Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bham Shopping Center Dies in HALRB Hands

Developers hoping to raze and rebuild half of the Buckingham Shopping Center went to the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board meeting tonight asking for a simple up-or-down vote on the size and scope of the project.

Architect Scott Matties addresses the HALRB at the meeting. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“What we’re looking for tonight is an overall vote of confidence,” said Bob Moore, a principal of Georgetown Strategic Capital, the developer.

But in the end, after 15 or 20 minutes of discussion, it was clear to the board members around the table that even taking the vote was not necessary.

“I think this building is just too big,” said board member Charles Craig.

“I still think it’s too much of a wall,” said Linda Simmons.

“The massing [the overall size and shape] of the building is better, but I still think there’s still too much fourth floor,” said Robert Dudka, adding later, “There’s nothing about these buildings that says ‘Buckingham.’”

“I think you’re hearing around the table a pretty strong reaction to the massing,” said HALRB Chair Isabel Kaldenbach-Montemayor, with some chagrin in her voice.

The plan would raze the CVS, Glebe Market, and El Paso Café buildings on N. Pershing Drive and N. Glebe Road and replace them with two four-storey buildings of ground-floor retail and residences above.

A clearly angry Mr. Moore called the process “non-collegial” and said, “There’s a total inconsistency here.”

He argued that over the year that this process has gone on his company made the changes that the HALRB asked but that people on the board have changed. “It’s a continually revolving door of opinions.”

He said that the HALRB drew pencil lines on models they had brought in, and his company revamped the design to match those lines.

He pushed on with what he had to say as Ms. Kaldenbach-Montemayor tried to interject.

Then he stood up, grabbed his coat and left with a curt “Thank you,” just as she started to speak.

For the record, though their primary audience had left, people around the table still spoke and said they felt they had acted consistently and that they had done the right thing by not supporting the proposal.

Board member Gerald Laporte said he has been silent for much of the Buckingham Shopping Center discussions, but he has listened. He said, “This vote doesn’t surprise me at all…I don’t think this should be a surprise to anybody.”


Dear BuckinghamTrib editor;

It pleases me to hear that the HALRB has once again expressed concerns over the scope of the proposed Buckingham Shopping Center project. As I have said before the current structures fit homogeneously within the neighborhood. Also, the loss of the stores that would be razed would result in a great inconvenience. In addition, as proposed the building on the south side of Pershing Dr. as currently designed would back up my kitchen window at the approximate distance of eighty yards. This building would ruin my my unobstructed view of the current landscape. I continue to vigorously oppose this project and offer to do anything in my power to prevent its construction.


Joe Doherty
In response to Joe Doherty, if you wish to do "anything in my power to prevent its construction" regarding the Buckingam Shopping Center project, I suggest that you speak at meetings of the Buckingham Community Citizens Association and the HALRB when they are discussing this project. As far as I am aware, you have not yet voiced your concerns at these meetings.

I also suggest that you attend and speak at meetings of the Planning Commission and the County Board when (or if) they consider this project or a modification.

However, if you do plan to speak, you should be sure that your statements have a factual basis. For example, the developer stated at yesterday's HALRB meeting that both the Glebe Market and the CVS stores would relocate to new buildings that would be built at the intersection of Glebe and Pershing. Therefore, the stores that would be razed would soon be replaced, resulting in only a temporary inconvenience to their customers. Your message did not indicate that you were aware of these plans.

Again, if you wish to participate in the process and to prevent the project's construction, you will need to attend all relevant meetings. You will also need to contact appropriate members of the County staff and County Board individually at the appropriate times.

Welcome to the "Arlington Way".

