After demolishing three dilapidated apartment complexes on East Lamar Boulevard and getting final approval from the City Council, a local developer is set to break ground on the upscale $200 million Arlington Commons apartments in December.
The 1,328-unit complex would take about a decade to complete, but the 353-unit first phase should be done in 24 months and would probably begin taking tenants about six months before that, said Robert Kembel, president of the project developer, The Nehemiah Co.
The new complex, a project that includes nearly $10.5 million in city incentives, would replace Huntington Chase, Countrywood and Pointe of North Arlington, which had a combined 730 apartment units. They were built in the 1970s and had become rundown and a frequent problem for police.
“We’re all about trying to create lifestyle,” said Kembel, who is also development manager for the nearly 2,100-acre Viridian master-planned community in far north Arlington. “If you increase the quality of the units — granite countertops, the stone on the buildings, nearby parks — then it will age well.”
Perhaps its most ambitious component is the planned conversion of the Lamar median into a linear park and the westbound outside traffic lane into a strip for on-street parallel parking for people visiting the apartments and the park.
The city’s thoroughfare plan had mapped out Lamar, now four lanes divided, as a future six-lane divided major artery.
The plan caused initial concerns about bottlenecking traffic and safety. Council members Robert Rivera and Charlie Parker overcame their worries enough and in time to support the overall project at Tuesday’s vote.
City officials said the linear park and the eliminated vehicle lane would serve as “traffic calming” measures. Others include signs and crosswalks to help pedestrians traverse the one remaining westbound traffic lane to get to the park and its trees, trails, benches, landscaping and other features.
If that doesn’t work and traffic worsens, Mayor Jeff Williams said, the contracts include a safeguard: The developer has promised to return Lamar to its previous four-lane format.
“It’s written in the deal,” said Williams. He abstained from the vote because his civil-engineering firm has done work for both the Commons and Viridian. The final vote, part of a consent agenda where one vote approves all, was 8-0.
Arlington Commons’ $49 million first phase would occupy 5.6 acres of the total 24-acre site, which lies on the north side of Lamar, between Garfield Drive and Rolling Hills Country Club. Its address is 425 E. Lamar Blvd.
Bruce Payne, the city’s economic development manager, said the total value of the previous apartments was less than $10 million.
“The value on his first building is four times more than that he demolished and removed,” Payne said.
The first phase of Arlington Commons would consist of a four-story building wrapped around a multilevel parking garage, allowing residents of the upper floors the opportunity to park near their apartments. Units would range from 580-square-foot efficiencies to 1,281-square foot two-bedroom apartments, and amenities would include a clubhouse, a large fitness center and a 2,100-square foot lounge/conference area.
Kembel said the former apartments charged rent of 75 to 80 cents per square foot. The Commons will charge more than $1.50 per square foot, he said.
All that remains is for the developer to obtain a building permit, which should not be difficult because of the council’s approval of the entire development plan, Williams said.
Mark Liberto, who ran against District 5 Councilwoman Lana Wolff in the May general election, called the Lamar plan “a bad idea.”
He added, “The biggest thing: They’re taking a city street that the taxpayers paid for and giving it to a private company that is going to use that as their parking lot.”
Payne said Lamar actually is not a busy road. The city rates it a service level A, or the least-traveled main roads in the city. The ratings go to F for those with the heaviest traffic.
In fact, with the slower, calmer traffic, motorists can drive closer to one another, resulting in more traffic moving through, Payne said. If some still don’t like it, they will detour.
“Traffic is just like water,” he said. “It will go wherever there is least resistance.”
Arlington Commons had a clear majority of support in the audience at Tuesday’s council meeting. When asked to stand, they outnumbered opponents about 50 to 6. And 40 of them were easily identifiable in their “I (Heart) Arlington Commons” T-shirts.
Almost all live in Viridian., where Kembel serves as vice president for the new owners, Johnson Development Corp. of Houston, which owns several master-planned communities. Several residents said they turned out to support not only Arlington Commons but its developer Kembel, who has been involved with the development of Viridian since land-buying began a decade ago.
“Anything thing that will improve north Arlington is good for all of us,” said Betsy Offill, who owns a dental laboratory. “And we strongly believe in our developer.”