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Arlington mulls what to do with empty office buildings

County government later this year could continue zoning changes for repurposing
Once thriving, the market for local journalist has turned into a barren landscape of layoffs, downsizing and diminished coverage.

Arlington County Board members on April 20 set in motion an effort that could see some of the county’s at-risk office buildings repurposed for other uses, including housing.

Board members approved a legal advertisement that will allow the Planning Commission to consider zoning changes on the topic as early as September.

A 2023 analysis by Arlington Economic Development found that 76 of the county’s 328 office buildings were considered economically at risk owing to shifting work habits and other factors. While representing less than a quarter of the total number of commercial buildings, the 17.3 million square feet of space involved is more than 40 percent of the county’s total office inventory.

In a report preceding the April 20 meeting, Marc McCauley of Arlington Economic Development said staff expected “a relatively limited number” of buildings would lend themselves to reuse, but called the effort a “critical” component of addressing high office-vacancy rates and the subsequent impact on county tax dollars.

Problems with the commercial-office sector have meant that what for years was the golden goose for the county’s tax coffers is turning into something of an albatross. With less tax revenue coming in from the commercial side, and with the county government either unable or unwilling to rein in its spending, the local tax burden continues to fall harder on homeowners.