Jay Franklin can remember the Arlington in which he was born and reared: the dirt road on which his father built the family house, the back yard that extended to the Potomac River, the woods and deer that seemed to dominate the county.
Those, as they say, were the days.
Arlington County today is undergoing change and development almost as rapidly as buildings can be transformed from drawingboard concepts into concrete-and-glass realities. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in what now is seen as a never-say-bust land development boom; county coffers are expanding with rapidly increasing tax revenues; and long-time local businesses are welcoming the influx of potential customers attracted by the development and the convenient transportation available, via Metro, between the county and downtown Washington.
But Arlington also is a community undergoing change and conflict over what is, exactly, the best way to change. Rosslyn's high rises are all too visible to critics of rapid development. Debate is raging among citizen groups, developers and county officials as new buildings continue to alter the Arlington skyline.
The results of this debate will determine whether the drive to attract developers can be balanced with the desire for construction acceptable to both citizen groups and county officials.
Attracting developers to the 26-square-mile county with its population of 150,046 people has not been a problem. According to County Board member Ellen M. Bozman, development has accounted for a $68 million increase in the county's tax base since 1977 (including $36 million from 1979 to 1980). At the same time, land selling for a few dollars a square foot before Metro arrived now is going for as much as $30 a foot.
By the time Metro's Blue Line, running through Arlington from Rosslyn to National Airport, opened July 1, 1977, development in Rosslyn and Crystal City was well on its way. But the knowledge of Metro's impending arrival did accelerate development there -- just as it did later with the opening of the Orange Line through the Ballston corridor.
Developers and businesses were attracted to Rosslyn by its location, its relatively low land costs and less stringent building height limits than the District's, permitting some premium rental fees for the upper floors of the buildings.
"You have some extraordinary views from offices in Rosslyn," says Franklin, senior vice president in charge of commercial leasing and management for the H. G. Smithy Co. "It's not the top factor on a priority list, but it's undoubtedly taken into consideration. And the higher you are in a building, the higher the rent."
Even with some higher rental fees, Arlington rents are still $5 to $15 a square foot less than those in the District. And there are additional incentives for businesses to locate in Arlington. One trade association in D.C. with 45 employees estimated it could save more than $35,000 a year in workman's compensation taxes by moving to Arlington.
To control development, the county has a number of plans -- the Long-Range Improvement Plan, the General Land Use Plan and Sector Plans for Ballston, Courthouse and other Metro stops. But the success of these plans is debatable.
"These plans have not been followed at all," says County Board Chairman Stephen Detwiler when pointing to the original hopes that Rosslyn development would be split equally between residential and office structures. That dichotomy between plan and reality has prompted board member Walter Frankland Jr. to say, "We didn't succeed in Rosslyn as much as we would have liked to."
Citizen activist Louise Chesnut is blunter. "Rosslyn is a wasteland."
According to Ramsay Selden, president of the Ballston-Clarendon Civic Association, developers and property owners are pressuring steadily for the approval of projects deviating from land-use plans.
Such exceptions, usually among a greater height or a greater density on a building, often have been granted by the board in exchange for the developer's assuming responsibility for public improvements or agreeing to construct residential housing. Or, as former Arlington Planning Commission member Kathryn Freshley puts it, "Arlington has never rejected a plan due to poor aesthetics."
For their part, developers such as C. Daniel Clemente of Taylor and Clemente aren't totally satisfied with government guidelines on development. Clemente, a major force in the current waves of construction hitting Ballston, becomes particularly agitated when discussing county requirements that he build one parking space for each living unit and two spaces for every 1,000 feet of office space.
"That requirement increases the cost of each town house I sell over $7,000," he says. "I don't think such requirements are practical in an area so close to a Metro station. If I had my druthers, I'd only build half the parking spaces the county wants."
But even with complaints such as his and the risks inherent in development today -- fluctuating interest rates, tight loan funds, spiraling labor and land costs -- developers generally agree that Arlington is an attractive investment area, particularly around Orange Line subway stops. Major reasons for this include the lowest tax rates in the Washington area (except for Falls Church), land costs, the nearness to the District and a relatively efficient county government processing system.
With such development comes a need for business - restaurants, stores, shops -- to serve the new workers and residents. However, such development doesn't automatically mean good times for area business people.
Rosslyn serves as an example of how things can turn somewhat sour. Thousands work in Rosslyn, but few live there, and still fewer walk through the area. Deanna White of Dana Robins in the Rosslyn Arcade says there's little to attract people into the area during their lunch hour. A restaurant such as The Orleans House does a good business, but it can cater to evening patrons and to mid-day customers.
To try to draw more people to the streets, the county is planning some aesthetic improvements. Most notable among these is an eight-acre, $12 million park atop the Interstate 66 tunnel, now under construction at the north end of Rosslyn. Officials hope that such improvements and attention to the needs of pedestrians will do for Rosslyn businesses what Metro has done for businesses around other subway stops. In those cases, as one developer put it, "Not only are land costs going up for prospective developers, but so many of these little businesses are doing so well with their new customers that they're becoming difficult if not impossible to buy out."
In addition to the pure economic effort on individual residents and on county revenues, development is changing the composition of the county. "The moderate-income housing is disappearing, being torn down or being replaced by condominiums," says Gary Kirkbride, Arlington's chief of comprehensive planning.
Others such as Lou Ann Frederick, executive director of the Arlington Housing Corp., worry that low to moderate income families who need Metro because of increased costs for new housing and increased property taxes and rent resulting from higher land assessments.
Underneath all these issues lies the ultimate question of what form future development in Arlington County generally and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor specifically will take. Detwiler supports the "bulls-eye" concept, calling for high-density development near each subway stop and scaling down to lower density further away. He sees each subway stop concentrating on a certain service -- office buildings in Rosslyn, stores and other businesses in Claredon, government at Courthouse, George Mason Law School at Virginia Square and town houses at Ballston.
Detweiler leaves no doubt that Metro means high-density development. "I think the market and the economic influences on that market will determine what kind of land uses we get, but I would anticipate and hope that there would be intense office development around the Metro stations, and along with that I would hope we could have a concentrated mix of residential and commercial, as well," he says.
But Franklin, whose firm manages and leases more than 4 million square feet of office space, and Freshley, a member of the Site Plan Review Committee, both see the potential for more unrelieved high-rise development along the subway route.
"I think the development will just extend right out around the [subway] stops to the end of the Orange Line," Franklin says. "There'll be high-rise buildings consisting of office space and condominiums and apartments." Adds Freshley: "Another Rosslyn is already being proposed for Ballston."
That focus on Ballston is a result of a combination of county police and developer economics. Board members say they would like to see Ballston become the main community in the county, as Clarendon once was and as Rosslyn was once supposed to be. From the developers' standpoint, Ballston is more attractive than Clarendon or the future Falls Church stations because Ballston has little current development.
"I can buy land cheaper here [in Ballston] than I could at Clarendon, for example, because that area already has had previous concentrated development, and buying the land also sometimes means paying for the relocation of a business," Daniel Clemente said.