Surrounded by the chrome and glass handiwork of real estate developers, the concrete and steel of highway planners and the fescue and forsythia of suburban homeowners. Pentagon City is little more than 116 acres of potential. Its only claim to fame right now is its Blue Line Metro stop.
Some warehouses, a Western Electric plant, some apartment and town houses and a nursing home are about all that have been built on this parcel of land since it was acquired in 1946 by the late developer-builders Morris Cafritz and Charles H. Tomkins for $1.5 million.
But by many government and private reckonings, it's one of the last large tracts of developable land in Arlington County. And its current developers claim it will be one of the county's largest urban centers when it's completed, probably sometime in the 1990s.
Neighbors in established communities near such developments don't always share the developers' viewpoint, which is the case with Pentagon City.
Many of the folks in nearby Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands view the coming development as an air polluter, a traffic snarler and a noise maker.
"No consideration was given to any of the adverse environmental effects. The county's only consideration was the impact on the tax base," says John H. Quinn, a Washington lawyer, resident of Arlington Ridge and leader of Pentagon City Coordinating Committee, a citizens group organized in 1975 to represent the interests of the residents on Pentagon City's border.
Arlington County Board Chariman Stephen H. Detwiler has said, "Only time will prove what the benefits of Pentagon City will have for the county." tA look at Pentagon City's history and the plans for its future could help one make educated guesses about those benefits, though.
Cafritz and the estate of Tompkins started their uphill battle to develop Pentagon City in the late Fifties, winning skirmishes over zoning and building height limits before the Arlington County Board. Cafrita envisioned a grand development, "an international-type shopping center" designed to draw customers from Richmond and the West Virginia border.
Things stalled for a few years while the property was tied up in the estates of Tompkins and then Cafrita when he died.
When the Cafritz-Tompkins Group got going again on its project, a Northern Virginia firm, Dewberry, Nealon & Davis did the basic architectural, engineering and planning for the site development.
Dewberry's studies said the size, prime location several minutes from downtown D.C. and superior access to highway and mass transit systems made Pentagon City an outstanding opportunity for development.
Another plus was single ownership, allowing all development to be coordinated, not piecemeal like Rosslyn. "Rarely has there been an opportunity to set forth a coordinated overall plan for a whole area," said county board member Ellen M. Bozman.
Pentagon City's mixture of uses and activities ultimately could provide employment for more than 6,000 and housing for 10,000 people, Dewberry said. It can offer Arlington "desirable housing in attractive settings with conveniently located employment opportunities and commercial, recreational and cultural activities," the plan said.
Zoning for the tract calls for less density -- mor open space -- than either Rosslyn or Crystal City, two of the county's large, modern urban developments. Calling Pentagon City's future exciting, county planner Gary W. Kirkbride says, "I think Pentagon City is going to offer even more amenities than developers were capable of offering in Crystal City."
It is that word "density" and those "amenities" that first brought the Pentagon City Coordinating Committee into being.
While drawing up its plans, Dewberry did a novel thing as far as developers go: It asked for citizen input on the project in the form of a Policy Guidance Committee established in 1972. PGC consisted of county-office representatives and residents who lived close to Pentagon City and was the first such group ever in Arlington County. Dewberry saw PGC as an attempt to "bridge the gap between the anti-highrise community and the developer who wanted a profit on his investment" by devising a plan for rezoning with which developers and nearby residents could be satisfied.
But the residents participating in the PGA saw their roles as less than substantive. "A lot of things went on at the meetings at the beginning. However, they [Dewberry] cut off dialogue and went into hiding for 18 months. No real impacts on the surrounding communities were discussed at that time. What was discussed was where to put park benches and what kind of trees they should plant," says John W. Marr, retired Army colonel and representative from the Arlington Ridge Civic Association. Other residents echoed Marr's comments.
Quinn called Dewberry's plans "most creative in terms of planning. I wish they had come in first [among Arlington's developers] and let everyone else follow their lead.
"But the total plan was just disastrous," he said.
While Dewberry was preparing its reports, angry Pentagon City neighbors organized the PCCC in 1975. It charged that the rezoning proposals for Pentagon City were "inconsistent with the public's health and welfare and detrimental to public interest."
In the fall of '75, PCCC conducted several studies to present to the Arlington planning commission and county board. PCCC drew on the expertise of its members, passing out phases of the studies to members who had experience in the various areas to be covered: traffic, air, noise, rezoning, downzoning; parks, fiscal impact and an alternative development plan. r
The PCCC wanted Pentagon City to have less of almost everything, such as people, buildings and cars, contending that too many would burden an area already becoming heavy with development in adjoining Crystal City.
