Advocates of ending homelessness in Arlington County showed their support for a new year-round homeless service center in the Courthouse community Thursday night.
Frustrated residents who live nearby the proposed center reiterated their concerns about safety and, in some cases, property values. And the Arlington Planning Commission wondered what, exactly, its role was supposed to be.
"This is an awkward situation," said Commissioner Peter Fallon. "Reflecting on this, I think it would be a lot easier if we just had to make recommendation on a use permit up or down, and maybe set some conditions."
But that wasn't the case.
Arlington County has applied, to itself, for a permit to use two of the seven floors in the Thomas Building at 2020 14th St. N. as a dormitory. The county bought the building under threat of condemnation in the fall.
While the remaining floors would eventually be used for county office space, it's the year-round homeless service center that has caused neighbors the most heartburn. The center would replace the county's existing emergency winter shelter a block away.
In the permitting process, the Planning Commission was asked to find that such a use for part of the building was in compliance with the county's comprehensive plan. The commission typically doesn't hear use permit requests; it did so in this case because the county acquired the Thomas Building long after it adopted its comprehensive plan.
Unsurprisingly, county staff recommended the commission find that the proposed use was, in fact, in compliance.
Ultimately, that's what the commission unanimously did. At Commissioner Nancy Iacomini's request, the commission removed language stating the "location, character and extent" of the proposed center were in accordance with the county's land-use plans because she was uncomfortable with what that could encompass.
"It's interesting that they could have so many questions and unanswered details and still unanimously approve it," said January Holt, a resident of the Woodbury Heights condominium building, which is adjacent to the Thomas Building.
"Clearly there were a lot of concerns in there, and they just sort of brushed them aside."