The strawberry and blackberry fields in Arlington's East Falls Church neighborhood where Milton L. Byrne has spent many of his 78 years are gone, as is the field where neighborhood boys played baseball after the bull was brought in for the night.
Byrne, a retired power company executive, says he has grown accustomed to the dramatic changes in his once bucolic neighborhood a few blocks from major interchanges for Interstate 66. He expects more when the nearby East Falls Church Metro station opens in mid-1986, just inside Arlington's border with the city of Falls Church.
Like some of his neighbors and business persons in the area, Byrne says he believes that the opening of the Orange Line station on N. Sycamore Street -- the last of 11 to open in Arlington -- will inevitably bring the high-rise redevelopment that has occurred at many of the stations open in the county.
County officials disagree, but Byrne is convinced. "Just you wait," he said. "It's going to occur. Somebody's going to buy up property and get enough influence to rezone, and we'll have high-rises like everybody else."
Martin Simon, owner of Snyder's Hardware Store on Lee Highway, shares that sentiment. "Whoever has enough money is going to be able to do it. Look at the other Metro stops; look around us. In Falls Church, office buildings already are coming up to the county line. So it's just a question of holding out long enough where it doesn't make any difference."
Arlington officials, who have seen tax revenues soar almost as high as the office buildings at many of the Arlington stations, insist that will not happen. The East Falls Church area, they maintain, will be the only Metro-stop neighborhood in Arlington that will stay essentially the same as it is today.
County Board Chairman John G. Milliken, who has heard from residents worried about speculators, said: "I told the citizens, 'You tell them they are wrong if they think the county is going to permit intensive rezoning of property there, because we're not.' If they're buying property based on that, they're going to lose their money."
"I just can't imagine anyone being successful with a high-rise application," added board member Ellen M. Bozman. "From the very beginning, the Metro stop has always been the one that was going to be different."
Tucked away in the county's northwestern corner, the East Falls Church neighborhood, county officials say, will remain a predominantly single-family area with a smattering of commercial property that includes one of the few remaining industrial zones in Arlington.
The fate of that 16-acre area -- a mixture of small retail stores, warehouses and service industries -- on both sides of Lee Highway near the Falls Church line -- is something county officials are watching closely. They say they are concerned that market pressures may force the displacement of some of the businesses that serve the area.
While some change is sure to come, county officials say they have the zoning tools to keep out the massive redevelopment that has altered the skyline of other Metro-stop neighborhoods.
"We see a fine-tuning of what's there now," said Gary Kirkbride, the county's chief planner of a study under way on future zoning and land uses. "We just don't see wholesale changes. There will be some redevelopment . . . but at the same scale." What that most likely will mean, Kirkbride said, is that some of the old three-story buildings in the commercial area will be replaced with four-story structures and, in a few cases, seven-story ones.
If commercial redevelopment follows that path, it will blend in with redevelopment occurring across the county line in the city of Falls Church, which has long had a dim view of high-rises. The city also has a task force studying the station's potential impact.
"We want to control the development that takes place so that it's compatible with what the residents of the city want and will revitalize that end of the city," said Falls Church City Manager Anthony H. Griffin. "We want to solicit people for the things we want rather than wait for a developer to come in and say he wants to put up a 20-story building."
Developer Robert Erlich, who recently built the low-rise Gateway Plaza office complex in Falls Church, described Falls Church officials as "a tough group," adding, "and I think in Arlington, right there, they'd be tougher."
The county, he said, undoubtedly will get "100 percent backing" from residents to keep the neighborhood free of high-rises. The commercial and industrial area "desperately needs to be redeveloped," but the long-established businesses are unlikely to move because of a lack of monetary incentives and other industrially zoned land nearby, he said.
"Then again," Erlich added, "they could wait another five or 10 years when the land might be as valuable as Rosslyn, and make a killing. There's always the prospect of a big firm coming in, seeing what a beautiful location it would be for their lobbyists, and saying, 'I don't care what you want. I'll pay it.' "
"I've had an offer for land we have across the street that was astronomical," but not enough to persuade him to sell, said Dick Kent, owner of Virginia Spring and Alignment Co. on Westmoreland Street.
"We're not planning on selling," said Jim Anderson Jr., of the Anderson Moving and Storage Co. "But I don't think there's going to be big land speculation in the area that they had in Ballston because developers are also going to have the other stations opening when this one does. This is not an end-of-the-line captive audience."
Martin D. Walsh, an Arlington attorney who has gained a reputation and numerous big-name clients for his knowledge of the county's land-use policies, said the commercial areas are "ripe for redevelopment." But the relative scarcity of developable land there and multiple ownership will cause developers problems in assembling large land packages, Walsh said.
Russ Bernt, president of the East Falls Church Civic Association, said one of the neighborhood's major concerns is the traffic and parking problems the new station will bring. It is a problem other neighborhoods near Metro stops have experienced, because some commuters think little of parking a mile away.
Maurice Flagg, an East Falls Church resident and chairman of the Arlington County Planning Commission, said he expects there will be few major changes in the neighborhood. "If somebody wanted to bring in growth, I think the neighborhood would rise up against it," he said. "I'm inclined to suspect this neighborhood will change slower than the others. It's going to remain residential for a long time to come."