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Considering Courthouse West

The Courthouse West site is a prime example of “in-fill development”, being mostly a surface parking lot smack in the middle between Clarendon and Courthouse Metro stations. The developer has stepped forward with a bold request to re-zone and change the land-use designation far higher than the surrounding blocks.

I’m fully supportive of changing the zoning from C-2 (commercial – community based district) to C-0 (mixed use district) considering the parcels to the immediate east and west (Whole Foods) are zoned similarly, and this change would help streamline the zoning in this area. I’m also fully on board with changing the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) designation from “Service Commercial” to “Office-Apartment-Hotel” to also match adjacent properties to the immediate east and west for similar reasons.

Where there is wider discussion is in whether that Office-Apartment-Hotel designation should be “High” or perhaps a lower density more in line with existing neighboring buildings instead.

A “High” Office-Apartment-Hotel designation would allow a mixed-use building up to 17 stories, on the very edge of a Metro station-based neighborhood plan, in between Clarendon and Courthouse Metro stations. It would be an outlier in height and density for a few blocks around it.

Let’s go for it.

With 5 Metro stations each within a 10 minute walk from each other, the 2.5 mile stretch of highly Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) in north Arlington should evolve into a “spine” of residences and offices rather than be restrained to “peaks and valleys” of density clustered above each station. With Metro, more than 25 bus routes, bike lanes (although much more are needed), and 90+ WalkScore along the corridor allow for this to happen over the next 30 years. The Courthouse West development as a High Office-Apartment-Hotel will help connect the Clarendon and Courthouse neighborhoods together, a reality already recognized by the naming of the “Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association”.

Keeping the site’s parking minimums as low as possible to help residents not contribute to local traffic and ensuring the eventual development contributes to community benefits will go a long way to mitigating concerns around this special GLUP and zoning change. That’s the key: strong parking enforcement for the neighboring single-family housing areas. Do that, and we can accommodate the re-zoned parcel and Special GLUP designation.

There are many details to look out for as the Special GLUP Study and future development site plan progresses, of course. Right now I’d be looking at bus rider forecasts of the many routes servicing the site, and later be making sure the development had its main fronting along Wilson Blvd, had long carve-outs for ride-hailing drop-offs and pick-ups, plenty of bike and scooter racks, had extremely low parking minimums, and wide right-of-way sidewalks for any future restaurant patios. Ensuring that the suggested open space in the south-east corner in historical notes remains is also a priority, making sure it is an actual “green space” with trees and grass and not just a paved-over plaza.

With this proposed re-zoning and new GLUP designation, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor can take a step towards its 30 year potential.