Civic Association Newsletter

October/November 1996 - Volume 20, No. 2


At the County Board October 5, 1996 Meeting, the proposed site plan amendment (SP #275) to permit construction of Virginia Square Center Apartments and associated parking was approved by the County Board 5-0.

The site plan amendment request was for a special exception to amend the approved site plan to reconfigure the building footprint; on premises known as 3500 North Fairfax Drive, 901 (part of), 905, 909 North Monroe Street; 904 (part of), 908, 912, 920 North Lincoln Street, Outlots A, B, C, D, (part of) L, (part of) M, N, O. Located immediately to the east of the Virginia Square Metro Station on the southeast corner of the intersection of Fairfax Drive and North Monroe Street.

Staff supported this site plan amendment request. According to staff documentation, this proposal meets or exceeds the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. It provides more parking than the approved plan and addresses the community's concern about adequate parking. It will implement the first phase of the 9th Street Pedestrian Greenway, a goal recommended by the Mid-Course Review. It will also help achieve the goals of the Virginia Square Sector Plan, by using the first high density residential project constructed in the immediate proximity of the Virginia Square Metro Station. Therefore, [staff] recommended that this site plan amendment request be approved, subject to all previous conditions and to amended Conditions #1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 17, 29, 30, 48, and 51.

This site plan for a residential high rise adjacent to the Virginia Square Metro Station was approved on November 18, 1989. The approved plan has not been constructed. The applicant is requesting approval of a site plan amendment to alter the building footprint. The building footprint has changed from an "X" shape to a "Y" shape. Project density is proposed to remain the same. The amount of parking would be increased.

The following is the testimony of the BVSCA NCAC Representative, Nancy Iacomini and BVSCA President Ragland made at this County Board meeting of October 5, 1996.

Nancy Iacomini: "My name is Nancy Iacomini and I'm the Ballston-Virginia Square NCAC Representative. This morning I'm speaking on my own behalf and our Civic Association's president will be giving the Association's view point on this matter.

Many of us are very happy to see a residential project begin in Virginia Square. It's been a long time and it's nice to see something other than the FDIC go in there. As you know the Virginia Square Sector Plan views the area to be of one of residential, cultural and educational in nature. It is good that something will start.

I would like to highlight two aspects of the proposal that are of personal interest to me and they are the lighting along the Ninth Street greenway and visitor parking. Over the past 15 to 20 years, we've seen the streetscape in many areas of the Rosslyn- Ballston corridor mature. Through this maturation, we've seen often times the planting of trees and the installation of street lights needs to be better coordinated so they do not end up interfering with each other. Therefore, I strongly suggest that before the manager or his designee approve the landscape plan for the greenway, it be studied to ensure that the eventual canopy of the proposed plantings will not interfere with the lighting. This might entail a little bit of a different lighting approach, maybe we need some tall pole lights, maybe we need some lower level, closer to the ground, lighting. Studies have shown that lighting is very necessary for safety and since we want people in what will be a residential, educational, and cultural area to use the Metro. They need to feel safe going and coming to it and lighting is going to be a big part of that safety.

As to parking, the provision of visitor parking in both residential and commercial projects is something as you know our neighborhood always has an interest. We have found that even though we are so close to Metro, there are occasions where provisional parking in general and visitor parking in particular are necessary for our residents and their visitors quality of life. Right now Virginia Square has an abundance of public parking and privately owned lots because there's much land undergoing interim use. But all of this will disappear as the land is developed.

In order to plan for the future I would believe that it is necessary that each project provide a certain amount of visitor parking on site. I recall one of the members of the site plan review subcommittee saying that projects should do no harm and that to me means providing for visitors at some level at each development. Now, I'm afraid that I cannot offer a firm guidance as to the amount needed. In fact that is something with which both the Planning and Transportation Commissions have been struggling. And in fact, both groups would like to have this situation in high-rise residential buildings, the idea of visitor parking studied and discussed. And I am sure that an indication of interest in such a study from the Board to the staff would certainly help facilitate that process.

And finally, again on parking, I would just like a clarification from the applicant as to how parking spaces in the building will be handled? If it's a rental space, I know its the county's intent there be one space set aside for a unit perpetually, if it becomes a condominium that there be one space per unit. It's not something that the County can require that happens but it seems to be general practice, and I'm just curious what will happen here and that's all. Thank you."

Chairman Hunter: "Thank you for being here. Do we have another speaker?"

