Efforts by residents to remove a requirement for a public courtyard behind their Ballston condo building was unanimously rejected on Saturday by the Arlington County Board.
Members of the Berkeley Condo Association (1000 N. Randolph Street) applied to remove the requirement for 24-hour public access to the courtyard, citing concerns about safety and public nuisances.
Peter Schulz, a staffer at the county’s Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development, acknowledged that the easement for the courtyard — which also serves as a cut-through to the Ballston Metro station — had not been properly recorded by county staff. But county staff recommended against removing the easement, arguing that without it “there is no guarantee that the space will remain open to the public.”
The issue came to light after the association erected gates at entrances to the courtyard without a permit and someone complained about it to the county. A notice of violation was issued and then upheld by the Board of Zoning Appeals; the case is pending in Arlington County Circuit Court after the applicants sued to keep the gates.
Residents said there are problems with nuisance behavior like littering, public drunkenness, drug use and loud music playing in the courtyard, exacerbated by the presences of nearby bars like A-Town Bar & Grill, on the opposite side of Fairfax Drive. Residents said problems persist day and night, and are not confined to bar patrons.
“We’ve really had to put up with a great deal of noise,” said resident Charles Richter. “It’s sometimes at very uncomfortable hours, both from people who have had too much to drink in the evening, and in the day we’ve had several dog fights [and] people fights.”
“When people come out after an evening of drinking, they help themselves to our rear yard,” said William Lawson, the attorney for the condo association.
Police, however, did not report any significant issues associated with the space.
“Staff has only been able to find one (1) police report concerning the outdoor space in the past year,” said the staff report.
In letters to the County Board, both the Parks and Recreation Commission and members of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association opposed closing off public access to the park.
While County Board members were sympathetic to the condo owners, and promised to look again at finding ways to improve public safety in the area, they said they could not get rid of the public space requirement.
“This was an easement granted to the people of Arlington County,” said Board member Libby Garvey. “We can’t just give it up willy-nilly because there were some mistakes made.”
Fellow Board member John Vihstadt said there were “dirty hands here all around.” Schulz, the county staffer, said with better coordination between plan reviewers on staff, such mistakes are unlikely to be repeated.
“It was an unfortunate case of too much silo-ing in county staff at the time,” he said.
Photos via county presentation