Civic Association Newsletter

May/June 1997 - Volume 20, No. 7


The County has advertised changes to the C-O-A ("Commercial- Office-Apartment") zoning ordinance to treat hotels as a residential use and thereby have up to three more hotels in the heart of Ballston. Currently, there are three hotels in Ballston. If the County Board approves such changes, this would potentially create 100% commercial blocks in Ballston.

At our April 30, 1997, Membership Meeting, with over 80 members present, after listening to a County staff presentation on the matter, our members expressed extreme displeasure with the proposal primarily due to the volume of tour buses already traversing the neighborhood and parking on the residential streets. The members were supportive of staying with the already approved plan for the C-O-A district, which is to have a mix of 50% residential and 50% commercial development on each block.

Additional comments from members indicated that the risk of having another Rosslyn like night-time environment, where there are several hotels within blocks of each other, in the Ballston area was not a risk worth taking. Based on the overwhelming number of negative comments from members about the proposed change, the Association is seeking support for maintaining the 50/50 mix expressed in the Ballston Sector Plan and the current version of the C-O-A ordinance. The amendments are scheduled to be considered by the Planning Commission at its meeting of May 27, 1997, and by the County Board at its meeting of June 7, 1997. The Association encourages members and interested citizens to attend these meetings and express your views.

County Board Meeting of April 26, 1997

At the County Board Meeting of April 26, 1997, Agenda Item 8A, the County Board voted to authorize the County Manager, Anton Gardner, Advertise a Zoning Ordinance Amendment to SECTION 25A., "C-O-A" COMMERCIAL, OFFICE AND APARTMENT DISTRICTS, to Allow Hotel Use to Substitute for Apartment Use in a Site Plan.

RECOMMENDATION: Authorize advertisement of the proposed amendment, including certain optional language which would require that retail uses occupy up to 50% of the ground floor area of hotels, and that Transportation Demand Management Plans be approved for hotel uses; for public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting of May 27, 1997 and at the County Board meeting of June 7, 1997 in order to consider increasing the opportunities for hotel development in the Ballston Station Area; allowing hotel use to substitute for up to 800,000 square feet of apartment use in the "C-O-A" district; encouraging the development of hotel resources that serve the business and residential communities; encouraging economic development activities that provide desirable employment and enlarge the tax base; facilitating the creation of a convenient, attractive and harmonious community; promoting the public health, safety, welfare and convenience; and for other reasons required by the public necessity, convenience, general welfare or good zoning practice.

SUMMARY: The land use policy of the Ballston Sector Plan (May 1980) calls for a mixed retail, office, hotel and apartment area. Apartment use was viewed to be an important part of a balanced Ballston community and experience from the development of Rosslyn showed that office and hotel projects would tend to be developed rather than apartments in the absence of special zoning provisions or incentives for apartment construction. "C-O-A", the implementation tool for land use policy in Central Ballston, including density and height incentives for developing apartments but not for hotels. Office, hotel and retail uses compete for the commercial density allowed in "C-O-A". Now however, a need to increase the number of hotel rooms in Ballston has been identified by the Ballston business community. Ballston has largely developed since "C-O-A" was adopted and the apartment goals in the district are being met. It has been suggested that one way to encourage hotel development would be to treat hotels the same as apartments by amending the "C-O-A" regulations. The proposed amendment would allow the County Board to approve hotel use as a substitute for apartment use in site plans, but would limit the amount of hotel use substituted for apartment use to 800,000 square feet (estimated 1140 rooms) or approximately ten (10) percent of the total gross floor area planned in the Ballston "C-O-A" District. In order to study and consider this approach, staff recommends that the County Board authorize advertisement of the proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment for public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting of May 27, 1997 and at the County Board meeting of June 7, 1997.

BACKGROUND: The Ballston Sector Plan, adopted by the County Board in May 1980, established Central Ballston as the high density, high rise core of the Ballston Station Area. The area bounded by Wilson Boulevard, North Glebe Road, Fairfax Drive and North Quincy Street was designated the "Coordinated Mixed Use Development District" on the General Land Use Plan. A new zoning district "C-O-A" was created to facilitate the redevelopment and the area was rezoned to "C-O-A". The Zoning Ordinance SECTION 25A. "C-O-A" COMMERCIAL, OFFICE AND APARTMENT DISTRICT provided that the County Board may approve Site Plans for mixed use office, retail, hotel and apartment developments up to a maximum density of 6.0 FAR (Floor Area Ratio). In order to ensure that Central Ballston would have a mix of uses that would included an appropriate amount of apartments, "C-O-A" allows office, retail and hotel use up to a maximum of 3.0 FAR plus an additional 3.0 FAR for apartments for a total maximum density of 6.0 FAR. Site Plans which are 90 percent committed to apartment use may receive an additional one-half (0.5) FAR which may be used for apartment, commercial or office use.

Since 1980 much of Central Ballston has been developed into high rise mixed use developments. The goals for office and apartment development are being met. Approximately 2.9 million square feet of office space and 2,500 apartments have been developed. One hotel has been developed with a total of 210 rooms.

DISCUSSION: The development community has recently expressed an interest in developing hotels in Ballston in mixed use developments with office and retail uses but no apartment component. A study of hotel resources throughout the County has shown that Ballston is under-served. Major firms have expressed concern over the lack of availability of hotel rooms. The National Science Foundation and LCI estimate that they each generate in excess of 15,000 room nights per year or roughly 25% of the weekday capacity for all existing hotels in the Ballston area. The development community sees the continued lack of hotel construction as a drawback to attracting additional office users to the area.

Currently, in Ballston, land eligible for hotel development ($17.00 per FAR foot) is less valuable than land eligible for office ($25.00 per FAR foot) development, but more valuable than land that is eligible for apartment development ($11-13 per FAR foot). It is difficult for hotel use to compete with office development with this difference in value. Representatives of the development community have suggested that treating hotel as a residential use in "C-O-A" would offer the necessary incentive to develop hotels. It has been noted that there is relatively little property in the "C-O-A" District left to develop; therefore a change should not affect many development sites. The proposed amendment caps the amount of hotel gross floor that may be substituted for apartment gross floor area, ensuring that the change would not be extreme.

The Zoning Ordinance Review Committee suggested that street level retail uses, including restaurants, are desirable amenities to hotels. In addition, it has been suggested that Site Plans for hotels in "C-O-A" include plans for dealing with the handling and parking of tour buses. Proposed options to the language #4 and #5 may address these issues. Staff has not yet determined whether it will recommend adoption of those provisions.

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