A Balance of Interests in Arlington

Despite concerns about project size, townhouses at 11th & Vermont are unanimously approved by County Board.

The County Board room was full of citizens decked out in red and carrying signs, but as many as there were, Kristine Kasserkert said that many more of her neighbors didn’t want to come out to the Feb. 24 County Board meeting. Kasserkert said her neighbors knew what the result would be; that the County Board would side with developers against the neighbors and approve a new 84-housing unit structure in Ballston, but that residents still rallied in hopes that the County Board would be swayed.

But Kasserkert’s neighbors were right.

After over an hour of testimony with neighbors universally expressing their concerns with the site design and the community engagement process, the board voted 4-1 in favor of NVR Inc.’s condominium and two rows of townhouses at the former site of the First Baptist Church of Ballston.

Among the criticisms of the site was it would not provide sufficient parking for the number of new residents it was bringing in. But Chris Slatt, chair of the Transportation Commission, argued that Arlington has actually been providing too much parking too close to the Metro stations. Slatt argued that potential residents self-select into developments that meet their lifestyle, and providing an amenity for parking close to a Metro mitigates the car-free benefits from building residences close to public transit.

The comment grew scoffs from the audience, but carried weight with the County Board members.

“[Arlington] needs to implement robust daytime and nighttime parking enforcement,” said Annette Lang. “If you’re going to treat Ballston like Manhattan, you’d better start enforcing like Manhattan. The streets are frequently blocked with cars that ignore the no parking signs. “

Other residents said the size of the building would, literally and metaphorically, shadow the surrounding apartments.

“It’s too big, it’s too tall, it’s too close,” said Justin Heminger.

Following the public comment, County Board member John Vihstadt proposed deferring the development approval indefinitely, but the majority on the County Board voted his proposal down.

“What’s been clear, fundamental, irreconcilable divide that’s up to us to reconcile,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey. “I recognize it’s not perfect for everyone. For neighbors in already built units it will provide a change, one that is not entirely or at all welcome. That is an unfortunate reality in a community like ours. But the neighborhood context is not just buildings next to it, it’s also the transit rich area it exists in. It’s a block away from a planned and proposed second entrance to the Metro. This is a neighborhood long planned to accommodate a multitude of very intense uses. That, in and of itself, is not a surprise. I’m prepared to accept this proposal. I do have concerns that we’re not effectively mitigating all of the traffic impacts, but we can deal with those after the fact.”

Vihstadt, the lone vote against the project, said the County Board’s dismissal of the public concerns came across as victim blaming.

“It seems in a lot of ways like we’re blaming the victims that we’re at this stalemate,” said Vihstadt. “I thought we could have done better, and I’m disappointed.”

But County Board Chair Katie Cristol said her vote for the project wasn't a vote against residents, but a vote in favor of the broader need of residents across the county.

“I'm supporting the motion because I’m on the side of residents’ interests,” said Cristol. “We say all the time that it’s too expensive to own homes in Arlington. That’s another way of saying there’s not enough home ownership. My vote is not because I’m on the take, I'm not overruling the interests of community. I'm seeking to balance interest of residents.”

The motion passed in a 4-1 vote.

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