Tangled in Code in Arlington

Tangled in Code in Arlington

Zoning ordinance compels county to tear down early childcare facility.

Arlington needs space and buildings for facilities. In particular, there’s a dire need for space for early-childhood educational facilities. So some eyebrows were raised at the July 2 Planning Commission when Arlington County Staff said the county plans to demolish a space being used for early childhood education.

“You intend to bulldoze existing buildings at Buck and Carlin Springs without any money or plan for how interim uses will be funded?” asked Planning Commissioner Stephen Hughes. “I point this out to my colleagues; pointing out that we are spending a great deal of money on head start building on Glebe Road and here we have current buildings on sites that are occupying and serving [those] purposes. In addition to that, our best use of the site continues to be demolishing it without interim use for the building.”

The Buck site is a six-acre property occupied by two 44,000-square-foot office spaces and two smaller warehouse spaces. The Carlin Springs property was purchased by the county as part of a land swap with the Virginia Hospital Center. The Bright Horizons Child Care and Education Center currently operates out of the Carlin Springs property.

When staff answered that the buildings need to be taken down as they are in poor shape, Hughes said he took offense to that as it is functional enough for his daughter and 140 other children who attend the educational program at Carlin Springs.

“As we plan our community, we can’t gold plate everything; we have to make compromises,” said Hughes. “We can find money to bulldoze but not to make interim uses even if it’s not exactly what we want.”

Staff said that the county proposes to move forward with demolition partially because buildings in the Buck site are not safe and habitable, and partially because the Carlin Springs building was originally built as a hotel and is not adaptable to reuse. The current daycare facility in Carlin Springs is allowed to operate as ancillary to the hospital property at the site, but zoning will not allow the county to operate early childhood facilities there once it takes over the site.

To the Planning Commission, which deals largely in crafting the county’s zoning ordinance, it was absurd that the county had managed to tie itself into a knot with its own zoning code.

“If our excuse for why we demolish perfectly good buildings is zoning, I know why people get frustrated that I sit on zoning committees now,” said Hughes.

Planning Commissioner Kathleen McSweeney agreed with Hughes.

“We couldn’t find a way to reuse those buildings?” said McSweeny “I hope the county will take another look at that. It does seem within our right to rezone them if that is the issue.”