Growing Metro service, despite the problems of temperamental farecards, balky cars and some near-station shortages of long-term auto parking, is expected to increasingly stimulate area real estate development in the 1980s.
"It simply boils down to those three age-old fundamentals of realty development: location, location and location," commented Henry Cord, chief real estate officer of the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
For instance, Cord and private realty professionals are aware of the increased pace of light industrial development near the end of the Orange Line station at New Carrollton, the upturn in residential values near three stations on Capitol Hill and greater-than-ever interest in downtown locations such as Farragut and McPherson squares.
There is also evidence that condo conversion sales at the Grosvenor Square apartment complex in upper Bethesda did not suffer by the fact that a Metro station (maybe two years away from actual service) was visible across Rockville Pike. There also is condo conversion activity at Van Ness in upper Northwest, where a new Metro station is scheduled to be opened before many more months.
Cord added that he feels confident that downtown Silver Spring, where a major station has been operating viably for more than a year, will undergo a major renaissance within the next five years. "It's not just the Metro service but the increasing impact of the high cost of gasoline and the public interest in driving less, walking more and using public transportation," added Cord.
Still another evidence of Metro's catalytic effect on real estate and living patterns is seen at the Ballston station, currently the end of the Orange line in Arlington. Four groups totalling 111 town house and variations thereof are under way or ready to be started within a few blocks of the Ballston station. Prices are in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. That's high for an area that has been dominated by older, small houses whose selling values have doubled in the past five years due to the influence of realty investors looking toward redevelopment.
Meanwhile, the Arlington County Board has recognized the impact of Metro serving the area bounded by George Mason Drive, Quincy and Fourth streets and Washington Blvd. And Fairfax Drive, an emerging, central thoroughfare on which the Ballston Metro station is located, also will provide a connection to Rte. 66, about a mile west of the Ballston station.
Elected county officials and professional members of the planning staff are making plans to accept increasing, higher-density, multiuse real estate development that is balanced. The premise is to avoid the possibility of the Ballston area becoming another Rosslyn.
In mid-March the Arlington County Board is scheduled to consider adoption of a coordinated mixed-use plan that would provide higher density in the Ballston area but also assure that creation of new office buildings and commercial spaces would be balanced by more residential construction to keep the area alive after dark. The feeling is that Rosslyn development has been overly heavy on new office buildings and light on residential redevelopment.
Susan Flanigan, a planner on the Arlington County staff, said that the idea is to taper development away from the Ballston Metro station and Fairfax Drive to lower-rise, lower-density residential development. She acknowledged that parking is now scant near the Ballston station but that temporary incentives are being considered to increase parking and to require more as commercial development increases.
A preview of the new residential look for the Ballston area can be seen at Olde Ballston Square, a 20-unit town house development being built by Ray Sims at N. Stafford and 11th Streets. The site is only a few walking blocks from the Metro station. Designed by Barkley, Pierce and O'Malley (a firm that designed Falls Church town houses for Sims), the units range from 830 to 1,668 square feet and average $87 a square foot. Carousel Realty Co. said that there are reservations on four units. Occupancy is scheduled in late spring and summer.
Diagonally across from the Olde Ballston Square site, Aries Development Co. has cleared a nearly full block (two owners of small houses were holdouts) for its 48 Randolph Square residences that are priced from $145,000.Designed by Lewis-Wisniewski of Alexandria, these units are built in three-story town house modules, with the middle floor of each being split half-and-half by the owners of the upper and lower units.
"The essentially traditional row houses are designed so that the outer street-side-entrance units will have a master bedroom on the second floor and that the inside-courtyard units will have an entrance and living area on a mid-floor and bedrooms on the top floor. In both cases, residents will be able to walk upstairs to go to bed.That's important to a number of people," said sales agent Arline Covey, who has six 10 percent deposits while working in a construction trailer on the site.
Aries, incidentally, was the developer of Tower Villas -- a nearby highrise condo that was "ahead of its time" in 1973-74. But Covey said that Tower Villas' 250 units were sold out in 18 months at $43 a square foot.
"Attorney-developers Daniel Clemente and Charles Taylor (who head Aries) were aware of the coming of Metro. Now those units at 3800 Fairfax Drive are reselling at more than double the original price," she said. "One of the reasons is real estate appreciation but the other is the current recognition of the importance of having that Metro stop in Ballston." c
In addition, other builders and developers have Ballston Common and Olde Ballston Towne residences under way within a three block area. The sites are near the big Washington-Lee High School complex, small existing houses (some of which have been bought by investors willing to pay $12 to $15 a square foot for the land under the houses) and a fairly large rental apartment building.
Besides new office buildings and the George Mason University law school (in a conversion of a former Kann's store building), the area also includes the Parkington Shopping Center for which the owner, May Co., reportedly is considering a major rejuvenation.
With Ballston Central Methodist Church already there (across from the Metro station) as an historical anchor site recalling electric rail service decades ago, the ongoing redevelopment of the Ballston area is expected to produce brick sidewalks, more affluent owner-residents, boulevard-type street lights and increased economic viability.
Sam McMichael, owner of the Company Inkwell (fancy French) restaurant nearby on busy Wilson Boulevard, said that he has seen the area turn around in the 10 years since he opened the Inkwell.