Citizen Opposition to High Density Ballston Development Quashed

Remarks at Arlington County Board Meeting on February 24, 2018.

While ignoring citizen concerns about the impacts of high density development is routine in Arlington County, there are two remarkable features about the plan to densify North Ballston:

  1. At its February 12 meeting, 2018, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan even though the developer rejected its modest recommendation to limit the development to six stories and maintain a thirty foot separation between the proposed apartment building and the south wing of the Westview condominium.
  2. County staff contradicted itself in arguing that the quiet enjoyment of Westview Condominium residents would not be disturbed.

Regarding the first point, Commissioner Iacomini opined at the February 12, 2018 Planning Commission meeting that despite her misgivings about the plan, it would be “churlish” not to go along with it.

Commissioner Iacomini did not elucidate why it would be churlish to stand her ground on recommendations that she herself proposed. Evidently the Commissioner was cowed by County Board’s earlier rejection of her recommendations on advice of County staff. What this ethic implies is that whenever a commissioner is overruled, he/she ought to roll over.

Regarding the second point, County staff acknowledged in its report that both sunlight and views will be disturbed by the development.

The building will cast a new shadow to the east onto the 9-story Westview building during the spring, summer, and fall during the afternoon and evening hours. However, the shadowing at this specific site is more related to the heights of buildings, and it is unlikely that adjusting the placement of the subject building by several feet will have an effect on the shadows being cast onto the existing buildings. In addition, the shadow studies show that for much of the year, the existing Westview buildings will cast shadows onto the new building. The placement of the subject building will not result in a detrimental impact to the existing Westview buildings’ access to sunlight. p. 31.

What this means is that because building height is the culprit, building separation doesn’t matter, and because both the new high rise and the existing condominium will produce shadows, there will be no detrimental impact on Westview neighbors.

With rationalizations like these, it is no wonder that staff has also concluded that impacts in the form of increased congestion and student enrollment will also be negligible.

In the larger scheme of things, none of these impacts matter. All that matters is the financial impact of the development, which will enrich both the developer and the County.