Residents near Arlington's Virginia Square Metro station plan to ask county officials at two upcoming meetings to preserve the residential character of their neighborhoods during redevelopment of the area.
Virginia Square, the fourth stop along the Orange Line through the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, is expected to be the last of the five Metro stations along that line in Arlington to be developed.
Tonight, the county Planning Commission will hear proposals from neighborhood groups for redevelopment of Virginia Square area, specifically the neighborhoods surrounding a 14-acre tract on Fairfax Drive across from the Metro stop.
The County Board is expected to appoint a special panel of citizens and landowners to make recommendations for mixed commercial and residential development of the 14-acre site. The board will hold a public hearing on the same areas Aug. 7.
In addition to the citizens' groups, the county expects to hear from the three groups that own major parts of the 14-acre site: the George Mason University Law School, the GMU Foundation, a nonprofit group whose major aim is to raise funds for the university, and Virginia Square Ltd., which owns the Virginia Square Shopping Center.
County planners recommended recently that the Virginia Square area--bounded by Washington Boulevard, N. Jackson Street, Kirkwood Road, N. Fifth Street and N. Quincy Street--be kept predominantly residential, with some multi-family housing. Area residents applauded the recommendation. But county planners predict that limiting the area primarily to residential uses may delay major redevelopment by as much as a decade.
According to the county planning staff's preliminary estimates, much of the development on the 14-acre tract would be a mixed use of high-rise condominiums and office buildings. County planner Suzanne Fauber said the economy has slowed developers' plans for residential construction, which is less lucrative than office-retail construction.
" Developers have told the neighbors that they are probably going to get fast-food stores there in the interim for 10 years or so," Fauber said.
"We're willing to wait," said Catherine DeScisciolo, president of the nearby Ashton Heights Civic Association. "The county may not be, but we are. People have to have some place to live and Virginia Square would be the perfect spot for luxury high-rise condos."
Over the past few years, as development near the five North Arlington Metro stops has increased, five neighborhood associations in the area have formed a coalition to address development issues in the Clarendon-Virginia Square area.
"All the public parties agree Virginia Square should be a predominantly residential area . . . ," said Larry Blackwood, president of the Ballston-Clarendon Civic Association, which is part of the coalition. "The only points of disagreement are how to bring it about and how to shape it."
The major issue before county officials will be what changes to make in allowable building densities in the area. Citizens' groups and investors in the area agree higher densities for Virginia Square are needed, but they disagree on specifics.
Generally, the civic groups agree that high-rise construction should be permitted in certain parts of the surrounding neighborhoods, with lower buildings near single-family homes along Wilson Boulevard. The height of buildings on the northern side of Wilson Boulevard is the major point of disagreement: Some groups want height limits of six to nine stories, while others suggest higher limits.
The key area for redevelopment, the one county planners hope will set the theme for Virginia Square, is the 14-acre tract bounded by Washington Boulevard, Fairfax Drive, N. Nelson Street and Kirkwood Road.
Citizens groups and developers already are squaring off over the issue, with residents favoring predominantly residential development and landowners seeking commercial uses.
Three acres at the site are occupied by the Virginia Square Shopping Center, owned by Virginia Square Ltd., a partnership headed by Herbert Blum of the Blum, Frank and Kamins real estate development firm. The George Mason University Law School occupies five acres, and the remaining six acres are owned by the GMU Foundation.
The GMU Foundation and the shopping center owners hope the county will allow high-rise commercial development on the site.
"I think it's unreasonable to look at that property as residential when it's been commercial so long and has got a Metro stop at the back door," said Robert F. Gibbons, president of the GMU Foundation. "To turn it back to residential, I think, is a lower-than-necessary use."
The foundation originally owned 11 acres at the site, before it gave five acres to the state for the GMU law school. John T. (Til) Hazel, head of the GMU Board of Visitors and a member of the foundation board, said the foundation had hoped to use its remaining six acres to raise funds for the university.
Hazel, a well-known zoning attorney in Fairfax County, estimated the foundation has invested nearly $5 million in the 11 acres, including almost $3 million for the law school site, and hopes to recoup its investment either through "sale of the parcel we still have or some sort of joint venture."
Hazel said he would like to leave the six acres, now used for parking by the university and the shopping center, vacant over the next 10 years until the area matures, but believes "there would be some opportunity sooner for further development . . . partly for educational uses and partly for some sort of investment use."
Complicating foundation plans is a boundary dispute with the owners of the shopping center. The foundation says it owns all the parking space and has allowed the shopping center to provide space for its customers "with our permission," Hazel said.
Shopping center owner Blum, who declined to be interviewed, argues that the shopping center is legally entitled to some of the parking, according to Blum's attorney, Martin D. Walsh.
Walsh, who also represents the GMU foundation, said, "I think it's in both of their interests to work something out."
Others close to the situation have noted that, ideally, the parcels owned by Blum and the foundation could be consolidated, but Blum has indicated he is not in a hurry to redevelop because of long-term leases with some store owners, including the neighborhood Giant Food store.
Nevertheless, neighbors are optimistic about eventual redevelopment of Virginia Square.
"We're going to have to live with Virginia Square for a long time before anything happens," said civic association leader DeScisciolo. "So we may as well hold out."