The Oliver T. Carr Company, one of the largest developers in the metropolitan area, is bringing its cranes and bulldozers to Northern Virginia.

In the past, the Carr company has focused most of its energy on multi-million dollar projects in downtown Washington. Among them are buildings on the southern side of the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW; the Willard Hotel renovation, 14th and Pennsylvania NW, which is part of the city's redevelopment of Pennsylvania from the White House to the Capitol; International Square, an almost block-square development bounded by 18th, 19th, K and I streets NW, and Westbridge in West End, on the edge of Georgetown.

But with the spread of Metro and rising land prices in the city, the Carr company, along with other developers, has increasingly looked to suburbs.

"We approach the suburbs very carefully," says Oliver T. Carr Jr., president of the company. "They are a much freer market because there's much more land in the suburbs zoned for uses we are involved in: commercial, office and retail space."

Despite the attractions, Carr says the suburbs are a tougher market than the city.

"There's an opportunity for many more developers to enter the marketplace at the same time," Carr said, "and because there's no shortage of land it's a much more fragile market. So we are only interested in what we consider to be very key locations, either because of the market they're in or because of the transporation system in the market area, for example, a Metro station."

With those criteria in mind, the Carr company has selected four sites in Northern Virginia for major development projects. Although three of the four have been approved by the local governments involved, no construction has begun on any of the projects.

ARLINGTON

Ballston: The Carr company has two projects in the area, both near the Ballston Metro Station. The Arlington County Board has approved both projects.

The Ballston Galleria will include redevelopment of the Parkington Shopping Center, at Wilson Boulevard and Glebe Road, as a $100 million, enclosed shopping mall and office complex. May Centers Inc. will handle transformation of the shopping center, and the Carr company will be involved only in the construction of two office buildings, estimated to cost $55 million, according to Philip Carr, brother of Oliver Carr and vice president for operations of the Carr company.

The second project, on 9.8 acres at Glebe Road and Washington Boulevard, will be a $150 million office-retail-residential complex. Carr's partner in the project is CSX Resources Inc., the parent company of the C & O Railroad. The project will include 350 residential units, most likely condominiums, according to Carr project director Michael G. McGowan.

Shirlington: Under preliminary plans released last week, the Carr company envisions a $250 million renovation of the 38-year-old Shirlington Shopping Center, located on about 31 acres just north of Shirley Highway (Interstate 395) near Arlington Mill Drive. Preliminary plans are for retail shops, four to seven office buildings, a hotel and high-rise condominiums. Shirlington will be a joint venture for the Carr company, as its other Northern Virginia projects are. At Shirlington, Carr's partners will be owners John Safer and Mandell and Florenz Ourisman.

ALEXANDRIA

King Street Metro Station: The Carr company owns two properties near the Metro station, which is scheduled to open late next year. Carr currently has no plans for one site, 1.5 acres at 1625 Prince St., where the Rosenthal-Hayman Pontiac dealership is located.

Immediately across from the Metro Station, on three acres at Diagonal Road and Reinekers Lane, the Carr company plans a $52 million office-retail complex which, according to Philip Carr, will be built in two phases.

The first, which has been approved by the Alexandria City Council, will be a $17 million, 150,000-square-foot office building, which will include 18,000 square feet of retail space. Philip Carr said the company plans to begin construction this fall. The project will be a joint venture with the Equitable Life Assurance Society, which has backed several Carr projects in the District.

The second phase would be a $35 million office tower, also with retail space. Specific plans have not been developed, and Philip Carr said the project will depend on improved market conditions or finding a major tenant.

Both projects will be subject to strict height limits set by the city. Engin Artemel, Alexandria's planning director, said the City Council, which views the King Street Station as the "Gateway to Alexandria," has set height limits of 77 feet, or about six stories, for the area.

In Northern Virginia, so far, there has been little of the community criticism Carr has faced in the District.

