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Neighbors Battle Planned North Ballston Changes

Neighbors of a former church in Ballston have mobilized against a plan that could allow more density at the site for future redevelopment.

The site at 1031 N. Vermont Street was home to the First Baptist Church of Ballston, which leased it to the Grace Community Church. Grace has since relocated its services to 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Full Circle Montessori School uses the space for classrooms, while there is also a parking lot and public children’s playground across 11th Street N. included.

But nearby residents in the north of the neighborhood spoke out Saturday against making the site denser, and cited an online petition with almost 500 signatures against any changes.

Local resident Dana Gerk said she started the petition to ask the Arlington County Board and planning staff to “protect us and our community.”

Under a plan advanced unanimously by the County Board at its Saturday meeting, the site could be rezoned to allow for approximately 115,000 square feet of mixed-use development, to include a multi-story residential building and townhomes. The new zone could allow up to 105 homes to be built.

Staff said the proposed amendment to the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) for the site — which calls for “high-medium residential mixed use” zoning with a tapering down in height toward the lower-density residential community —  would “more closely reflect the built conditions implemented through the County Board’s previous actions to approve numerous special exception site plans and rezonings since 1980.”

Board members said discussions around the planning principles for the site are separate from any new redevelopment plans, but one has already been submitted by a developer.

Earlier this year, Reston-based NVR submitted a preliminary application to turn the site into a seven-story building with 73 apartments and townhomes, and 13 townhomes on the north of 11th Street N.

County Board chair Jay Fisette emphasized the Board’s approval was not related to any potential development, but was instead about making broader plans for how a site may look in the future.

“I think today proved that if we can separate the planning issues from the particular building being proposed, we will have a better opportunity to shape what we want in that building when it comes forward,” Fisette said.

Opponents of upping the density on the site spoke against any changes. Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement bemoaned the approval of several under-construction projects in the area contributing to the “already-congested Ballston neighborhood,” and said neighbors might pursue legal action to prevent more development.

“The impact of these projects has not even been felt, these buildings have not yet been built,” she said. “Yet Ballston is already gridlocked.”

The Board’s approval means it will now hold public hearings on a potential GLUP amendment. Anthony Fusarelli, a staff member in the county’s Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, said such hearings could be held before the end of this year.

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