Clerk: "Yes, the last speaker is Ernie Ragland."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Ms. Iacomini and I discussed this issue the other day. There seems to be something of a loose end maybe a hole here and if the staff could take a look at this issue it would be much appreciated."

Chairman Hunter: "What are you talking about, the parking issue?"

Board Member Eisenberg: "Yeah."

Chairman Hunter: "I want to make a comment later about the lighting but we will hear the other speaker first. Yes, Mrs. Bozman."

Board Member Bozman: "I was not clear which of the parking issues were you speaking of Mr. Eisenberg?"

Board Member Eisenberg: "It has to do with how you allocate space to a unit. It may very well not be in the long run or the overwhelming number of cases a practical problem and yet because of the way the ordinance or practice is structured I guess now it's under state law. You could wind up with the anomaly that has been addressed and I just think we need to take a look at it."

Chairman Hunter: "Next speaker."

Clerk: "Next speaker is Ernie Ragland."

BVSCA President Ragland: "Good morning Chairman Hunter and members of the County Board."

Chairman Hunter: "Good Morning."

BVSCA President Ragland: "Hi, my name is Ernie Ragland and I'm president of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association. I'm here today to represent the Association regarding this site plan amendment [SP #275].

At our last Membership Meeting on September 18th, we heard a presentation by the site plan applicant's [Dittmar Company's] representative. Various questions were raised about the project. I would like to say first, however, that most members felt comfortable with the project, particularly if this is to become a highrise condominium building. Concerns were expressed about market conditions by the site plan representative, suggesting that we still may end up with another highrise apartment. But we're hopeful that it will become a condominium building.

Although most members expressed support for the highrise project, concern was expressed about the spacing of the trees. Now, Nancy has just talked about it and the apparent lack of lighting in the greenway. Our members looked at drawings and we felt that the project, the cosmetics of the building, and the parkway itself, looked good during the daylight hours. But a lot of concern was expressed about the [lighting] illumination particularly when the trees are fully grown.

Another concern that was raised was the brick pavers and its adverse effects on the handicapped and senior citizens when these are built, especially if these [brick pavers] are not built to specifications. The representative cited some instances when things are built not properly. Later, you may have a short term life, or you may have additional maintenance issues associated with the brick pavers when the mortar is not equal in height to the bricks. We suggest that the County's Public Works Department review the construction when this is built, and if this is approved today, to make certain that we have proper construction there to minimize any later risks.

On the subject of parking, we felt very comfortable with the 1.25 parking ratio that was discussed. The site plan applicant is proposing 232 apartment units or 335 bedrooms with 290 parking spaces. This works out to a 1.25 ratio of parking spaces to apartment units, or a .86 ratio of parking spaces to bedrooms. That is even above the existing standard identified by the Northern Virginia Apartment Association in their review of highrise apartments in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. They have done studies at Courthouse, Virginia Square, and Ballston. The ratio is very good, but we are concerned about the future when GMU is fully expanded and, as Nancy has mentioned, the reduction of available parking [when the land is fully developed] near the Virginia Square Metro.

I would like to suggest that you consider a certain number of the 58 parking spaces, the difference between the 290 proposed spaces and the 232 apartment units, be dedicated for the long term ... for guest parking. Also, we are very troubled about the proposed location of where the temporary [or short term] parking spaces will be for deliveries [or guests]. It will be very near the Virginia Square Metro site, and if you ... note that day to day (without the proposed highrise building), we often have congestion and bottlenecks near Fairfax Drive and Monroe Streets when people leave the Metro. We have cabs there, we have pedestrians coming and going, we have cars picking up pedestrians. The way it is currently proposed for the project, only 5 spaces are earmarked for temporary parking [near the Virginia Square Metro Station at 9th and Monroe Streets]. We don't think that is adequate, and to help avoid a potential congestion area near the Metro in the future, we suggest that 9 to 10 surface temporary parking spaces be provided. We thank you."

Chairman Hunter: "Thank you Mr. Ragland. On the subject of lighting, was that the last speaker?"

Clerk: "Yes sir."

Planning Commissioner Marcia Craven: "Mr. Chairman."

Chairman Hunter: "Ms. Craven."

Commissioner Craven: "The Planning Commission didn't hear this, but the Site Plan Review Subcommittee met on this twice and I chaired the Site Plan Review Subcommittee. Would you like a report on this?"

Chairman Hunter: "That would be fine."

