A proposal to build a 295-unit retirement home overlooking the Potomac River has angered numerous homeowners along a quiet residential street in North Arlington, while others are eyeing it as a future residence when they no longer are able to maintain their large houses.
The John G. Georgelas & Sons development company and George Boniface, a real estate broker and developer, are hoping to build the Fort Smith Crescent Retirement Residence on a 20-acre homestead along North 24th Street between Spout Run and the George Washington Parkway.
Many residents of the North 24th Street area contended at a two-day presentation on the proposal last weekend that it would destroy the single-family residential character of their neighborhood, and they have vowed to fight the development plans in court if necessary. Some of their older neighbors, however, said they may want to move to the facility someday.
The retirement home's proposed site is known as the Hendry Estate, and includes a large white 100-year-old home owned by Anne Pearce Hendry, widow of Dr. Ernest S. Hendry. Georgelas and Boniface, partners in the joint-venture project, paid more than $4 million for the land, according to a source familiar with the deal.
More than 400 Arlington residents showed up for portions of the presentation about the proposal, which was held under a tent near the Hendry home. The event was hosted by developers, who listened as homeowners complained that traffic generated by the project could endanger the lives of small children and could lower property values.
Tom Richardson, a project opponent and nearby resident, said "this is a particularly sensitive tract." He said the development would affect not only Arlington, "but all of the national capital area."
Another resident complained, "It is a perversion of a residential neighborhood" to bring in such a project.
Several mothers and fathers, all pushing babies in strollers, said they were worried about trucks that would be needed to provide services to the retirement facility by using North 24th Street. It is a narrow road accessible only by two streets leading to Lorcom Lane. In addition, residents said they did not want ambulances using their street regularly.
Tom Georgelas, an architect and the development company's spokesman, said the project would include one- and two-bedroom apartment units and would not be a nursing home. Boniface said that plans call for an infirmary with only 10 beds.
The Hendry homestead is graced by open fields, steep slopes, apple orchards, towering oaks, slightly overgrown gardens that include 35 species of rare trees, and a peace garden planted by the Hendry family to celebrate the end of World War II. As some of Hendry's neighbors listened to the developers talk about their retirement-home plans, she took others on tours of the grounds.
Georgelas said the plan for the retirement home would retain a 200-foot-wide buffer of trees and garden areas to separate the facility from North 24th Street. Plans also call for a major restoration of the Hendry house for use as a guest house and construction of a new home for Hendry on the site.
The developers showed the Hendry neighbors a plan under which about 38 single-family homes could be built under the existing R-20 zoning category. Georgelas said such homes would cost upwards of $400,000.
But that plan would leave little open space and few trees, in sharp contrast to the plan for the retirement home, which would leave much of the 20 acres undisturbed.
Boniface told neighbors the retirement home would be three stories tall on the North 24th Street side, with seven stories facing the parkway and the river. He said the building would be constructed into the sides of the steep slopes that drop off almost 50 feet immediately behind the Hendry house.
Several nearby residents told developers they preferred a cluster residential development to the retirement home. Although the developers said they were interested in such a proposal, they had not devised a model for a cluster plan. In a cluster development, units are built closer together to preserve open spaces, historic areas or environmentally sensitive terrain.
Hendry said she has been working on a plan that would allow her to develop the land and preserve as much of it as possible for several years. She said she would not be pleased if the land were developed with homes on half-acre lots, because too much of the vegetation would be destroyed.
"Too much of my husband is here for that," she said. He died in 1976.
Some residents told developers that they would fight to prevent construction of the home no matter what, but others said the plan has merit. William Logan, who lives near the corner of Lorcom Lane and Fillmore Street, said, "It sounds good to me. There will be a time when I will be tired of, and unable, to mow lawns. I think I'd like to live there."
Fred J. George, a resident of 37th Street, said the retirement home development is "far more appropriate for the site than the single-family project. It would bring in more revenue for the county."
Georgelas and Boniface have not yet filed an application to develop the property, according to their attorney, Martin Walsh. He said his clients would need a special-use permit from the Arlington County Board to build the retirement home. Developing a clustered, single-family project would require rezoning, he said.
The developers said the weekend presentations were aimed at learning the neighborhood's reaction to the project. In spite of some of the harsh criticism, they said they planned to proceed.
Meanwhile, the Parkway Citizens Association said it is gearing up to battle the proposal and make sure it has a say-so in whatever eventually is built on the site.
Donald Lucas, the association's president, said he would not favor one proposal over another. "All I am concerned about is that the citizens get the proper information," he said.
The association may call a special meeting this month, he said.