It’ll soon be “bye, bye, bodega,” as Arlington County Board members are allowing the owner of the Courtland Towers apartments in the Courthouse area to replace its longstanding ground-floor convenience store with four additional residential units and other amenities for residents.
The proposal had generated pushback from nearby residents and garnered formal opposition from the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Federation, but County Board members on April 28 voted 4-0 in support of a staff proposal allowing the conversion.
“I’m really sympathetic,” County Board member Katie Cristol said of concerns raised by those opposed to the change, but said zoning regulations didn’t require the property owner – Dittmar – to maintain a grocery at the 475-unit apartment complex, which opened in the 1980s.
“I’m not sure it is the right role for us” to force them to continue to provide one, Cristol said.
But Casey Nolan, a resident in the corridor, said the 3,000-square-foot store – known colloquially by the Spanish “bodega” – provides “a friendly place and meeting space” that helps to foster a sense of community among local residents.
Further, Nolan said, the store served as a critical resource for residents who have mobility issues or lack easy means to shop elsewhere.
County Board members, however, said the parcel’s zoning would permit the property owner to remove the convenience store and replace it with other retail uses if the board did not allow additional apartments as an alternative.
“There’s nothing that we could do to preserve this as a grocery in perpetuity,” board member Christian Dorsey said.
Rents at the complex range from $1,995 to $4,960 per month. In addition to the four new apartments, Dittmar plans to incorporate a grab-and-go food service, health facility and dry-cleaning service – but those would be available only to residents of the apartment building, not the surrounding community. The changes will not materially impact the total square footage in the building, which is about 10 percent less than permitted under existing zoning.
The 15-story apartment building is on North Veitch Street, but the convenience store is found along North Wayne Street, a dead-end street with limited foot traffic. The lack of visibility from street level was one reason county staff supported conversion from retail to residential use.