Comments for the Committee of 100, May 10, 2000

By DeAndra Beck, President
Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association

Good evening. I would like to begin my remarks with a note of thanks to Ted Weihe, who invited me to participate on the panel with Dr. Merten and Mr. Milliken, and to Martha Foster, for facilitating the planning of this evening's panel discussion. Ted piqued my interest in making a presentation tonight by assuring me that a little controversy would stimulate a good discussion. Interesting that he's not here - I guess he realized that I would take him up on his suggestion!

In considering how best to frame tonight's remarks, I rummaged through a number of files left by previous civic association officers and came upon an interesting document entitled "The Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor: Early Vision," written by Mr. Mark Parris of the Arlington County Planning Staff in February, 1989. This document provides a comprehensive review of the key planning milestones that influenced how the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor had been developed from 1972 to 1989.

Mr. Parris first discusses the impact of a document entitled, "RB '72: Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Alternative Land Use Patterns." RB '72, written 28 years ago, was the first effort to outline development strategies for the RB Corridor in anticipation of the completion of Metro's Orange Line. Further, it detailed two objectives that were intended to guide all future development in the corridor: 1) the preservation of established single family and apartment neighborhoods and 2) the concentration of mixed high density use near Metro stations in "bulls eyes" of approximately 1/4 mile in radius.

Mr. Parris' review next focused on the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Committee (RBCC). This committee recommended that "the density within station bulls-eyes should not exceed half that of Rosslyn's; that development near stations be balanced among residential and non-residential uses and whenever possible emphasize retail commercial opportunities, and that attention be given to amenities such as pedestrian access, architectural quality, and amenities. The Committee attached particular importance to the provision of adequate park and open space, recommending not less than 75 acres be acquired for the corridor as a whole, with a minimum of 5 acres of park/open space in each bulls-eye."

The next step for the corridor was the development of sector plans. Mr. Parris writes that "planning for the Virginia Square Sector Plan was complicated by George Mason University's decision to locate a law campus in the station area. This created an opportunity to develop Virginia Square as a unique recreational/cultural/educational center in the corridor -- a desirable vision, but one at odds with earlier expectations that the station would be primarily residential in character. The Virginia Square sector plan was finally completed in 1983, after the adoption of a special General Land Use plan for the area." Interestingly, Mr. Milliken was a member of the County Board that approved the Virginia Square sector plan.

Mr. Parris concluded the document by outlining eight or so unresolved issues common to all of these planning discussions during the course of the seventeen year period. Three of the eight bear specific mention tonight.

1) What course would an unresolved debate over parking strategies in the Corridor take once the Metro opened? PARKING
2) To what extent would County resources enable it to acquire open space/parkland in the station area and in providing the capital improvements necessary to encourage neighborhood rehabilitation and "in-fill?" OPEN SPACE, INFILL
3) To what extent would assumptions hold that development would be limited to the Corridor area itself, particularly if it became clear that the market would support more higher density growth further from the Metro stations? BULLS-EYE

I submit to you that these three issues are as important to our neighborhood today as they were thirty, twenty, and ten years ago.

June of 1994 marked another milestone in the development of Virginia Square when the County Board approved $3 million to expand the GMU campus. The site plan review process leading up to this decision was exhaustive and contentious, with neighbors trying to find the balance between the benefits of GMU's expanded presence and the impact on the neighborhood of inadequate parking and the anticipated nature of the student mix - graduate vs. undergraduate - and the impact on residential requirements. I think that we all can look back with 20/20 hindsight and realize that indeed, the concerns raised by the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association regarding parking shortfalls have indeed become reality. The differences of opinion during 1994 lead to establishment of the Joint Advisory Board, which now includes a representative of our civic association.

Current plans for the GMU expansion provide another opportunity to define the character and attributes of the Virginia Square neighborhood. The GMU expansion is not unexpected; however, the context of this expansion is radically different from that envisioned when RB '72 was published nearly thirty years ago, when the Virginia Square sector plan was adopted seventeen years ago, and when GMU last expanded six years ago. The Ballston -Virginia Square neighborhood has undergone intensive development, exceeding expectations - and quite frankly exceeding planning guidelines - for density and height in all zoning categories: commercial, townhouse, and single family. Developers have been eager to capitalize on County staff and County Board's willingness to waive zoning requirements for parking, even though some Board members admit that these requirements are likely to be unrealistically low given current vehicle ownership. Further, an unwillingness to set high standards for architectural quality has resulted in an accumulation of what can be called "Ballston boxes," which lend a drab uniformity to the area.

Despite inadequate adherence to height, density, and parking guidelines in Ballston and Virginia Square, there does remain a commitment to the concept of a greenway, to improved artistic features, to first floor retail, and to street landscaping. Pedestrian issues have gained recent attention, particularly in light of the increase in fatalities and auto-pedestrian accidents in the Corridor.

These development trends and, in particular, the recent controversial approval of the Virginia Square Multi-Family complex located over the metro, have spurred a group of concerned citizens to update and reconsider the Virginia Square Sector Plan. I would like to note that Stanley Taylor is participating in the sector plan review committee to represent the interests of GMU. Nonetheless, there is a particular issue that has raised concern with the sector plan review committee members and with Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association members. It probably took none of you long to guess that this issue is parking.

Currently, GMU has on site parking of 352 spaces, and 120 spaces are leased for evening use. This totals 472 spaces for 1200 students and 140 faculty and staff (1340 total). This ratio is approximately one space for every 3 people. Note that 720 parking decals were sold to faculty, staff, and students, nearly double the amount of available parking. Thus, GMU has encouraged a first come, first serve parking policy that increases competition for scarce on street parking in our neighborhood.

GMU's proposed expansion envisions 10,000 students, not including faculty and staff. Steps are underway to procure land to build a parking garage of 550 spaces, totaling 1022 spaces. Even the addition of this garage will fall short of the required 1100 spaces on site. Further, it is not clear how GMU intends to address the deficit of 490 off-site spaces required under the approved master plan. To complicate matters further, study conducted in June 1992 by JHK & Associates made the following conclusion: based on a projected enrollment of 12,700 students, the number of required on-site spaces would be 4,749, far short of the 1100 spaces approved by Arlington County.

In short, there is a critical problem looming on the horizon. An additional $5 million dollars in county bond funds are being sought by GMU for the development on top of the $5 million already provided by the county. Given this fact, every individual in this room will be asked to finance the expansion. You may not think that parking in the Ballston-Virginia Square neighborhood is of any immediate concern to you and that it is no reason to question the upcoming bond referendum. I contend that this issue should be a very high priority for you. When the County Board approved the Virginia Square Multi-Family complex with only Mr. Monroe voting in opposition, Board members raised the possibility of a publicly funded parking garage in Virginia Square. As a member of a neighborhood that has fought long and hard to ensure that minimum parking requirements are met by developers - losing this battle more often than not - and as a tax payer in this county, I find it quite distressing that there is talk of asking Arlington County citizens to finance a public garage when simple planning and foresight could have prevented the impending gridlock and parking shortfall we now face.

The members of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association have a number of specific concerns regarding the expansion that they look forward to working out with GMU representatives during the site plan approval process. In the interim, we ask - and expect - that the GMU Project Development Team will present a comprehensive parking plan prior to the issuance of a county bond referendum. We intend to scrutinize this plan thoroughly, and we encourage - and welcome - input from other neighborhoods, civic associations, and interested citizens.

Thank you for providing a platform for this discussion tonight, and thank you for your willingness to brave the weather to attend.

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