Arlington, VA

A Ballston redevelopment project that’s been in the works for more than a decade now could soon face yet another delay, complicating Arlington’s push to build a second entrance for the neighborhood’s Metro station in the process.

Since 2005, a rotating cast of developers has sought to tear down the office building at 4420 Fairfax Drive and transform it into a mixed-use building instead. Current plans call for a new, 23-story structure to be built on the property, complete with 237 apartments and 9,200 square feet of retail space.

But the trio of companies backing the redevelopment effort — Washington Capitol Partners, Kettler Development and Bognet Construction — haven’t made much progress since buying the property for $21.8 million back in 2015. Like developer JBG Smith before them, they’ve been unable to so much as tear down the existing, five-story building on the site.

Accordingly, the developers are asking the county for a bit more time to complete the project, generally dubbed “the Spire at Fairmont.” The site plan governing the project is currently set to expire in July 2020 — they’re hoping the County Board will agree to push that deadline back to December 2022 instead.

But the companies are also envisioning a few other changes. Not only do they want to cut back on the number of parking spaces they’ll offer on the property — moving from 289 spaces down to 237 — but they’re asking for a change in their obligations regarding the planned western entrance for the Ballston Metro station.

When JBG first secured the Board’s sign-off on the project roughly 13 years ago, it agreed to partially design and build the new station entrance at the base of the new building. That was a crucial concession for county officials, who hope to ease Metro access for people living and working along N. Glebe Road.

Now, the project’s backers are asking the Board to let them hand over cash to fund the second entrance, instead of building it themselves. The developers are also proposing to let the county start work on the project, which will include the addition of two elevators to reach the underground station, right away by granting officials an easement to access the site. In exchange, they’re asking for an extension on some other zoning deadlines associated with the redevelopment.

The county seems inclined to accept the easement deal — staff are recommending that the Board agree to the arrangement at its meeting Saturday (Jan. 26). But officials seem a bit more uncertain about the proposal to accept cash for the station entrance, and the extension of the site plan deadline.

Some of that trepidation likely stems from the county’s history of challenges finding funding for the Ballston Metro project.

The county had hoped to win regional transportation funding for the new entrance, to the tune of about $72 million. But the complex structure of the deal hashed out by state lawmakers last year to provide dedicated funding for Metro meant that the very group set to send Arlington cash for the project — the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority — would lose tens of millions of dollars each year, diminishing the project’s chances to win the money any time soon.

Legislation proposed in this year’s General Assembly session could restore the group’s funding, but it’s far from a sure thing that it will pass. And the Board pushed back any plans to fund the new entrance for years in its latest update of the county’s 10-year construction spending blueprint, as officials grapple with some tough budget years.

Staff are suggesting that the Board defer any final decision on the matter until March, in order to allow negotiations to play out between the two sides.

Photos via Washington Capitol Partners

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