Arlington County will be able to save affordable housing along Columbia Pike, but it will take a partnerships, planning and creative financing.

That is what a panel of local and national experts told Columbia Pike developers, residents and planners in a forum Monday night.

A community needs to plan "to make a rich and more fulfilling life for people all along the corridor," said Shelley Poticha, a senior adviser for sustainable communities with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Begin with a strong understanding of assets, what you want to preserve. . . . That sets the course for what kind of tools you want to use," Poticha said.

Plans should include guidelines on how to develop public spaces, maintain affordable amenities and create a diverse mix of design and income, the experts said.

Since 1998, the county has been working on a series of such plans as part of the Columbia Pike Initiative. They community has drawn up plans for building design guidelines, streetscapes and a streetcar system.

The county is working to expand upon the 2005 housing and land-use plan to include communities surrounding the commercial areas on Columbia Pike.

The initiative has been "an attempt to do planning from the bottom up" that revitalizes what is a one-story strip mall development without displacing residents and diversity in the surrounding neighborhoods, which creates "the character of the place," said Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D).

The forum gave the county the opportunity to learn from other areas' mistakes and successes, he said.

For example, a variety of tax credits and partnerships helped to preserve affordable housing near transit in Seattle, said Adrienne E. Quinn, a vice president at Enterprise Community Partners. A group with multiple investors is working to preserve affordable housing in Denver, said Aaron Miripol, executive director of the Urban Land Conservancy.

Those are tools that the county could use as it continues to explore various scenarios along the corridor, said Jennifer Smith, the Columbia Pike Initiative coordinator. Planners and consultants have been analyzing how much property can be preserved for affordable housing, how to include bike and pedestrian access and other ways to incorporate the project's goals into the land's use, said David Cristeal, the county's housing development supervisor.

As the planning team comes up with design options, they will be analyzed to determine construction costs and other factors to understand how cost-effective and truly affordable the projects will be, Cristeal said.

"We already have a substantial toolbox," Smith said. "I think we are trying to build additional tools in our toolbox so we won't have to recalibrate our goals" for the project.

She said the forum gave the residents and officials ideas about what options are available to facilitate the project and preserve the area's diversity.

A meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night, after press time, to discuss some of the analysis with the community, including problem scenarios, such as building placement on the street, financial resources to maintain affordability and parking, Smith said.

Larger, interactive meetings between residents, business owners, designers and planners are scheduled for June. A week's worth of sessions will feed into the development concepts for the study area, Smith said.