The way Eric Rodenhauser and about 35 other Arlington homeowners just west of Ballston see it, the question of how much a home is worth has taken on a whole new meaning.
If you're anywhere near the multimillion-dollar high-rise building boom going on in Arlington, the answer depends on issues such as whether you can get neighbors to agree to sell their lots as one large land package, whether you can get the County Board to go along with rezoning the land for high-rises and whether you can find a developer who's interested.
As Rodenhauser and some fellow homeowners in the Avon Park and Jordan Manor subdivisions just west of Ballston see it, their small house lots, assembled into one parcel of land, would be a great site for more Arlington skyscrapers.
Ever since 22 Arlington homeowners in the Courtlands neighborhood banded together in January to sell their property as a package to a Bethesda developer for an estimated $10 million -- more than twice the assessed value of the houses -- residents such as Rodenhauser have hoped for similar results.
But they say they're beginning to realize it may take years of negotiations with county officials and developers to realize their goal -- and, even then, it may not happen.
The first obstacle is that some of their neighbors in the Stonewall Jackson Civic Association area have a different view. They say, and the county government so far has agreed, that if the area is ever redeveloped, it would be most suitable for town houses.
"We all realize we're sitting on a potentially very valuable piece of property. Like everybody else, we want to capitalize on it," said Rodenhauser, who lives in the Avon Park subdivision where, so far, 10 of 29 homeowners have agreed to join in the land sale. "We're very interested in getting as much money out of this as possible."
"We've been organized for a long time," said Kathy Carey, who lives in the Jordan Manor subdivision where she said all 25 homeowners are united. "Everybody's ready to go."
It may be a long time before bulldozers raze any of the $100,000 homes that have stood for nearly half a century in the two tiny subdivisions off the north side of Wilson Boulevard between Glebe Road and N. Buchanan Street.
But Rodenhauser and others have begun planning for that day by persuading homeowners in the two subdivisions to combine their one-eighth-acre lots into one large land package. Collectively, they hope to assemble about five acres. The homeowners in Avon Park own lots contiguous with the would-be sellers in Jordan Manor.
In Avon Park and Jordan Manor, homeowners say they believe the county should rezone their land for high-rise, mixed-use development that would allow construction of office buildings, hotels or residences.
They point out their windows to the nine-story Chamber of Commerce building that abuts homes on N. Abingdon Street and to the cranes poised where the Oliver T. Carr Co. has just begun the multimillion-dollar Ballston Plaza mixed-use project.
"I have felt more and more unsettled watching as things go up all around us," said Mae Guill, who has lived with her husband, Charles, in their neat Cape Cod-style home on Abingdon for 30 years. "You'd be foolish if you think you're going to keep developers from coming in."
The signs of potential change, neighbors say, can be seen in the actions of speculators who have bought up houses that now stand as unkempt eyesores on their streets.
Because they have not made or received any serious overtures from developers, the homeowners do not know how much their land would fetch, but believe they could get between $35 and $40 a square foot if the land were rezoned for high-rises. With a lower-density town house designation, the land would be worth $20 to $25 a square foot, they say.
At about an average size of 5,700 square feet, the lots, under a high-rise zoning, would sell for about $200,000 versus $140,000 under a town house zoning.
About six years ago, the Jordan Manor subdivision sought and received a rezoning and other land-use changes for town houses. So far, no one has sold to a town house developer. "With all the growth and development around us, this little neighborhood has just sat here," said Carey, adding that a county board about 18 years ago indicated it would consider a high-rise zoning for the neighborhood.
Avon Park has not sought any rezoning, Rodenhauser said, and probably won't apply for one until after the neighbors form a legal corporation and begin talks with developers.
Gary Kirkbride, the county's planning chief, said recent boards have said they do not intend to give the neighborhood a high-rise designation. Unlike the Courtlands project, Kirkbride said, the two subdivisions have primarily low-rise commercial strips near them and have never been tapped for high-rises in the county's planning books.
Town houses, he said, would provide the buffer zone that county policy calls for between high-rise areas and single-family neighborhoods. If the area were allowed to go high-rise, Kirkbride said, there would eventually be one long commercial strip up Wilson Boulevard to George Mason Drive. Currently, Wilson Boulevard, west of Glebe Road, is largely residential.
"There has been a pretty conscientious decision not to allow that level of high-rise development down Wilson Boulevard," said Mary Margaret Whipple, the County Board's vice chairman. In the past, she said, boards have said "it was more appropriate to retain low-rise residential development in that area."
That is precisely what Phyllis Furnari, who lives across from the two subdivisions on N. Albemarle Street, wants. A member of the Stonewall Jackson Civic Association and the neighborhood conservation committee, she said she expects the rest of the area to fight any request for high-rise rezoning of the two subdivisions.
"Once you start that, you might as well forget about the rest of Wilson Boulevard," Furnari said. "The fear is there . . . that it will continue.
"I've lived here a number of years and watched the changes," Furnari said. "But I've also watched the county lose a lot of people. I don't think the county should turn everything into offices."
"We understand the concerns about a continuous strip of development," said Carey. "But we also think the county should be more amenable to mixed-use development."
Some of the would-be sellers say they believe the other neighbors should not interfere with their plans. "I want to say to the opponents , 'If you really think it's so awful that we want to do this, come on over and buy my house,' " said Carey.
But, Furnari counters, "Whatever happens down the street from you, positively does affect you."