Larry Blackwood, president of Arlington's Ballston-Clarendon Civic Association, said the association supports both of Carr's nearby projects, noting that "some other associations objected to the height of some of the buildings."

In Alexandria, Kerry St. Clair, president of the Rosemont Civic Association, the neighborhood adjacent to the King Street Metro stop, said, "There was a pretty positive reaction when Carr announced his plans. . . . He has a considerable amount of credibility as a developer and is a more known quantity than some other people. . . . I'd say it's been a positive reaction overall."

But in the District, Carr's projects have sparked controversy, especially his plan for Metropolitan Square, bounded by l5th, 14th, F and G streets NW. Carr planned to raze the historic Rhodes Tavern and the Keith-Albee theater building, known for its Beaux-Arts fac,ade. Carr later agreed to save the Keith-Albee building's 15th Street fac,ade.

But after a long and particularly bitter battle with preservationists in and out of court, Carr won final approval from the Supreme Court last fall to demolish the 183-year-old tavern. The tavern still stands, however, and its future has become an issue in this year's political campaigns in the District.

With the entry of the Carr company into Northern Virginia, local officials expect other developers to follow.

"Everybody was waiting to see who would go in first and what type of tenants they would attract," said Jocelyn Holland, marketing and business services coordinator for Arlington's economic development division.

"They (other developers) saw the potential for development, but I don't think they wanted to be the first. Once it happens, the others don't have to establish themselves, but can follow the market."

Oliver and Philip Carr agree.

"In the last 20 years, as the demand for office space has grown in Washington , so equally has it in the suburbs," said Philip Carr. "Our attention was focused on the suburbs 10 years ago with the announcement of Metro, and we have been actively looking to go into the suburbs, but waiting for Metro to open because that was the vehicle needed to spur the development needed to link the suburbs to downtown."

Still, according to the Carr brothers, developers face more risks in the suburbs than in the city.

"In the suburbs," Oliver Carr said, "you're dealing with a whole multiplicity of kinds of projects and numbers of developers. . . . There are different kinds of tenants . . . different competition and less predictability. And there are different legislatures, ordinances, and regulations we have to learn about."

"When you go into the suburbs," Philip Carr explained, "you've got a whole lot of different factors, starting off with 'Where does the boss live?' to 'Where do all the employes commute from?' to 'Whom do you do business with?' "

The Shirlington project, which must be approved by the Arlington County Board, is typical of the Carrs' approach to suburban projects.

Preliminary plans call for up to 700,000 square feet of office space in four to seven office buildings ranging from four to 12 stories; 400,000 square feet of retail shops, including some in the office buildings; a 400-room hotel, and 600 condominiums in two or three high-rises, up to a maximum of 12 stories.

The first step of the project, which Carr project manager McGowan said could take 10 to 15 years to complete, would be to "substantially upgrade" the existing retail space, perhaps razing some shops while keeping others. Unlike Parkington, there are no plans to enclose the center.

"What we're looking to do is provide a shopping alternative to a mall and a place more for a local merchant as opposed to the national chains you see everywhere," McGowan said.

The Best Products Co. Inc., now the major retailer at Shirlington, will remain, but the focus of the shopping complex will be largely neighborhood-oriented, McGowan said. "We're not talking about a regional-type complex . . . but a very nice downtown area for people to shop in."

Once the shopping area is upgraded, he added, it should provide an incentive for businesses to move to Shirlington.

For now, the Carrs are focusing their attention on the close-in suburbs, and any new plans, they say, would be in already established market areas.

"In a conservative way, we are entering the suburban market in what we consider to be significant areas of future growth," said Oliver Carr. "We are not going into new areas that are untried, but into areas that are being consolidated.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel in the suburbs," he added, "but following an established pattern of growth in mature areas after making a very careful market analysis." CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 3, Oliver T. Carr and models of two of his company's projects, Ballston Galleria in Arlington, and King Street Station in Alexandria. By Ray Lustig--The Washington Post; Picture 4, Model for $150 million project at Glebe Road, Washington Boulevard.