A skating rink, luxury apartments and yet more shopping opportunities soon will replace the empty lot next to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City.

A groundbreaking was held Tuesday for Pentagon Row, which developers Federal Realty and Post Properties describe as "a new vision for Main Street." The five-story, s-shaped development will include 300,000 feet square of street-level retail space with 500 mid-rise luxury apartments above it. A winter skating rink in the middle will become cafe seating and an arena for live music or even a farmers' market during the warmer months. Eventually, 650 apartments in two high-rise towers will join the mix.

"We think this is going to have a European feel to some extent," said Steve Guttman, president and CEO of Federal Realty, the developer of the commercial portion.

But nearby residents worry the project will have an all-too American feel of congestion and traffic, and they complain that more commercial space is precisely not what county officials promised to bring to the neighborhood.

"The county board and the county staff are not living up to the promises they made to the community," said Dick Herbst, president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, an adjacent neighborhood.

The project fulfills Arlington County Board members' wishes to have the county's more intensive development around its Metro stops because Pentagon Row will be easy walking distance to the Pentagon City Metro station. In addition, planning commissioners say the development is groundbreaking: People will live above stores, an old urban design that is rare today.

In order to keep the project from becoming another strip mall, the county and developer negotiated for months on a few conditions. All stores must have an entrance facing the neighborhood, as opposed to just one facing the parking lot. There are strict limits on the sizes of the stores, with only four larger than 25,000 square feet, and the development must house a grocery store and a drug store.

The grocery store will be Harris Teeter, the developer announced, and much of the parking for it will be hidden from street view within a curve of the building and in two underground parking levels. The other curve of the "s" will be open to the street and will house the skating rink.

"We think it's one of the most incredible pieces of dirt in the world," Guttman said, referring to the location.

More than 600,000 people live within a five-mile radius of the planned mall, and the average household income in that vicinity is more than $62,000, according to Federal Realty. The project is visible from Interstate 395 and near other main arteries, and the area already is a destination because of the Fashion Centre.

Residents in both Arlington Ridge and the adjacent Aurora Highlands neighborhood are nervous about making the area even more of a mecca, especially in light of a commitment by county officials a decade ago to bring far more residential and far less commercial development than they have.

"Our neighborhood wants to see these commercial ventures succeed, but not at the cost of the quality of life of the community," said Allan Schell, president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association. He likened the growing traffic problems to finding a rhinoceros in your back yard. "Everyone knows it's a problem and no one knows what to do about it," he said.

County Board Member Barbara A. Favola (D), who speaks highly of the development, said the decision to allow more commercial development in the neighborhood makes planning sense.

"We have some responsibility to maximize our return on the Metro," she said. "The fact of the matter is that the land is so expensive that the developers want to do some commercial uses on it."

Federal Realty and Post Properties are leasing the 18 acres from the H Street Building Corp. and the Cafritz Foundation. Guttman estimated that the project, minus the high-rise, will be completed by January 2001. There will be 10 restaurants, including some "well-known, District establishments," according to Federal Realty, and stores in the complex will include Bally's fitness center, Hudson Trail Outfitters and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The five-story apartments will be "luxury apartments," according to John B. Mears, executive vice president of Post Properties. Mears said the apartments, which will range in rent from $800 to $3,000, will have nine-foot ceilings and amenities such as an indoor pool, a rooftop terrace and high-speed Internet access.

The high-rise apartments, which will be built in the second phase of the project, will be developed by KSI Services Inc.

Staff writer Stephanie Stoughton contributed to this article.

CAPTION: A view of the north plaza of Pentagon Row, a mix of stores and luxury apartments under construction at Pentagon City.