Arlington, VA

A proposed childcare center on Lee Highway that has irked neighbors for months is now on track to open in the next few months.

The County Board unanimously signed off on a permit Tuesday to let Little Ambassadors’ Academy move ahead with plans to open a third location at 5801 and 5901 Lee Highway. The childcare center is now on course to open by February or March of next year.

The daycare company has hoped for just over a year now to remodel two existing buildings on the property and create space for as many as 155 children, but people living nearby have repeatedly raised concerns about how the facility’s addition would impact traffic in the area.

Two people living behind the site even filed a lawsuit to block the daycare center’s construction after the Board lent its initial approval last September, though a judge tossed out that case in January. The Leeway Overlee Civic Association has raised concerns about the project as well, urging the Board to restrict the number of children allowed at the facility in a bid to ease traffic in the area.

All the while, Little Ambassadors has worked to open up the new center — but the process has dragged on so long that the permit the Board issued last year came up for review, even though the daycare has yet open.

As Sara Mariska, an attorney for Little Ambassadors, told the Board: “There has been no change in circumstances since we were here a year ago.”

Nevertheless, neighborhood concerns linger. Adam Watson, a staffer in the county’s planning division, said he’s heard from a variety of people in the area concerned that the daycare will snarl an already-busy section of Lee Highway. The original District Taco location sits just down the block, and a new 711 is on the way nearby at 5747 Lee Highway as well.

“[Our] initial expression of general support for [the company’s] application was based on the understanding that the child care center would operate with no more than 135 children,” Leeway Overlee Civic Association President Jack Grimaldi wrote to the Board. “More children, in other words, raises the likelihood of more vehicles being needed to get them to and from the center.”

But Joanne Gabor, who works with county’s Department of Environmental Services, assured the Board that staff believe Little Amabassdors’ strategy for managing traffic in the area “is a good plan and it’s workable.” And without any real-world examples of the childcare facility’s impact on the local traffic, the Board wasn’t inclined to change its original decision.

“A lot of the concerns that people had when this use permit was approved originally, we haven’t had a chance to see if any mitigating or corrective actions will be needed,” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “I can’t find a way to mitigate something that hasn’t happened. It may seem like a callous approach to safety, but we have to see how the network responds.”

Board member Libby Garvey added that Little Ambassadors’ track record at its other Lee Highway locations, at 5232 Lee Highway and 3565 Lee Highway, also gives the Board confidence.

“We have a lot of background coming to us on this,” Garvey said. “I don’t want people to think we’re just winging this.”

The Board will review the daycare center’s use permit once more in September 2019, when it will have a chance to assess any potential traffic impact.

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