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Where We Live | North Rosslyn is more than just office buildings

By Eliza McGraw,

Just over the Key Bridge in Virginia, amid a heavy concentration of development, is a community garden, where on a recent day, bees darted around rows of tomato plants, basil and raspberry vines.

Eddie Berenbaum, who has lived in North Rosslyn since 2003, said people don’t often associate his neighborhood with tranquil residential life. He says that when he saw his first North Rosslyn house — a 14-foot wide townhome — he and his wife had chiefly looked between Clarendon and Ballston.

“When I thought of Rosslyn, all that came to mind was concrete office buildings,” Berenbaum said. But any reservations disappeared when he and his wife walked from their new home to Georgetown’s M Street in 15 minutes. Now, they are raising their children in the neighborhood, which features a real mixture of single-family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings and condominiums.

Jennifer Zeien is the president of the North Rosslyn Civic Association. She has lived in North Rosslyn for 15 years, and she draws an important distinction between Rosslyn in general and her neighborhood. She says that Rosslyn is a mix of high-rise commercial, office and hotel space, while North Rosslyn is “a relatively bucolic residential neighborhood that is just steps from Key Bridge and the District.”

John Edelmann, a Rosslyn real estate agent at the Edelmann Love Group Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said North Rosslyn residents, “know one another and their neighbors, and many find it to be a great place to raise a family, or downsize from larger suburban homes, or just enjoy life without a tremendous commute.”

When Paul Derby moved from Minneapolis, he wanted to find an urban, walkable neighborhood with good public transportation options in Northern Virginia. Now he has lived in North Rosslyn for more than three years and serves on the board of the civic association with Zeien. He says North Rosslyn also offers easy access to transportation arteries and the airports: The Metrobus Express goes to Dulles International Airport, and travelers take Metrorail to Reagan National Airport.

Despite these conveniences, residents do grapple with some typical urban problems, Zeien says. She points to North Rosslyn’s inadequate play space for children and recreational space, such as ballfields, for adults. Local retail is lacking; residents complain about a lack of grocery stores serving their neighborhood. The natural topography of steep hills combined with the many parking facilities can make walking difficult.

North Rosslyn residents say they are committed to improving their community. There is a long history of locals participating in the site-plan process and keeping the Metro station maintained, says Derby. Also, he adds, there have been 15 years’ worth of efforts to reclaim some community space from the Wilson School, a historic building that currently houses the Mongolian School.

The Wilson School campus offered active green space area for residents’ recreation up to about 1996, when trailers, which provided temporary classroom space when schools in other parts of Arlington were renovated, moved in. “We have unsuccessfully met with Arlington Public Schools trying to get these trailers removed and the field restored,” Derby says.

Some of the downsides of the neighborhood result from the changing scene in Rosslyn at large, says Derby. Over the past 10 years, Rosslyn has increased office space with the addition of new buildings, but some restaurants and other services have left.

“With the replacement of old buildings with new, high-density, taller buildings, the office space has grown but the retail space has dropped,” said Derby. “We used to have [a bookstore] and a few more convenience stores in the neighborhood. Now our retail is limited primarily to dry cleaning drop-off and drugstores.”

Derby adds that the challenge for North Rosslyn is to balance the retail presence to meet the needs of the growing population. He would like to see a high-quality grocery and a pet-supply store, along with art galleries and boutique shops.

With the worsening congestion in the region, more families are moving closer into the city and settling in places like Rosslyn, says Berenbaum.

Others are leaving dense neighborhoods in the District. In the past, they might have moved farther west to Fairfax County. Now, he says, these people are stopping in North Rosslyn where they can afford a little more living space but save themselves the lengthy commute.

Residents have a vision for their neighborhood.

“I would love to see Arlington work with the National Park Service and D.C. to tie Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom via the Roosevelt Bridge. This would make pedestrian and bike travel possible across the short distance across the Potomac and make going to events at the Kennedy Center walkable,” says Derby.

“We could always use another park and really need a new supermarket,” says Edelmann.

Berenbaum sees a bright future ahead as well as a promising present.

“Many people probably still perceive Rosslyn as a place where people come to work in concrete buildings and then vacate for the evening,” he says. “This has become less and less the reality over the last 10 years, as more and more people have moved to Rosslyn and restaurants . . . are bustling for dinner every night.”

Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.

ZIP CODE: 22209 BOUNDARIES: North Rosslyn in Arlington County is bounded by North Quinn Street on the west, North 19th Street on the east, Lee Highway on the north and Wilson Boulevard on the south. SCHOOLS: Key Elementary School, Williamsburg Middle School, Yorktown High School. SALES: In the past 12 months, 69 homes have been sold in North Rosslyn, at prices ranging from $250,000 for a one-bedroom condominium to $4.2 million for a three-bedroom condominium. Currently, there are nine homes on the market, at prices ranging from $519,000 to $3.9 million. TRANSIT: Metrobus, Metro, Arlington Transit and D.C. Circulator. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Rosslyn and Court House Metro stations, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown. WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Downtown Washington, Reagan National Airport, Old Town Alexandria and McLean.

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