|Page 2 of 2 <|
Downtown Fort Belvoir
So far, 72,000 homes have been rebuilt at 33 installations, many of them with new urbanist designs. Not that it has always been easy to persuade the military to innovate. Christopher Guidi, an executive with Clark Realty, said it took some work by Clark and Torti Gallas to win approval for the town center concept.
"The Army historically is just very traditional . . . and this was another step away from tradition," Guidi said of the town center. "There were people who told us this wouldn't work in the Army, that people don't want to live this way. There were supporters, and there were some doubters."
The supporters are being proved right. Soldiers have snatched up all of the town center apartments, which, in a break with Army rules, are open to all ranks. With three or four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths (with dual vanities in the master bath), the apartments are essentially identical to the new village townhouses, except they are on top of the shops and have a deck instead of a yard.
Brian Wickett, a Coast Guard yeoman working in Ballston, moved into one of the units with his wife and 13-year-old son recently and was raving about it a few days later. They have the same proximity to shops that they did at their apartment in Arlington, except with much more space: high ceilings, 2,000 square feet and a two-car garage. They do not mind not having a yard, because plenty of athletic fields are nearby for their son, who was about to walk down the street for a haircut.
"Take this to Arlington, and it would be a million dollars," Wickett said. "I'm tickled to death to be here. For military housing, this is good. We've got the biggest kitchen we've ever had."
Other soldiers and their spouses said they are not interested in moving into the apartments because they would not want the noise of living above the street. There have been some complaints about the new villages as well -- the small driveways and garages are not large enough for the pickup trucks favored by many soldiers, and some don't like being in close quarters with neighbors.
But on the whole, the new approach has been welcomed. The playgrounds at some villages are so well used that the grass is wearing thin. Business is going well at the town center, which has a gift shop, vitamin store, sports collectibles shop, cigar store and furniture rental shop. (The pedestrian traffic can seem thin at times, given the extra-wide sidewalks that were required by the Army's security rules to guard against car bombs.)
There is also talk of building a complementary side of the street, which would help make the town center seem less marooned since it faces a sprawling gas station and an older, unprepossessing coffee shop with green carpeting and a distinctly un-Starbucks lunch menu featuring a barbecue ribs platter.
That Belvoir may be on the way out. On a recent morning, Hope Pilecki and Heather Bailey, soldiers' wives, strolled on the new sidewalk with their babies. Residents of nearby villages, they talked about the convenience of walking to the dry cleaners without having to drive to the other end of the post, where some of the shops used to be and where the main grocery and department stores remain.
"They've got everything here," Pilecki said. "It's easier to come here if you only need a couple things."
Well, not everything, Bailey said. "The only thing missing," she said, "is a restaurant."