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Spanish immersion preschool and daycare could take over Staples near Ballston

A Staples in Virginia Square could become a Spanish immersion daycare and preschool for more than 100 children.

The proposed change in use for the 62-year-old, one-story commercial building has area residents and civic associations on edge about hours, traffic and noise.

Two Northern Virginia businessmen have chosen the location for a franchise of Tierra Encantada, a national preschool provider offering Spanish immersion, hands-on education and from-scratch meals and snacks. It would operate Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and serve up to 150 children.

A use permit associated with their proposal is set for a discussion by the Arlington County Board for today (Tuesday), after being pulled from its consent agenda — intended for non-controversial items — on Saturday.

A county report notes that the Staples will close in the near future after a long search for a replacement tenant.

“The property owner has been searching for a new tenant for the property for some time and seeks to lease the space to the childcare center,” the report said.

An employee at Staples said he was unaware of the potential closure and an attorney handling the proposal did not return a request for a clearer closing time frame before this article’s deadline.

Ahead of the Board’s vote today, residents and nearby civic associations sent letters to the county raising their objections and requesting relief if the permit is approved.

“The hours, size, and traffic flow of Staples are an excellent fit for our residential area. We believe the current proposed number of students for Tierra Encantada will cause too much traffic and noise for the awkward location and poor access of the Staples site,” a letter from several Ashton Heights residents said.

“We would prefer to not have a daycare center at the site (especially of that size), but if the center is approved, we want to make sure that steps are taken to mitigate the potential impact on neighbors. Including: ensuring that traffic flows properly, parents cannot park on neighborhood streets, and the playground is constructed to mitigate noise,” the letter continued.

Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association members noted that they have observed speeding and “other dangerous vehicle behavior” on N. Oakland Street, related to the traffic signal at Wilson Blvd, according to joint letter from this civic association and the Ashton Heights Civic Association.

“We share these concerns that parents rushing to drop off/pick up the projected capacity of 148 children at the new child care center could well exacerbate these existing problems,” the letter said.

In response to these concerns, franchisees Mustafa Durrani and Zargham Amid have agreed to build a 6-foot fence, which will provide privacy and sound mitigation when children are playing outside.

County staff say they understand the use change will be an adjustment but argue other tenants could generate more traffic and noise.

“Though the host and adjacent civic associations, and nearby residents, have expressed concerns related to the proposed use regarding traffic, parking, and noise impacts, staff believes that these can be appropriately mitigated through the operation of the use subject to the conditions without causing adverse impacts on the neighborhood,” says a staff report to the Board.

These conditions include restriping the Staples parking lot to fit 17 spaces and make it easier to drive through the site and developing parking and transportation management plans. The applicant has already proposed a way to improve circulation during pick-up and drop-off by offering parents one way in and one way out.

Food delivery is not expected to exacerbate this traffic as it would occur outside drop-off and pick-up times. The county notes the site is accessible by Metro and bus and that parents or staff are less likely to use nearby on-street parking, as portions of N. Oakland Street and 7th Street N. are within a Residential Parking Permit district.

The circulation plan for Tierra Encantada (via Arlington County)

The report says county staff will condition the daycare moving in on staff approval of the transportation and parking plans.

There is currently another Tierra Encantada location a stone’s throw from Shirlington in Alexandria, which appears to have opened sometime last year. One of the co-owners, Durrani, previously articulated his plan to open three locations in the region and “expand to additional communities in the next five years.”

“I saw solid opportunity in Tierra Encantada’s concept, and the value of cultural immersion and diversity in early education. There is a constant demand for quality education and resources for parents and families,” Durrani said in an article by Hispanic Network Magazine.

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