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More ground-floor-retail requirements loosened in Arlington

Owners of Central Place development to have more flexibility going forward

It’s said that every boxer has a game plan in place – until the first punch is thrown. And in local zoning, urban planners have their concepts in place – until the public has the final say.

And apparently the public decided it didn’t want as much retail space at the massive Central Place development in Rosslyn as county officials had imposed.

As a result, Arlington County Board members on Jan. 20 approved zoning changes to allow owners of the two-building complex to use spaces on the ground, first and second floors currently designated for retail use for a wider array of options.

Now, ground-floor and first-floor spaces can be marketed for any use allowable under the Arlington County Retail Plan, which provides more flexibility, while second-floor space will be usable for anything permitted under the C-O-Rosslyn zoning category.

Apparently the failure of the spaces as retail was not a big surprise to county-government staff.

“Generally, retail space that is above grade, not visible and accessible from the street, has proven to not be successful in Rosslyn unless part of a larger curated environment,” the staff recommendation to County Board members said.

Central Place, located on North Moore and North Lynn streets in Arlington, consists of a 20-story residential building and 31-story commercial building that were completed about six years ago.

The Jan. 20 action was another in a long, long line of reversals taken by the County Board, which 20 years ago embraced the concept of ground-floor retail with vigor and effectively imposed it on nearly every major development in the county, even when the developers themselves understood it wouldn’t work in a specific location.

(Years back, one prominent developer privately said that, in creating financial proposals for new properties, he frequently assumed no rental revenue at all from ground-floor-retail spaces located in areas where patronage would be forthcoming.)

Over time, County Board members have acceded to multiple requests to allow greater flexibility in those spaces, once it was proved retail did not work in them.