The charred, boarded-up building in downtown Alexandria sold for $14,000 in 1977. Today city officials say it is worth $97,000 -- a sevenfold increase in value -- because of Metro.
Even though it will be 1982 before the first subway trains pull into the city, Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. says the transit system has boosted the price of "every single piece of property" in the community.
Just how much Metro can mean to Alexandria property values is apparent by looking at the burned two-story building at 1010 King Street eight blocks from a subway station.
Owner Wellington Goddin, a real estate salesman, points out that he hasn't invested a cent in the property since it was gutted by an early morning fire three years ago. "That place is a shell," he says, half protesting its $97,000 assessment.
Shell or not, area planners agree that the promise of Metro service along is enough to send any property's value skyward. "There is, definitely a price differential because of Metro," said Metro planner Henry W. Cord. "In any area that is immediately accessible to the station, the prices have gone way up."
"I stopped being surprised by the prices a long time ago," says Montgomery County Assessor John W. Brennan, who monitors sales in Silver Spring and Takoma Park -- older, established communities similar to Alexandria, that are served by the subway.
Metro service arrived there in late 1978 and even the advent of tight money and high interest rates hasn't stopped the increases, he said.
"A 400-square-foot shack just went for $35,000. A shell sold for $70,000. Metro isn't the only factor in the price increase: the energy crisis, the close-in location, the lack of otherwise available housing are others. But Metro is a major force," Brennan said.
In Arlington where 10 Metro stops have opened, assessed property values near the stations jumped 25 percent last year, compared to a countywide average of 17 percent, assessor James R. Vinson said. In the Huntington area of Fairfax County, near another 1982 Metro stop, older brick townhouses that sold for $30,000 two years ago are now going for $60,000, according to real estate official Sam Patteson.
The District's housing prices have been skyrocketing for years, so you can't pin the increases just on Metro, says Charles Horowitz, who works in the D.C. assessor's office. "But we are not surprised when commercial property doubles in value within three years of a station opening."
In Alexandria, assessed property values rose an average of 20 percent last year and even more in areas near the Metro stops, said City Assessor David Chitlik. The volume of sales has been down in 1980 because of the tight money market, although prices remain high, he said. The average Alexandria house costs $84,000, up from $70,000 a year ago.
Metro, says transit system planner Henry W. Cord, is "helping Alexandria shed the last cobwebs of its past." To some city officials that is a mixed blessing for the 231-year-old city.
Low-income and elderly residents on fixed incomes may have difficulty maintaining their homes in the city with its rising property taxes, they say. "You can see the real estate agents driving around, with sun glasses pushed up to the top of their heads, looking for houses to buy," fumed one longtime city resident.
The woman said she didn't want to be named or have her neighborhood mentioned "because I don't want them [the agents] coming in here.. . . . If this keeps up, we're going to have a neighborhood where wealthy people park Porsches in their driveways and don't care about the city at all." p
Such attitudes have not been able to stem the Alexandria land boom, says assessor Chitlik. "People are buying now in anticipation of future benefits. It's the same all over the city."
According to city records, a one-bedroom condominium in the Park Fairfax complex near Shirley Highway sold for $30,000 in 1978 and for $55,000 last month, an 83-percent increase in 24 months. A small uninhabited row house six blocks from the King Street Metro station recently sold for $180,000, although it must be considerably upgraded before it can be used, Chitlik said.
Some real estate salesmen such as Wellington Goddin downplay the importance of Metro in the increased value of city property. "Metro will be like the Bicentennial, it won't matter much," he says.
"Metro will affect values within two blocks of each station," Goddin says. "Beyond that, it's the availability of housing, the close-in location, and gas prices that keep prices high. If there's no parking for residents, business people, and those who work here, Metro will turn out to be a disaster."
Second-generation Alexandria realtor Bruce Duncan agrees. "Metro will be like the girl who looks good at a distance, and is dull close up. The problem with Alexandria is it's a . . . bedroom community. What we need is some commercial development or the city will be slashing its own throat."
The City Council last year imposed a 77-foot height limitation on property near the King Street station, and is expected to impose a similar measure for land near the Braddock Road station, located in a residential neighborhood. Duncan and some other businessmen say those limitations may discourage business, rather than control growth.
"We want to preserve the neighborhood character around the Braddock Road station, and encourage some limited development near the King Street station," said City Planning Director Engin Artamel. "The potential for greatest development lies near the Eisenhower Avenue station. We don't want to get overwhelmed by growth. We don't want another Crystal City here," he said, referring to development on the blue subway line north of National Airport.
Owners of property near Alexandria's King Street and Eisenhower Avenue metro stations have been playing a delicate chess game with the city for years, announcing development plans, but never formally filing them with the planning department, officials said.
"We want to wait and see what happens in the years ahead," said one lawyer who represents a land owner. "We want to see how serious the city is about the height limitations."
Mayor Beatley said the city is serious. "We don't want a row of highrises marching down King Street. That would destroy much of this community."