Melwood proposal moves forward as provincial leaders hope for a ‘re-set’

Acceptance of the General Land Use Plan document could result in a rezoning of the parcel near Crystal City

Arlington County board members kept the ball rolling late May 21 on the possible eventual redevelopment of the 5-acre Melwood parcel near Crystal City, but expressed hope that the property owner and the surrounding community would find more agreement than has been the case thus far.

“This is going to be a reset,” County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said ahead of the 5-0 vote, suggesting that everyone in the process “must work together” to find an outcome that everyone agrees with. can live. .

“I think in the end we will be fine. Whether we did well or not, it just feels good,” Garvey said. “What is there (now) makes no sense.”

The 5-0 vote, which was taken after more than 30 speakers presented their views, was to accept a General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study from county staff on the parcel, which was another procedural step is towards an eventual repurposing of the area.

Melwood, which acquired the parcel at 750 23rd St. South in 2018 as part of its acquisition of Linden Resources, wants to build a five-story mixed-use building in partnership with Welsey Housing. The building would have more than 100 residential units and accommodate existing programs that provide training and employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

In late 2021, Melwood announced plans to raze the existing structure, but will need to undergo a zoning change to complete the task. Her efforts have drawn criticism from the Aurora Highlands Civic Association.

Not far from Crystal City, the Melwood site is on a block that also includes a one-story commercial building, several residences and Nelly Custis Park. It is located two blocks west of “Restaurant Row” on 23rd Street South, with single-family homes and Calvary United Methodist Church in between.

The building now used by Melwood once housed Nelly Custis Elementary. The school closed in 1979 as part of a wave of closures and consolidations as Arlington’s student population collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s.

The County Board’s May 21 vote was essentially the end of one process and the beginning of another, which could end in a rezoning of the site.

“We’ll all be hearing more from each other,” said county board member Maureen Coffey.

In a sign that anything could work out, Garvey pointed to Culpepper Garden, a mid-rise senior living building that sits in the middle of a residential community near Ballston and is generally compatible with the neighborhood around it. Her colleague, Takis Karantonis, said the Melwood proposal should result in the “best possible and gentlest” development option.

An added dimension to the repurposing is a local resident’s proposal to designate the site as a local historic landmark, due to the building’s previous use as Nelly Custis Primary School.

Designation as a local historic district requires approval from the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board and then the County Board. It seems like a long shot, as county board members have not approved such a district for decades when the property owner opposed the designation.

The designation would provide some, but not unlimited, protection against the destruction of the building or significant modification of the exterior.