Find Your Place In Shirlington

About Shirlington

Shirlington is a residential neighborhood transformed from a 27-acre former shopping center in Arlington County, Virginia.

Shirlington is named for the Shirley Memorial Highway (I-395) that forms its eastern boundary and “Arlington.” The former swampland was originally developed by Joe Cherner, a local car dealer who had seen a downturn in sales because of World War II. His original goal for the site was to turn it into an airport, but plans were never approved. In 1942, construction began on a shopping center, instead. It opened in 1944 with stores and a movie theater. It was located near Fairlington, a development of 3,500 homes built by the Defense Homes Agency, and Park Fairfax, another early-1940s residential development. Both neighborhoods are a mix of single-family homes, townhouses and apartments that extend into the City of Alexandria and they provided traffic for the low-density, strip-mall. Shirlington was dubbed ‘a new downtown’ during the 1950’s for the rapidly expanding Washington suburbs. In 1959, Lansburgh’s, a large department store, opened in Shirlington, providing the center with a strong retail anchor.

But in 1965, Alexandria’s Landmark Shopping Mall opened and the competition hurt Shirlington, which began a decline that worsened when Lansburgh’s closed in 1973. It was replaced by Best Department Store, which also closed in 1998. When Shirlington was passed over for rail service in the late-1970’s, Arlington took action.

The site was rezoned to C-O-1.5, which permits office and commercial uses, including restaurants, retail, theaters, hotels with meeting rooms and community facilities at a floor-to-area ratio of 1.5. Multiple parcels would be developed with a Phased Development Site Plan (PDSP) to establish land uses, densities, building heights, parking requirements, utilities, community facilities and other elements of multiple projects within a defined area. Prior agreement to these elements makes final approval a faster process and provides more certainty for the neighborhood and the developer.

The 1982 PDSP divided the site into five different parcels and proposed a total of 1 million sf of office and retail development and added 300 hotel rooms, 490 residential units and 3,000 parking spaces. Only 51% of retail, 68% of office space and 82% of residential units were actually constructed.

Amendments were adopted and the property changed hands several times during the 1990’s before the final plan was implemented in 2000, when Federal Realty Investment Trust acquired the Village of Shirlington, its 4th owner since 1982.

FRIT’s 2000 PDSP was a major amendment to the 1982 plan. It reduced retail by 35%, increased residential units by 40% and office development by 2%. It took four years to complete, including extensive public review and the creation of a citizen advisory group composed of residents from the surrounding neighborhoods. The Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development and Arlington Economic Development lead the county’s effort.

The result is a Shirlington that is an active, street-front retail center with an appropriate blend of office, residential and hotel development, various sources of entertainment, a civic presence in the form of the library and a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. A public plaza and public art help make Shirlington unique. The Shirlington Design Book contains recommendations for public spaces and circulation on guided streetscape development. Shirlington has two parks; Shirlington Park and Shirlington Dog Park.

In addition to its many amenities, Shirlington’s Bus Transfer station is served by five regional bus routes and two local bus routes, providing numerous transit options for people coming in and out of Shirlington. The station connects Shirlington to the regional transit system, including Metrorail at the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport.