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Office Building Approved for Ballston Metro Area

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By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2008

A flagship office building, featuring a dramatic wall of glass resembling an unfurled sail, has been approved for one of the last remaining land parcels in the rapidly redeveloping Ballston Metro area of Arlington.

It is part of a new generation of architecturally interesting structures burgeoning in a county once known for its plain-vanilla, government-issue office buildings. County officials began pushing for more inventive design in recent years, and developers are starting to offer plans that could transform the way Arlington County looks.

"This project is visionary," said Barbara A. Favola (D), Arlington County Board vice chairman.

The 10-story office building is part of a complex of buildings approved by the county for the site of the former Bob Peck Chevrolet dealership at Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard, which closed its doors nearly two years ago.

The project also includes a seven-story office building that will house a research center for Virginia Tech, a cafe catering to the scientific community, 28 market-rate townhouses, 66 additional units of affordable rental housing and underground parking.

"This project has it all," said county board Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D). "It adds to our stock of affordable housing in the Metro corridor. It replaces a car dealership with well-designed, environmentally sustainable buildings that will offer first-class office space, ground-floor retail space, and a mix of affordable and market-rate homes. It will benefit the Ballston area and the neighboring community."

The county site-review committee had worked with the developer, JBG Cos., for more than a year to create a design that would be visually interesting but blend with the neighborhood.

The five-member board voted unanimously to amend the general land-use plan to approve the project.

At a hearing last month, about a dozen neighbors, some of them members of the Bluemont Civic Association, testified for and against the project. Some were pleased by the design and that Virginia Tech would open a research center in the area, but more of them were worried about increased traffic and parking problems.

Arlington resident Terry Serie urged board members to "let Virginia Tech get out of the gate and started." But Kate Mesches, who also lives near the site, said she feared that the project would add to the area's parking congestion without boosting certain amenities, particularly retail stores, to benefit people who live nearby.

Robert Atkins, also an Arlington resident, said neighbors had posed many questions about traffic patterns and parking. He also said county officials had not gotten adequate information about a project that he said is complex and potentially problematic.

"The county motto should be: 'Mistakes were made,' " Atkins said.

Board member Mary H. Hynes (D) said board members received the documents in time to review them thoroughly. She said the project offered "many good elements for the community."

The project will result in the creation of 90 housing units guaranteed to be affordable for at least 30 years. That part of the project will be built on the site of an apartment complex, Jordan Manor, which contains 24 units and will be redeveloped into a larger building.

The new building will be owned and operated by AHC, a nonprofit housing developer. It will include two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, with rents of $1,050 to $1,500 per month. Families now living at Jordan Manor will have priority to return to the new complex and will receive relocation assistance so they can stay in the area in the meantime.

The county also negotiated with the developer for several other community benefits. The developer will provide after-hours public parking and a $75,000 contribution to the county for public art.

"This project offers tremendous benefits for Ballston and the community," said Julie Mangis, executive director of Ballston-Virginia Square Partnership.

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