Charles E. Smith Co.'s proposal to covert a planned 461-unit apartment tower into another Crystal City office building has angered some Arlington County civic groups who claim the switch would produce increased congestion in return for "postage-stamp sized parkland."
The County Board Saturday will be asked to resolve the dispute which has embroiled two South Arlington civic groups, the county planning commission and the Washington developer.
The Smith company which had planned to erect the apartment building as part of its Crystal Square development has offered to develop two one-acre parks near the office building in an effort to win support for the project.
"I think it's an extremely high price to pay for generating a lot of traffic," said Nancy Swain, a member of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, which opposes the office building. Converting residential plans to office space plans "sets a dangerous precedent" in the area, she said.
John W. Marr, president of the Arlington Ridge Neighborhood Conservation chairman, said his group opposed the proposal because the office space would generate more traffic and air pollution. The "adverse impact" of the extra traffic and pollution, he said, would outweigh the advantages gained from the "postage stamp size parkland."
"We need massive amounts of parkland . . . but the board has consistantly told us they have no money to buy parkland and the land is very expensive here," Marr said.
Last week the county planning commission recommended that the county board deny the Smith lawyer, said that if the proposal is rejected, the developer will "probably wait it out (until apartments are more economical to build) and it's probably going to be a long time."
Planning commission member Katherine Freshley said the commission was working to get a "balance between our office and housing space."
"It's extremely hard to turn down Mr. Smith because he's got a good plan and the idea of Crystal Underground was a risk he took. As a developer he's done a lot of good things for the area."
"The apartment rental market right now is depressed," Walsh, attorney for Smith Co., said when explaining why he was seeking the site plan change. The cost of constructing a building now would necessitate "outlandish rents" for the developer to break even, Walsh said. The prices would be well above the $200 to $300 currently being paid for one-bedroom apartments in the area, he said.
Walsh said, however, that office space is renting at a premium of about $10 a square foot and could be profitably marketed by Smith Co. The Smith Co., which has developed the rest of Crystal Square, Crystal Plaza and Crystal Mall, has filled its other office buildings and has requests for more space, he said.
Along with the proposed 445,000 square foot office building, Smith Co. has agreed to develop two one-acre parks in Crystal City, open space that even opponents of the project admit is needed badly.
The office building would bring in more tax revenue than an apartment building, she said. But she stressed her belief that housing is needed within high rise areas to create a livabale mixture.