Arlington moved half a step closer last week toward finishing a process begun six years ago: rezoning the area around the site of the Ballston Metro station.
However, of the 17 rezonings considered by the County Board, decisions on several of the most controversial ones were postponed until December. The others were described by county officials as minor "clean-up rezonings" that will bring the zonings into conformance with a master land-use plan adopted last June by the board.
The conflict over the controversial rezonings hinges on what kind of development should be allowed in the area of the Ballston station, scheduled to open next year. The County Board, in a plan adopted last summer, said it [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a mix of residential and commercial development. Citizens opposed to rezoning want to retain the current zoning, which would allow them to build office buildings and parking garages. The county planning staff recommended that the board withdraw the controversial rezonings for further study.
"The Virginia courts take a dim view of downzoning (changing the use by reducing the allowable height or density)," said planning commission secretary Gary Kirkbride last week. "The case has to be very well made, and (economic) conditions have to have changed substantially. Rather than go through all the legal battles we decided to recommend withdrawal."
That refommendation did not please board member Joseph S. Wholey, who chided county planners for falling to give the board a new zoning ordinance that would permit two floors of commercial development in residential buildings including apartments. It was, Wholey noted, a request he had made to the staff several times.
"I'm a little afraid we may have a lot of four-story parking garages all over Ballston (if the area isn't rezoned)," Wholey said. "This will be a temporary terminus for Metro for some time. We shouldn't have a planning staff at all if all we do is wait for the market to respond."
Civic activist Louise Chestnut, who worked on the county land-use plan said, "I have spent six years of my life on the plan, and I feel a lot of it is going down the drain. We've got to find some kind of organized way to get development around Metro stations."
Board member Dorothy T. Grotos voted against all the rezonings. "Zoning is very emotional," she said. "The wise thing to do is change the zoning when the need arises and when the owner wishes to do something. Nothing is going to happen in Ballston for a couple of years, and I think it's premature, arbitrary and capricious and all those other words."
After the meeting, county planner Tom Parker explained some of the conflict on the rezonings. "The County Board's long-range thoughts for development are in conflict with existing zoning," Parker said. "Basically the owners are asking to be left alone. In terms of achieving development, zonings of this type are a positive factor because they give a developer a clear indication of the type of development we want."
In other action, the board created a seven-member industrial authority empowered to finance and refinance tax-exempt, acute-care hospitals, medical facilities for the terminally ill and nursing homes in Arlington.
The authority, which have the power to issue tax-exempt bonds, is desiged to allow refinancing of the Arlington Hospital at preferred interest rates. Should the hospital default, the responsibility would rest with the hospital, not the county.