Bernie Berne
I am disappointed. Arlington appears to tear down almost any building in its way and then for some strange reason finds a zillion reasons why the Buckingham Shopping Center should stay the way it is. It's dumpy with a poor layout for pedestrians which was marginally fixed by the recent renovation, but still has bad parking.
Wow, I think I've been to only one meeting in Arlington in 15 years where an applicant stormed out. I've seen plenty of architects with steam coming out their ears though. One must practice with a zen-like calmness to succeed in Arlington's process. Or, hire one of the ubiquitous land-use attorneys to take the heat for you. People ridicule the "Arlington Way", and it is a bit pretentious to call it such, but really it is a pretty amazing thing compared to how most jurisdictions across the US do business of this type. I have to say that HALRB may be one of the more maddening boards since they are 1) totally committed to their mission and 2) guided mostly by personal opinions 3) mostly oblivious to practical considerations. This can be very disconcerting to a businessman. I still love them though, bless their hearts. There are so few historical buildings in Arlington their zeal is fully concentrated on what does exist.
I'd be willing to bet that none of the HALRB members live within two blocks of the current, dumpy looking shopping center, as I do. I can't imagine why anyone would be opposed to leveling an unattractive CVS, and an unclean grocery store. Under the proposed plan, both businesses would be replaced with improved structures. During the current economic slowdown, any reasonable person should welcome this sort of investment in this, one of the least attractive sections of Central Arlington.
I think many or most of the HALRB are architects. Why doesn't the developer retain them to design the building ? Give them the parameters of how much sq ft he needs in retail/residential/office to make the numbers work and let them have at it. If it can't be done, it can't be done but at least that way he would know the aesthetic aspects of the project would be acceptable to this board that has to approve the project in a historic district. The developers usually don't care what the thing looks like, they just want the leasable space.
Buckingham represents the best of post-war, car-centric design. The beautiful design, featuring strip parking in front of all structures, provides the opportunity for a nice barrier island for the occasional, strong-of-heart pedestrian (who is walking, not loitering) to navigate. If a taller mixed-use building were to be built with retail on the ground floor and small-scale residential spaces above, this might attract undesirable people to Arlington who can't afford a house, such as firemen and policemen. We need to stamp out any such thinking. The current structure is really a marvel to behold - not only should they keep the current form as is - we, as Arlingtonians, should invite in denizens from other communities around the US to see this historically significant development model so they can duplicate it back home! Great job HALRB!
I am inclined to agree with what was said a couple of posts back in reference to where these HALRB members live. Perhaps if they did frequent this area on a daily basis, they might be more inclined to take some swifter action. Honestly, I think this is beyond ridiculous. Pray tell, what exactly is it that they are striving to preserve? In my humble opinion, neither of these corners are aesthetically pleasing in the least. I can't tell you how thrilled I was when I learned that someone had taken an active interest in trying to improve this area. And I have to agree that oftentimes attempting to navigate these areas on foot runs from inconvenient to downright dangerous. I must admit that I am not as proactive as I should be in regard to attending county meetings and such, and this post/rant is based purely on personal experience as a resident in the Buckingham neighborhood, but out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research, and could not find evidence that such a hullabaloo was made when the CVS took over several mom and pop businesses across the street from the Clarendon Metro (and yes, I realize that they did retain a portion of some of the original structure). I realize that I could be wrong in saying this, though. And why such rabid interest in Buckingham-I mean, it really didn't seem like a priority to preserve the buildings in the area while they have been deteriorating in the past decade or so. My main concern is what will happen now? Is the issue of renovating these corners entirely dead in the water and never going to happen now?
Mr. Ned_e_Boy, I am not sure everyone gets your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm as well as I do. Please clarify.
While Glebe Market isn't as antiseptic and homogenous as Harris Teeter, it's not "dirty" by any means and provides relatively inexpensive groceries for a lot of people in the community. As for the "unattractive" CVS, what do you expect? It's a CVS.

I wouldn't be opposed to building something where the CVS, but I'd like the strips where Ravi Kabob is and where Subway to remain intact, as well as Glebe Market. If anything, we need a few new stores in the existing buildings (I don't know how that Italian restaurant is still in business, the food is horrible).
I'm sad to hear that this project is dead. I'm hoping that a suitable solution can be reached with a development company that satisfies the needs of the immediate community and the county officials.

The corner had been slightly improved with the traffic lights and new sidewalks, but new mixed-use buildings will be a VAST improvement. As a resident of Buckingham for two years, I hope that someone at the county-level will help shepherd further improvements to this community to make it a better place to live.
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