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County Board Denies Development Plan

Board denies Columbia Pike project, defers Fort Meyers Heights plan.

Renovation plans for an apartment complex on Columbia Pike were halted Tuesday during a recessed meeting of the Arlington County Board. The property's owner, Benjamin Smith, and development company Graham and Associates asked the Board to approve a 21-unit extension of the current building, on the 2200 block of the Pike. The plan, they contend, followed the county's form-based code- the county's guidelines for new construction in the area- but local residents argued the addition would take up land now used for a nearby park, robbing the neighborhood of an important open space.

“The county is allegedly encouraging form-based development on Columbia Pike,” said Barnes Lawson, a representative of Graham and Associates. “This sends the wrong message to land owners in the area.”

Form-based zoning is zoning based on the form of a building or structure, rather than its use, and requires a significant level of public participation. It makes it easier to create mixed-use communities.

The park was created as a compromise with the county when the complex, a collection of townhouses, was first built. It has since become an integral part of life for families living in the surrounding homes.

“The open space has been treasured by many for years,” said Linda Purdue. “It has always been a quiet haven, a respite from the traffic on the Pike. It was part of a contract with the community.”

NEW CONSTRUCTION and development in Arlington were the focus of several items last week. The recessed meeting also saw the advent of a proposal from the company spearheading development plans at Potomac Yards, Potomac Yard PDSP. The item is part of negotiations with the county surrounding the company's contribution to affordable housing. It was deferred until the Board's May 7 meeting. The county's own development plan for the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood was also deferred Jan. 29 until the April 16 meeting.

The county's strategy for managing debt became the focus of tough questions from members of its fiscal affairs review committee as the Board considered a proposal to set guidelines on the use of variable-rate debt. The county used $22.4 million in such debt to issue bonds in 2001 for construction of the Ballston Parking Garage. It carries a fluctuating interest rate and is exempt from tax.

“Why, at a time of low, fixed rates are we changing our policies for variable rates?” asked committee chairman Wayne Kubicki.

Committee member Tim Wise questioned the usefulness of such debt.

“Fixed-rate bonds seem to be the dominant method of transacting debts,” he said. “It doesn't seem variable-rate debt would be valuable unless the county is looking to increase the amount of debt it can take on.”

Board chairman Jay Fisette said the proposal is aimed only at guiding the unlikely use of variable-rate debt.

“At a time of low interest rates, it doesn't seem to me the obvious time to use this, but there is something to be said for having another tool in the tool box,” he said.

In other business, the Board heard testimony from former congressional candidate Jim Hursyz on the John Casablancas Modeling and Career Center. The school, in Shirlington, requested to change its hours of operation, a change that would require the county's permission under zoning laws. The change, Hursyz argued, would hinder traffic flow through the area. Representatives of the Center were not present and no action was taken on the proposal.