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ArlingtonArlington continues moving away from ground-floor-retail edict

Arlington continues moving away from ground-floor-retail edict

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Arlington County Board members continue to drive the final stakes into the heart of a one-time local-government policy to force retail uses onto the ground floors of residential and commercial buildings.

Board members on Sept. 17 approved a switch from requiring retail uses to accepting “retail-equivalent” in a number of buildings across the county.
In one example, owners of a commercial office building at 1300 Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn won permission to renovate 2,260 square feet of space to serve non-retail purposes.

“We are trying to be more innovative and creative at a time, especially, when office space is experiencing high levels of vacancy,” County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said.

Allowing more flexibility would support “a more resilient” office market, she said.


Two decades ago, a previous County Board made inclusion of ground-floor retail almost required in new development, under the theory that it would add vibrancy and activity to otherwise cavernous office-building corridors.

Sometimes that goal panned out, but many times it did not, and for years board members have been agreeing on a piecemeal basis to permit other uses in spaces previously designated for ground-floor retail.

The county’s zoning ordinance doesn’t define the term “retail-equivalent,” but county staff take it to mean ancillary activities that might draw a crowd to the space, including museums, galleries, day-care facilities, medical/dental offices, colleges and, for residential buildings, community rooms and fitness centers.

Moving in that direction might help owners of commercial buildings fill that space, in turn helping the county government, since tax bills on those buildings depend, in large part, on how much rental income is being generated.

Arlington was slowly battling back from high office-vacancy rates in the years just before COVID struck. The arrival of the pandemic in 2020 upended the workplace environment, and could have long-term, and as-yet-unknowable, consequences on Arlington’s commercial-property sector.

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