The Arlington County Board, ruing a developer’s request that forced them into a choice, voted 5 to 0 Saturday to put a temporary fire station on a grassy field behind the old Wilson School, pleasing one set of residents but annoying others.
Neighbors of Rhodeside Green Park, who rallied in opposition after their neighborhood park was named as a possible location for the temporary fire station, celebrated their victory while those who wanted to keep the firetrucks out of the Wilson School site commiserated over their loss.
“Despite my personal lamentations that we are . . . having to revisit this because of market dynamics . . . I wish the original plan could be in place,” said board member Christian Dorsey (D). “Pardon my language, but this is kind of a Sophie’s choice for this board, because we have to do something we’d rather not do.”
“There is a lot of scar tissue” over the controversy caused by the location of the station, agreed board member Katie Cristol (D). “The reality is we have infrastructure that ages and must be replaced. The inclusion of Rhodeside Green Park [as a site option] has fractured the public trust. ”
The temporary fire station became necessary because of building rights granted to the developer, Penzance. The company won the right to build one of its two high-rises in the 1500 block of Wilson Boulevard over the existing and aged Fire Station 10. The developer promised to build the county a new station in exchange for using that space and a portion of the adjoining Rosslyn Highlands Park.
The fire station was to have remained in place while the new high-rises were built in phases.
But Penzance told the county earlier this year that it wanted to build the project all at once because of the changing economic conditions, which made it expensive to work in phases, meaning the fire station needed to be moved during construction work.
Penzance officials at Saturday’s County Board meeting declined to comment on the changes.
County Manager Mark Schwartz originally proposed putting the tents and trailers of the temporary firehouse at the Wilson site. But Arlington Public Schools has a separate redevelopment plan underway there, as a new home for H.B. Woodlawn and Stratford schools, and in July, parents and students objected to having to lose their playing field for at least 18 months and the problems that could arise in parking and drop-off zones.
The next-best option for the firehouse was Rhodeside Green Park, about three blocks away, but that park — with 36 mature trees — is heavily used by children and is surrounded by condominiums and apartments. Nearby residents raised objections, prompting the County Board to order staff workers to reconsider all options and hold public hearings at the end of the summer.
After looking at 21 sites in the area that the fire station serves, county administrators returned to their original recommendation to place the temporary site at the corner of North Quinn and 18th Street North, behind Wilson School. A large apartment building is directly across Quinn, and an affordable-housing agency is building a new apartment complex across 18th Street. None of the 28 speakers on Saturday came from those units.
Penzance is paying for the temporary station’s construction and eventual removal and will provide 100 free parking spaces for the H.B. Woodlawn and Stratford schools. But if the developer fails to meet certain deadlines, the county may have to cover the $5 million cost of building a garage for the schools. The school district has not yet decided whether to build a garage under the athletic field.
Advocates of Rosslyn Highlands Park, who held a series of protests last year when it became clear that the size of their park would be reduced because of a massive redevelopment plan in western Rosslyn, appeared bemused by their Rhodeside Green neighbors’ angst over their park.
“Where was #SaveRhodesPark group when our park was used as a bargaining chip? Maybe with their help we could have saved RHP,” one activist tweeted.