Arlington County Board Approves Amazon’s Plans for PenPlace in Seat 2

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Amazon will begin turning an undeveloped strip of Arlington County into the bulk of its second headquarters, capping a year of negotiations in this northern Virginia suburb between lawmakers, residents and developers over the look , the exact feel and operation of the resort – and how the company should engage with its new neighbors.

On Saturday, county lawmakers unanimously approved the expansion of Amazon’s footprint on the 10.4-acre site in Pentagon City, known as PenPlace. Plans include three office buildings, retail pavilions, a futuristic glass helix, a daycare center and approximately 2.75 acres of open space. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In a year-long series of exhaustive reviews that preceded the vote, some residents expressed concern that the site could take on the appearance of a closed corporate campus. Others said the tech giant needed to provide additional community resources to its neighbors, such as increased support to preserve affordable housing or space for a library or community center.

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The five county board members acknowledged these lingering concerns, saying they could and should be addressed in future meetings with Amazon executives. Ultimately, however, they agreed that PenPlace was a remarkable architectural project that will raise the bar for sustainability practices and drive economic growth in the county.

The PenPlace “mega-block” is one of the largest undeveloped parcels in downtown DC, and economic development officials say its use by a large corporation will fulfill key goals for Arlington and the company. Where the county will see greater tax revenue and more jobs in a largely underutilized business district, the site’s transit-rich urban setting will allow the company to attract young tech workers. on which it depends.

“We have already invested in systems and infrastructure [in the Pentagon City neighborhood] to make sure the level of activity was taken into account,” said Christian Dorsey (D), vice chairman of the Arlington County Board. “This project fills that hole, which is extremely important from an existential point of view.”

The company’s move to Arlington comes against a broader backdrop of concerns about gentrification and displacement in the DC area, as rents rise and wages fail to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of living. higher. This has prompted some critics to wonder who will ultimately be served by the dramatic changes to come to the region.

But on Saturday, County Board Chairwoman Katie Cristol (D) offered a firm answer: All Arlington residents, she said, will benefit from Amazon’s plans for PenPlace — from small companies that will have more customers to construction workers who will receive competitive salaries. to build the complex.

“We are one community and we will all benefit together,” she said. “The opportunity to not only provide something exciting for neighboring neighborhoods, but to uplift the entirety of Arlington County, makes this project a joy to support.”

Saturday’s vote marks the conclusion of a 14-month review process led by residents of neighborhoods near PenPlace, who pored over plans and attended hour-long Zoom meetings to provide insight into everything. , from the presence of cycle paths around the complex to the use of bird-safe glass.

Those involved in the review praised Amazon and its developer, JBG Smith, for engaging with neighbors and incorporating their feedback, especially with sustainability measures such as solar panels and a “green ribbon” trail. tree-lined that runs through the complex. (JBG Smith is about to close its sale from PenPlace to Amazon for $198 million this year, and the company said it will earn LEED Platinum status for its buildings there.)

Still, some frustrations lingered: A few residents expressed concerns about the lack of bike lanes on South 12th Street, a major thoroughfare that adjoins PenPlace. Some worried that the company’s surveillance practices would prevent the green space from serving as a true public space. And others said Amazon could do more to reimburse the county for allowing buildings whose height and density exceed zoning rules.

Some proponents of the project have argued that Amazon’s presence can only spur further development, adding housing stock to a scorching real estate market that is desperately short of housing. The company agreed to contribute $30 million to an Arlington fund used to subsidize the preservation and construction of affordable housing as part of the negotiations, in addition to a previous commitment of $20 million to the fund.

But Susan English, who lives in the nearby neighborhood of Arlington Ridge, told lawmakers on Saturday that the number of lower-paid workers needed to run the corporate office — from security guards and daycare workers to landscapers and construction staff. interview – “pleads for a far greater contribution.

“Amazon didn’t cause our housing crisis,” she said, “but I think Amazon could do a lot more to alleviate it.”

Virginia’s deal to entice the company — up to $750 million in direct cash grants to the company — is predicated on new hires at Arlington earning an average of $150,000 a year. This has raised concerns that these well-paid tech workers could accelerate the move. (Last week, company executives said they hired 5,000 company employees who are now assigned to the Northern Virginia site.)

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Ben D’Avanzo, who represented the Aurora Highlands Civic Association on a PenPlace review panel, also expressed his concerns to council on Saturday about the green space that will be at the heart of the complex. If it’s at the heart of a corporate campus, he said, who will end up using this park?

“Residents may think it’s primarily for interior employee use, especially since it’s surrounded by office buildings,” he said.

Others said other community benefits do not include enough resources to account for the greater density that could result from economic growth in the area. Amazon has agreed to provide 28,600 square feet of space at PenPlace to house Arlington Community High School, whose student body is largely made up of working adults, and offers limited public use of its space. conference.

Matt Mattauszek, a development planner for the county, said in an interview this month that negotiations with other developers in the area could end up yielding additional benefits demanded by neighbors, such as a larger library. , a primary school and a community center.

The vote involving MetPark in December 2019 had been met with more organized opposition, largely from construction unions who had called on the company to pass a “project labor agreement”, which would allow unions to Enforce wage protections and other labor standards. Amazon eventually adopted a set of labor standards that are enforced by a third-party group instead.

Labor issues remained largely absent from discussions around PenPlace, although a speaker on Saturday, Raul Castro, an organizer for the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, also called on the company to adopt similar standards in its warehouses and processing centers. data. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted to unionize this month, a major victory for the US labor movement.

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