Arlington, VA

Ballston Quarter could soon win the county’s approval to install large “media screens” above its public plaza.

The newly renovated Ballston Common mall’s developers, Forest City, have been hoping to construct the new screens ever since the fall. But the company’s lawyers soon realized that the county zoning code wouldn’t allow for the sort of design they envisioned.

Now, the County Board is gearing up to tweak zoning rules ever so slightly to let that construction move ahead. The Board is contemplating changes this weekend that would allow “urban regional shopping centers” like Ballston Quarter to install the screens up to 55 feet off the ground.

“Large media screens are an appropriate tool for use by urban regional shopping centers to create a vibrant sense of place, to enhance outdoor community gathering spaces and to stimulate economic competitiveness,” county staff wrote in a report for the Board. “The signs can infuse increased interest and activity in areas of pedestrian and retail activity at urban regional shopping centers.”

Previously, the county limited such screens to a height of 40 feet off the ground. When Forest City submitted its first round of plans for the screens, the developer and county staff realized the designs called for the screens to be just over 49 feet high.

Accordingly, Forest City asked for a delay in advancing those plans until county officials could come up with a zoning code amendment to allow the higher screens.

The proposed changes would limit the construction of the screens only to shopping malls, and only to those within a quarter-mile of a Metro station or “major bus transfer station.” The Board will also maintain the ultimate discretion to hand out use permits to allow the screens’ installation, and staff write that they could become “one of the most regulated sign types” in all of the county’s zoning code.

The signs will be allowed to display “still, scrolling, or moving images, including video, media broadcasts and animation,” per the report.

The Board will only consider whether to set public hearings on the matter Saturday (March 16). So long as the Board signs off, the Planning Commission will hold an April 8 hearing on the matter, setting up a Board vote on April 23.

If the zoning change passes, Forest City would still need to obtain a use permit to build the screens, so it could be months before shoppers notice them there.

Ballston Quarter has been slowly opening stores to customers since last fall, most recently opening up its new food court for business.

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