The Arlington County Board is scheduled to make several major land-use decisions Saturday, including proposals on how the county may use two tracts at the Army's Arlington Hall Station and where it will move the Columbia Pike fire station.
Both proposals have generated controversies in the surrounding neighborhoods, although it appears that the Arlington Hall dispute will be resolved in favor of citizens who want any land the county may get there to be used only for recreational purposes.
The county had considered building a new $10 million police station on some of the land that it expects to get at Arlington Hall, an 87-acre compound off Arlington Boulevard (Rte. 50) between S. Glebe Road and S. George Mason Drive.
The Army plans to move an intelligence command stationed there to Fort Belvoir in a few years and will transfer all but 15 acres to the State Department's Foreign Service Institute, which wants to consolidate its many training facilities now scattered elsewhere.
"In a county with limited amounts of open space, it's a wonderful opportunity to provide recreational opportunities for citizens . . . which can be enjoyed by the Foreign Service Institute as well," said County Board Chairwoman Mary Margaret Whipple. She predicted a unanimous vote for the recreational uses.
The institute has begun preliminary negotiations with the county to let Arlington use a 10-acre site just to the west of George Mason Drive and an undetermined amount of land to the road's east.
Deputy County Manager Anton S. Gardner, the county's chief negotiator for the site, said the eastern parcel is about 22 acres, but it is uncertain how much of that the county may get. He said the institute has indicated it may want to expand in the next decade and would have to reclaim some of that land. Also, the Army is still in the midst of talks with the institute about a proposal to locate the Army's National Guard headquarters on an adjoining parcel -- a proposal that may affect the institute's own plans.
Until last month, the county had considered building a new police station on the western tract there. The current station, cramped for space, is located in the courthouse complex and is the major user of a parking lot where construction is scheduled to begin this summer on the Court House Plaza high-rise complex.
Vociferous objections from the surrounding neighborhoods have apparently killed that plan. "You would be transplanting high-intensity land use from the Metro corridors to the heart of Arlington in the middle of a low-density residential neighborhood," Patrick Roach, a member of the Barcroft School and Civic League, told the board at its work session on the issue last month.
That civic group joined the nearby Alcova Heights Citizens Association and the county's Civic Federation in lobbying for recreational uses only at Arlington Hall. Board member John G. Milliken then offered a resolution calling upon the county to plan for recreational uses there and asking the county staff to look elsewhere for a new police station site. The favorite site for the station now is a parking lot immediately to the east of the courthouse.
Since the work session, the County Board's five members have indicated they would not favor a police station at Arlington Hall.
The plan on which they are to vote Saturday calls for recreational uses only on the western tract, Gardner said. They would include an unlighted softball field, a playground, jogging and biking trail, and an exercise area for senior citizens.
The eastern tract, Gardner said, would have a lighted softball field, a lighted area for some kind of court game such as volleyball or basketball, a biking and jogging trail, exercise stations and an enclosed pavilion.
Although this proposal may appease the police station opponents, it is not expected to sit well with a large group of avid golfers, most of them senior citizens, who want the county to install at least a nine-hole course.
They note that there are no public courses in Arlington despite the demand. "We could put up a trailer" for a clubhouse, said George Lawless, a retired federal employe. "A trailer and nine holes is all we're asking. We're talking about cow pasture golf, not Pebble Beach."
Although the golfers said they think a course could be installed for little money and would pay for itself, Gardner estimated that it would cost $1 million to create one, money that would be wasted if the institute reclaims the land for expansion.
The dispute over the relocation of the Columbia Pike fire station is not likely to be resolved so easily. The county staff is proposing to move the station, built in the early 1930s, from 1041 S. Edgewood St. to a vacant three-acre site at 500 S. Glebe Rd. beside the Salvation Army headquarters. It would cost about $793,000 to buy that site, and the county plans to build a new station with funds it hopes voters will approve in a fall bond referendum. No amount has been determined as yet.
"We realize it can't stay put and they can't expand on the current site," said Jeff Parker, president of the Alcova Heights Citizens Association. But he said the association wants the county to build the station at 3532 Columbia Pike, the site of a U.S. post office that may be moved eventually.
The Glebe Road site, Parker said, is surrounded by single-family houses, a factor that makes it "just simply an alien property." He said residents are very concerned about noise and traffic backup the station might create, and fear it will have a negative effect on property values.
The county disputes those claims, contending there is no proof of adverse effects on surrounding properties when stations have been built. It also says sirens and air horns are not normally used when fire trucks leave the station on call because there are traffic control lights to stop other vehicles. The county also says the post office site, if it becomes available, is too close to the Walter Reed Drive station, making a move there inappropriate for proper coverage of the area.