Go 6 Floors Down, Then 6 Feet Under

Arlington Funeral Home's building will be torn down, and it will join several other businesses and a community theater on the Club at Quincy's ground floor.
Arlington Funeral Home's building will be torn down, and it will join several other businesses and a community theater on the Club at Quincy's ground floor. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007

It won't quite be Club Med, but those who move into Arlington County's new Club on Quincy won't lack for things to do in their luxury condominium building. On the second floor, they'll have a fitness center, a private theater with tiered seating, a "newsroom" with current periodicals and a catering kitchen for social gatherings.

Just above the mezzanine level of the 12-story tower to be erected in the bustling Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, residents will be able to lounge on a landscaped deck, swim in a large pool, relax in an outdoor spa or admire a decorative fountain.

On the first floor, they can make arrangements to bury their loved ones.

The glass-and-brick building a few miles from Washington will feature an unusual combination: 120 high-end condos atop a funeral home. Although it will not be finished for at least four years, the morbid jokes have already started.

"You can drop dead in your unit, just swoop downstairs and you're out,'' said Dennis Burr, a neighborhood resident and former president of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association. "Hey, what's not to like?''

The developer, WCI Communities, thinks there is plenty to like about the project, approved last month by the Arlington County Board. It will be in a growing area near two Metro stops and the main Arlington library. The building's ground floor will house several other businesses and a small community theater. There will be a public plaza outside.

"This is going to be quite a fabulous condominium project, and the funeral home will blend in with the other retail space,'' said Robert Grabner, a WCI vice president. "Plenty of folks will appreciate the good and overlook the bad, if a funeral home is perceived to be bad.''

Although it's an unusual combination, such real estate pairings are increasingly common in dense urban areas nationwide, said Gregory H. Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates, an Alexandria-based real estate research firm. In Northwest Washington alone, he said, there is an electric substation in an office building and a gas station in a luxury condo building.

"There are combinations around the country that would shock you,'' Leisch said. "If they are designed well, I don't see why crazy, funky uses can't be combined successfully.''

And the prospects for selling condos above a funeral home? "If it's designed wrong, it's a stupid idea,'' Leisch said. "If it's designed well, you probably won't be seeing dead bodies as you go up to your condo, or one would hope not.''

Grabner said the Arlington project's current design is a vast improvement over a version approved by the county in 2004 but never built. Arlington Funeral Home has been on the property for a half-century, and the earlier plan would have kept not only the funeral home but also its crematorium in the current building, with the condo tower rising in an L shape above it.

Residents would have looked down at a building where grieving relatives were gathered and bodies were being cremated. "Some people might have found that objectionable,'' Grabner said.

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