Commissioner Craven: "For some reason, it was considered a minor enough site plan amendment. It wasn't going to the Planning Commission. But there was some design issues specifically, the greenway that we discussed at two different meetings. What we did was, we focused at one of the meetings basically on various aspects of the greenway, such as brick pavers, street furniture, the types of trees, lighting, signage, and maintenance. And came up with some general ideas. The developer was very, very willing to go along with our ideas on these things and I thought that maybe the Board would want to look at this in terms of it being the very first part of the greenway to be built, that the standards we had discussed since the developer has agreed to are truly what you would like to see on that greenway.

But I looked at the staff report last night to see how it reflected the different aspects of the greenway. It seemed that this particular development did specify all of the things that we had discussed at the Site Plan Review Subcommittee meeting in terms of the street furniture. That it was not to be concrete, but was to be wooden park benches that the lighting should be well illuminated. We talked about directional signage and that's also in one of the conditions; however, you might note that in the condition that discussed the developer agreed to work with the Department of Public Works to implement mid-block street identification signs to be placed in the walkway paving at either end of the greenway at this site. We hadn't discussed any specifics. We kind of left that generally open for future considerations about how signage should be done, although we thought that signage, different than street signage, but some kind of directional signage would be a thing to have on this walkway.

We also discussed the fact that we are encouraging fluidity and changes. It should not be just a straight sidewalk, it's not. It's a greenway, it's a walkway, it has flowers, it has trees, and the brick pavers don't necessarily have to be a standard paver all around. It can have a special design, it can be all kinds of different things that are special to each site that's going to be using the greenway. We also encourage north-south mirroring when you have mid-block developments like this is. None of this is reflected in the staff report and I don't think it necessarily has to be, because that is just for this one development. But the Subcommittee had recommended that staff come up with some kind of package of what the greenway should be, a mini-plan for the future of the greenway."

Board Member Ferguson: "Mr. Chairman, I'd like to make a motion to approve this site plan amendment request subject to the conditions listed in the County Manager's Report."

Chairman Hunter: "I'll second that. I wanted to make a comment on the lighting. Have you finished Ms. Craven?"

Commissioner Craven: "Yes."

Chairman Hunter: "Condition 37 is one of the approved and unchanged conditions of the site plan, that was not actually in our report today. Requires that the lighting plan be reviewed by the Police Department for security and that it be tested before the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy. So that the lighting will actually be checked against the zoning ordinance and by the standards prepared the Illumination Engineering Society of America. Until I got this report, I didn't realize there was such a society, but I'm glad to hear there is. Now, that item has been eliminated. This type of review has proved invaluable to us in the past and I'm sure it will be in this case too. Are there additional comments or questions? Ms. Craven, I do appreciate your thorough examination and your good report."

Commissioner Craven: "I guess I would ask if staff could be directed to put together some kind of package regarding the greenway, some standards that future developers could also use. While we discussed them at the Site Plan Review Subcommittee meeting, there's nothing, no directive. And the conditions that are in this report are really specific to this specific project and I think that a couple of pages, a brochure type thing, something that really specifies what we want the greenway to look like, and what the standards are."

Chairman Hunter: "Let me ask, rather than directing. Let me ask that staff respond to that."

County Staff: "We have agreed to do such a study, and we will be returning to the Site Plan Review Subcommittee with that. I don't have a time-line for that, as yet, but we will be following up on that."

Chairman Hunter: "We heard earlier today that staff is overburdened, so I understand that. Thank you for that suggestion, Ms. Craven. Additional comments? We have a motion and a second. Are there additional comments or questions? If not, all in favor say aye, opposed, carries five to nothing."


A summary write-up of the Stuart Park Workshop was provided to the Association by Sunny Scully, landscape architect for the park, between the residential and commercial components of the Stuart Park Site Plan, located in Ballston on Stuart Street, Taylor Street, Wilson Boulevard, and Fairfax Drive. The Association's Vice-President Deem Gillmore attended the workshop.

The Urban Design Committee of the Ballston Partnership held a two hour workshop on September 17th at The Jefferson. Architect Neil Payton was the facilitator for a group of about thirty interested people. Also present was the developer for the park and office building, Neal Fleming of DRI, and Clark Ewart of Paradigm, developer of the adjacent apartments. Sunny Scully, as landscape architect for the park, made a presentation regarding the conditions that influence design.

A slide show of park imagery opened the workshop. Neil Payton then discussed the notion of what a park is, followed by a brainstorming session of the elements they find desirable for Stuart Park. A large list evolved. Another exercise elicited things people do not want in Stuart Park. There was discussion of why some of these elements were included.

Following, in order of importance to the group, is a summary of the outcome of this Workshop's desires for Stuart Park:



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