A 300-page book resulted from the studies, showing that proposed development would have an adverse impact on surrounding neighborhoods. The report argued that impace on auto traffic had been ignored, that area air pollutanta already exceeded federal and state standards for health preservation and that noise levels in the largely undeveloped area already exceed the Arlington County noise ordinance.
Quinn said no one ever disproved his group's studies. Some changes were made in density and square feet of space. "We believe our efforts were able to reduce the scope of the Pentagon City development. We had a good presentation," said Nancy Swain, another involved citizen.In June 1976 in a 4-1 vote, the board approved rezoning for Pentagon City that allocated less density than the original developer's proposal, cut the number of office units almost in half and reduced the number of apartments and hotel units.
But it wasn't enough, the PCCC argued, to prevent what it saw as "environmental disasters." "Nobody is aginist development. What has been proposed and authorized is the political issue," Quinn says.
"The decision was not made on basis of fact, but on the pressures of that time which were pro-development," said a PCCC member. Derk Swain, a Statistician.
When the county allowed the Dewberry/Cafritz-Tompkins plan to proceed, PCCC sued, claiming the rezoning decision was "arbitrary and capricious." Then the group armed itself with two more studies.
Geomet Inc. did an air pollution study for the group, and Robert L. Morris, a professional traffic consultant, did a traffic study. Again, the PCCC contended the development plan would overburden the area.
Arlington County Circuit Court upheld the board's decision in January 1977. PCCC appealed first to the Virginia Supreme Court and later to the U.S. Supreme Court, both unseccessfully.
While fighting the PCCC, Cafritz-Tompkins continued with its plans, signing a contract with a New York City real estate firm, Rose Associates, giving that firm a series of options to acquire and develop 85 acres of the tract over a 15-year period. The amended zoning would allow 5,680 apartments units, 1.25 million square feet of office space, 2,000 hotel rooms and 800,000 square feet of retail space. Cafritz-Tompkins contributed 12 more acres to Arlington County for a park.
Another developer, Claridge Associates, acquired 14 acres for a nursing home, town houses and federally subsidized housing for the elderly, all of which are now completed.
At that time, Cafritz-Tompkins estimated the market value of the entire Pentagon City tract at $31 million. The Metro stop hadn't opened yet.
Although the citizens were upset about the County Board's decision on rezoning, county officials had contrasting opinions.
"Obviously any development is going to increase the amount of noise and traffic; it is going to have some impact," said Thomas Parker, deputy director of the Arlington Planning Department. "Our assessment was that the levels of impact were acceptable, in contrast to Rosslyn, which presently has non-tolerable levels."
He adds that the planning department and the county board were content with the rezoning outcome. "The county could be faulted for not approving more development," he said.
Planner Kirkbride says he realizes area residents "don't want an urban development around their immediate area, but the county has to find some place for that urban development."
The only board member to vote "no" against the rezoning was Dorothy Grotos, now vice chairman of the county board.
"I thought there was too much density going into that tract," she said. She agreed that some of the arguments made by the PCCC citizen group were feasible and that the residents will be affected by the traffic.
"Certainly the Metro corridors should be developed, but rationally and resonably, no any way we want just to get money," she said.
At present, 300 subsidized housing units for the elderly, a six-story nursing home and 220 town houses have been built adjacent to Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands.
An office building is half finished, and another office and apartment building recently were approved. The tract will not be completed until Rose Associates feels "the market is right," said Art Walsh, an attorney for Cafritz-Tompkins.
"Pentagon City by itself would be acceptable," Marr says, "if Crystal City was not jammed up against it. We are going to pay heavily for this in the next few years when Crystal City nears completion and Pentagon City begins to go up heavily. We're going to pay in traffic."
"Whether people can live with the massive traffic congestion is debatable," Quinn says.
He faults county officials for not heeding residents' protests. The officials were "elected to nod their heads," he said. "Basically, they told us that nobody likes it, but there's nothing you can do about it."
Pentagon City's progress has been slow compared to the urbanization of other parts of Arlington, and indeed, it may be nearly 2000 by the time what's on the drawing boards now becomes reality. As Detwiler pointed out, time will tell if Pentagon City becomes the shining urban vision of Morris Cafritz or the pollution-, car- and people-choked blight predicted by the PCCC.