Fifty-two Arlington homeowners have banded together to sell their properties as one development package to take advantage of the inevitability of high-rise redevelopment in thier area near the courthouse Metro stop.
The move could double the value of their half-century-old wood frame houses and quarter-acre lots in the Courtlands neighborhood from the assessed value of about $120,000, real estate experts estimate.
"We decided we were not going to just sit here and get picked off one at a time by speculators," said Thomas Clary, president of Courtlands Civic Association. Sale of the properties to a Hyattsville condominium developer could come as early as next week, he said.
"My interest is in getting a good price; I have dollar signs in my eyes," said James B. Waldo, who has lived in the area at 1305 N, Adams St. for 10 years. "Why should I sell it to someone else and let them make a huge profit?"
The plan started about a year ago, when Clary and his neighbors got together, hired a lawyer, Hugh C. Cregger, and asked the county to allow 16-story residential buildings in their neighborhood, which would greatly increase the value of the homes in the area.
Last month, the County Board changed the land use plan to permit that development. The land must still be formally rezoned for construction to begin, but Clary said he expects the change to be approved.
The Courtlands community is adjacent to the site of a proposal $100 million courthouse civic plaza that will include retail shops and high-rise office and commercial buildings.
The 52 homeowners involved in the packaging plan live in a three-block section of the Courtlands area bounded by Fairfax Drive, North Veitch, North Barton and North 14th streets.
"You might call this an assemblage of trust," said John L. Melnick, a former state legislator who was born and grew up on North Adams Street and who conceived the idea for the pooling of properties. "Most of the people there are old neihbors and old friends.
"The handwriting was on the wall; something was going to happen over there," continued Melnick, a lawyer who now lives elsewhere in the county but whose mother still lives in the family house. "A lot of people didn't want to live in a house looking into the side of big buildings. So they decided, well, maybe if we all work together and try to hold out and work up a package, then it would be a real monument to Arlington rather than a hodge-podge like Rosslyn or Crystal City."
"It's the first time I've ever heard of a civic association coming in and asking for an upgrading" in density.
While the 52 are united, Clary said four other homeowners in the area are holding out. Neither Melnick nor Clary will identify them, but both said the four properties are on the edge of the proposed land package and "could be worked around" by a developer.
"Some think their property could be worth a lot more later on," Melnick said of the hold-outs. "But if they see one developer has bought up all the area around them, what are they going to wait for?"
Four developers have approached the homeowners about buying the package, but the only negotiations now are with Herschel Blumberg of Prince George's Center Inc. in Hyattsville, said Clary. Blumberg will probably build high-rise condominiums, he added.
Blumberg could not be reached yesterday and both Melnick and Clary have declined to reveal the owners' asking price.
"We're talking about signing contracts next week for the sale of their houses," Melnick said. "It would be a contract they've worked out themselves. . . . Then it would be up to each individual landowner on what to do. . . . The contract would allow them to live in their homes until actual development began."
Some developers, such as C. Daniel Clemente who has built extensively in Arlington, caution that development may be a long time off, given today's economy. Some developers are forfeiting their down payments on potential projects because financing costs are too high, Clemente said.
But Arlington real estate appraiser Paul V. Cali said: "One reason Arlington has had trouble with development is the difficulty in putting together parcels of property attractive to developers. Some of them look at all the separate parcels involved and walk away. . . .
"But for areas which are obvious redevelopment candidates, like Metro stations, if there is a community association of any type then can do themselves a favor.
"Developers simply don't want to take the time and risk to go through that process. It would be a very prudent move on the part of homeowners and, uncharacteristic as it is, one which would benefit the community as a large." CAPTION: Picture, Cooperating residents of Courtlands may double the value of their $120,000 homes. By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post; Map, no caption; The Washington Post