Nauck Hopes Spirit Survives Revitalization
Some Residents Fear Rich History Might Be Lost With Development
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2004; Page VA12
On a recent summer day in Nauck, the historically black community in South Arlington, hairstylist Jeannette Garner smoothed the bangs of one of her regular customers and contemplated her shop's uncertain future.
"I know the rent will be going up," she said, fluffing the woman's coif. "But if we had more parking, maybe we'd have more business."
The tiny strip of fraying retail shops on Shirlington Road in Nauck, including Garner's Jeannette's House of Style, are about to see major changes. The Arlington County Board recently approved a commercial revitalization plan for the neighborhood and is scheduled to review three redevelopment projects along Shirlington and 24th roads in the fall.
County officials hope the changes, including aggressive tax incentives, will spur new development in the area, including more affordable housing for seniors and first-time homebuyers who have been priced out of Arlington's hot real estate market.
Nauck civic leaders welcome the attention from the county, saying it is long overdue. But the challenge, they say, will be to reinvigorate the community while preserving its rich history. Nauck was settled before the Civil War by free blacks, who were later joined by freed slaves and former soldiers to became some of Arlington County's first black landowners.
"We in Nauck are not opposed to change; we are opposed to uncontrolled development," said Alfred Taylor, 69, an retired educator and president of the Nauck Civic Association. "You know that African proverb, 'It takes a village to raise a child'? This was always the village. That is the spirit of Nauck, and that's a spirit we don't want to lose."
The neighborhood of modest wood-frame homes and brick duplexes sits high on a hill near Interstate 395 in South Arlington, with sweeping views that stretch south and north all the way to the Washington Monument. Nauck's borders are the Army-Navy Country Club and South Glebe Road on the north, South Walter Reed Drive on the west and I-395 and Four Mile Run Drive on the south.
Nauck has long been considered one of Arlington's most stable communities, with well-attended churches and several minority-owned restaurants and shops. Singer Roberta Flack grew up there, as did Arlington's first black judge and other county officials.
"People walked to church. Nobody locked their doors. Everybody knew everybody's business," recalled John Robinson, executive director of the nonprofit Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Nauck, which helps the neighborhood's poor and homeless. "That has changed."
Over the last decade, Nauck's affordable home prices began to appeal to moderate income buyers of all races, particularly Latino immigrants. In 1990, according to the U.S. Census, the neighborhood was 75 percent African American and 8 percent Latino. In 2000, the neighborhood's African American population decreased by 17 percent, to 56 percent, and the Latino population grew to 20 percent.
In recent years, real estate values across the county have skyrocketed and Nauck has been no exception. The average assessed value of a single-family home in the Nauck community rose 23 percent last year, from $215,436 to $264,326, according to county assessment records.
As Garner styled her hair, longtime resident Ellen Bea, 52, described how after years of renting in Nauck, she and her husband purchased a four-bedroom home in the community in 1999 for $192,000. It is now valued at nearly $300,000.
Nauck, Bea said, "is changing overall. It's getting very diverse . . . it's good to have different people around. It's a good thing."
Within the last three years, real estate values have increased to the point where children of longtime Nauck residents who want to settle in the same community where their parents and grandparents still live find themselves priced out of the market. Seniors looking to downsize from single-family homes have difficulty finding affordable apartments and condominiums.
Nauck native Theresa Davis-Lyon, 37, searched in vain for a home in Nauck that she and her husband could afford.
"That's where my roots are; it's where I work and where I was born and raised, you know? Why can't I stay here? It's a terrible thing when you can't afford to live where you were raised," said Davis-Lyon, a day-care provider who lives with her husband and three children in an Arlington apartment off Columbia Pike.
County officials hope the community action plan will bring enough affordable housing that residents like Davis-Lyon can move back to the neighborhood, while also spurring new retail development residents feel is sorely needed. The county began holding community meetings about the "Nauck Village Center Action Plan" in 2002, according to James Brown, the lead county planner for the project. Residents said they wanted more pedestrian-friendly streets, better shopping and affordable housing for residents.
Nauck residents "helped create a vision for their neighborhood," said County Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D). "They're willing to take more townhomes and multi-family homes to get that affordable housing they need.
"There is an enormous tension in Nauck right now -- many families living in Nauck have grown children looking for places to live," Favola continued. They also want a little bit more vitality to their neighborhood. They want to be able to go to the retail stores, shop, run errands."
To that end, the County Board approved a zoning change and an aggressive property tax exemptions for a small commercial strip surrounding the intersection of Shirlington and 24th roads. Developers who build projects with at least 20 percent affordable housing may be eligible get a 15-year property tax exemption.
Tyra Baker-Thompson, 34, who helps runs the family-owned Chinn/Baker Funeral Service, said that the tax incentives will help her family to realize their longtime dream of building a new mortuary and office space at their current location on Shirlington Road.
"I really hope this vision plan takes hold and actually does what the community and business owners want it to do," Baker said.
Arlington developer Darnell Carpenter is seeking approval for an 8-1/2 story office building with 105 residential condominiums on the Shirlington Road lot where Jeannette's House of Style now sits. Twenty of those condominiums will be affordable housing. In addition, the county is requiring Carpenter to provide rent to the current retail tenants in the new building at below-market rates, although Garner isn't sure she will be able to afford the rent. The proposal will be presented to the County Board Sept. 18.
Other Nauck projects slated to go to the board this fall include a 30,000-square-foot condominium and commercial development on Shirlington Road and a 251-unit condominium development on South Glebe Road, Brown said.
Activist Christian Dorsey recently took over as executive director of the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a Nauck nonprofit seeking to develop two buildings on Shirlington Road on property owned by Macedonia Baptist Church. Plans for the two-building, $5 million project include a small business development center, retail, office space and affordable housing.
For the village center, planners also envision a wide pavilion lined with trees on the west side of the intersection of Shirlington and 24th roads that could be a gathering place for residents. The county is expected to allocate $1.5 million for land acquisition and streetscape improvements.
Today, the Green Valley Pharmacy -- which has served the community for over 50 years -- serves as the local meeting place. Residents gather in front of the store to chat or stop by for some of its carry-out soul food, a neighborhood favorite.
Amid the hope for new growth, some local residents and business owners fear existing businesses will be lost. Green Valley's pharmacist, Leonard Muse, said that he didn't have much to say about the revitalization plan, but that he opposed it. He declined to elaborate.
Brown said that the county will try to help business owners by providing some seed money to assist them in consulting with architects and other experts regarding ways they can redevelop their property on their own. Brown hopes to get county funding for the assistance by the fall.
"We didn't want to force this community into a situation where the only way it could be developed was if somone comes in and buys up a whole block for development," Brown said.
Said Davis-Lyon, "I think people think it's a good thing, but I also think they're scared, you know. We're a community and we're not used to sudden change like that."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company