind the bulldozers. Gone is any further discussion of relocating the recycling station across Quincy Street. A new county drop-off location will be announced soon. (Informed gossip: it may be an area near the new high school.)

What’s New? The land swap may not be finished. The county is negotiating with the folks who own Gold’s Gym, for property they own that could evolve into the northern edge of the park. It’s currently their rear parking lot. The county is serious about Ballston having an open green area in our burgeoning downtown’s busy southern corner.

What's the Nicest Feature? Its location! Just across the street from Founders Square planned glass block sidewalk parkway, the new park is welcome transition into a residential neighborhood, just as the multi-use park next to the main library on Quincy blends into its surrounding area. The Shooshan Company’s contributions, above and beyond the land exchange, means the new park is sure to feature some nice amenities. I take the name literally and would enjoy a collection of outdoor public art pieces composed of mosaics being an unusual focal point to attract and entertain park visitors. They can call it … Mosaic Park!

--Tom Lauria



Related stories…
  • Arlington County Press Release regarding the project.
  • Mosaic Park Master Plan meeting and scheduling information (some very interesting pdfs on this site--ST)

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