It began more than three years ago with a few telephone calls and quickly progressed to monthly meetings over coffee in the neighborhood of modest 50-year-old, two-story frame houses.
The subject -- how to deal with developers -- was alien to most of the residents and what they wanted -- millions of dollars -- seemed at times unreachable.
But yesterday 22 of those Arlington homeowners were beginning to savor what county officials say could be a major financial windfall: the planned joint sale of their homes to a single developer for about $10 million. Residents said the planned sale, subject to approval by county officials Saturday, could provide a guide to other neighborhoods near Metro stations being besieged by developers.
"It was a wonderful psychology that took hold," said Thomas A. Clary, one of the leaders in the effort to get all the homeowners of the Courtlands neighborhood to agree to a joint sale. "The reaction of most neighborhoods in this kind of situation is to flee and run farther into the suburbs," he said. "We chose to stay put, make it a nice place to live, and organize as a consortium so we wouldn't be picked off."
What made that possible was that the neighborhood came to an early consensus that the redevelopment of their neighborhood -- three blocks from the Court House Metro station -- was inevitable and they could make the most of it if they remained united.
"It became increasingly apparent . . . ," said Clary, a retired federal land-use specialist, "that the redevelopment of central Arlington was absolutely essential and totally beyond our control."
The group also discovered that the county owns 50 percent of the land in the neighborhood and was considering major developments for its property, he said.
Clary and lawyer John L. Melnick, a former Virginia legislator whose mother, Myrtle, has lived in the Courtlands area for 50 years, and Ed Buchanan, vice president of the DeRand Realty Corp. of Arlington, proved to be crucial leaders in the discussions of the community's future.
"We were being besieged by people wanting to put town houses in there," said Melnick said, "and I just didn't think that was the way to go."
Gradually, through a civic association Clary then headed, the neighborhood organized screening committees for real estate agents and developers -- ones who would agree to maintain "a livability" in their community during the expected transition to high-rises.
"We had a lot of dry runs," Melnick said. Developers from across the country and Canada, including the well known Washington area developers Guiseppe Cecchi and the Charles E. Smith Co. indicated interest but eventually backed off.
The developer that the neighborood finally agreed upon was Thomas F. Herr, president of the Bethesda-based Courchevel Corp. He said yesterday that it had been "a lot of fun and a lot of hard work" working with the neighborhood. The $100 million project he has planned, he said, will be what the neighborhood wanted -- "a people-oriented project."
It was Buchanan who brought the residents and Courchevel together. (Clary has since become associated with Buchanan's firm and Melnick represents the developer.)
Clary said the neighborhood has gained more than money from the months of wheeling and dealing. It became a true neighborhood, he said, "not just speaking acquaintances. There wasn't any necessity for cops in the neighborhood because it became the small town environment most of us grew up in. We shoveled each other's walks and driveways, helped wash cars, and cooked turkeys for people across the street. People truly cared about each other."
"It will be sort of sad leaving here," said Frances Sauber, who has lived at 1312 N. Adams St. for 43 years. "But we knew the neighborhood was going to change, and we're getting good prices for our lots."
Her property, assessed by the county at about $190,000, she said, will be sold for about $377,000.
In place of the aging homes, Courchevel plans to build a 954-unit rental apartment building, a 1,618-car underground garage and a commercial complex.
About 30 residents living between N. Wayne and N. Veitch streets opted out of the original plan, and are hoping for more office buildings on their adjacent block. CAPTION: Picture 1, Frances Sauber outside her daughter's home. Her own property, in rear, was assessed at $190,000; she'll get $377,000; Picture 2, John Melnick and his mother, Myrtle, a longtime resident of the Courtlands area, are pleased with the joint sale plan. Photos by Harry Naltchayan -- The Washington Post