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YMCA may ditch tennis courts in Virginia Square redevelopment project

The YMCA may be ditching tennis courts when it redevelops its property in Virginia Square.

The organization plans to tear down its facility at 3400 13th Street N. and build a new recreational facility with an aquatics center, a multi-purpose gym with workout rooms, and a “diversity and inclusion center.”

There will also be a seven-story apartment building with 374 units, as well as open spaces and footpaths through the site.

Tennis players, however, have watched the eight existing courts get cut in half in the plans — and now axed — just ahead of the next project planning meeting set for today (Thursday). After this meeting, the project will head to the Arlington Planning Commission and County Board later this year.

In a letter to members sent last week, and in comments to ARLnow on Tuesday, the organization says it must change course because planning guidance prevents it from building a structure tall enough to accommodate courts.

Without support for the taller heights from Arlington County and neighbors, it says the courts will be scrapped and it plans to work with Arlington to contribute to tennis amenities elsewhere.

“Over the course of multiple reviews of the site plan with the county and the community, the Y and our development partner came to the conclusion we had to reduce the overall footprint of the building,” said Alison Risso, the communications director of YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “Tennis courts require a substantial amount of horizontal and vertical space while only typically serving two to four players at a time on a court.”

The decision shocked some tennis players, including Janet Barsy.

“The eight Y indoor courts are the last public indoor tennis courts in Arlington,” she said. “They are well used by Arlington and other Northern [Virginia] residents for personal and organized tennis and provide a venue for many popular adult and children’s clinics.”

Barsy says she is dismayed by what she feels is a lack of meaningful engagement with players, who were not pleased by the initial plans, which proposed a reduction in courts. Early public feedback included comments from several tennis players advocating for more courts and fewer bells and whistles.

“Early and honest engagement would have been in keeping with the Y’s four stated core values: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility,” she said.

Risso, however, notes tennis membership “has continued to decline over the last decade,” perhaps replaced by pickleball fever. The proposed facility’s multi-purpose gym includes three indoor pickleball courts and convertible courts for squash, handball and racquetball.

For the county’s part, communications and engagement specialist Elise Cleva says staff flagged that the proposed site layout was “inconsistent with what was envisioned” in a planning document guiding redevelopment along Washington Blvd and N. Kirkwood Road.

The document was precipitated by plans to redevelop the YMCA facility as well as the American Legion and Mill Creek Residential sites to its south.

“The developer responded to staff concerns by revising the site plan to reduce the YMCA building footprint and by removing the upper stories of the building and the indoor tennis program,” Cleva said. “While neither the GLUP Study nor other adopted County policies address programming at the YMCA, the County did not advise [nor] require the developer to remove the tennis program.”

The Y responded to other critiques that the site did not deliver enough community benefits, making the following changes, per presentation materials:

  • expanding footpaths throughout the site and a shared access drive
  • expanding programming of two open spaces
  • increasing open space and tree canopy coverage on the site to 25%
  • preserving more trees

As a result, per a county presentation, “staff believes that the developer’s current proposal is closer to resolving the issues identified with the 2022 submission.”

The Y says it is now working out how to contribute to tennis in Arlington, generally. The county, for instance, is embarking on upgrades to the outdoor tennis courts at Bluemont Park, which will be built to accommodate everyday use and tournaments.

“Though the county does not have a fund specifically dedicated to tennis, our hope is that staff will find a way to allocate the Y’s contribution for this use supporting tennis along with other areas of community benefit in Arlington,” the letter to tennis players said. “The Y will work with the county over the next several months on these possibilities related to tennis and will continue to keep our membership informed of progress.

The letter added that the existing tennis center is projected to continue operating through the first quarter of 2025. The new facility is expected to open late in 2026, barring construction delays.

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