With Miss Citrus posing for photographs, the sheriff's wife giving Metro rocks away and a herd of flushed joggers comparing sweat stains after a five-mile run, the Key Coalition's march around Arlington's Court House Metro Station last weekend looked less like a demonstration than a parade.
"We don't want to interfere with the opening ceremonies," said Jean Meek, leading 65, placard-carrying parents and students from Arlington's Key Elementary School around the new station. "We're not against Metro, just against high-rise development."
The marchers were protesting the planned construction of a 16-story office building and a 10-story condominium on Veitch Street directly across from Key School. Parents fear the high-rise development at the Colonial Village apartment complex will dangerously increase traffic hazards for their children.
"If they get that (development) through, it will be the death of the school and the death of the village," said marcher and village resident Margaret Haley, surrounded by placards that read, "Keep the Sunshine on Our Playground" and "2,000 Cars plus 500 Kids Equals Tragedy."
The Arlington Planning Commission recommended Monday that the owners of Colonial Village, a subsidiary of the mobil Corporation, be granted the necessary rezoning for the development. Despite the setback, Key parents say they will testify against the plan this Saturday when the County Board is scheduled to make a final decision.
"The County Board votes are the ones that count," says Meek, who will argue that "our children's safety is not a negotiable item."
The Key School parents are only one of many groups involved in the battle over the development of Colonial Village, a 1,090-unit complex on 56 acres between Wilson Boulevard and Lee Highway. The village, tenants' associations, historic preservation committees and land developers are more than a little interested in the outcome.
Two county priorities apparently have collided at Colonial Village. The first is Arlington's often expressed determination to maintain a stock of low- and moderate-rental housing in the county. The second is the commercial development the county hopes to attract to the four new Metro stops on the Orange Line.
The planned development of Colonial Village, which is adjacent to the Court House station, would involve the razing of at least 128 apartment units and the conversion to condominiums of at least 500 more over a 15-year period.
"They're talking about bull's-eye development around Metro stations," said Carolyn Vale, a village resident. "But you have to give some thought to what's already in the bull's-eye."
James Todd, president of Colonial Village Inc., said last week he thought the development plan was more than fair. He has promised the county that at least 585 units will remain as rental property for the next five years. In a compromise worked out with the planning commission, Todd's company also agreed to preserve 250 units for low- or moderate-income housing for at least 15 years. Further, promises Todd, no one now living in the village will be forced to move because of the redevelopment.
"I'm very proud of what we've done," says Todd. "The area is not going to stay the same with Metro open. Whether we do it or somebody else does, the whole area's going to be developed."
Dennis Hottell, president of the Colonial Village Tenants Association, agrees that commercial development near the Metro stops is inevitable and beneficial. But Hottell argues that Colonial Village is more important to the county as rental housing than as a potential site for increased tax revenues.
"The county is facing a housing crisis. But I don't think the need for commercial development has reached the crisis proportion," said Hottell at Monday's planning commission meeting. "The county has been on record since 1975 for keeping (Colonial Village) residential. Now they are apparently flip-flopping."
Another aspect of the controversy involves Colonial Village's historic value to the county. The original part of the village, built in 1935, was the nation's first federally insured garden apartment project and is said to be one of the most widely copied pieces of real estate in the country.
In 1978 the County Board declared that section of the village an historic landmark. That designation bars Mobil from altering the red-brick exteriors of 276 units without a special permit. It does not, however, bar condominium conversion of those units.
Brian Ford, the chairman of the Colonial Village Preservation Committee, said Monday night his committee had submitted a motion to the Virginia State Historic Landmark Commission to designate more areas of the village as landmarks. But the planning commission recommended that all historic designations be deferred for five more years.
"This is such a major decision for the county and yet they're rushing through it," said a disappointed Meek after Monday's planning commission meeting. "This will either close the door or open it for future exploitation of the area by developers. We feel we should slow down a bit."
"They (Mobil) are playing Monopoly and we don't want to play," added Haley. "But they've landed on us."