Martin D. “Art ” Walsh, who helped reshape Arlington’s skyline as co-founder of one of Northern Virginia’s most prominent land use law firms, died June 6 at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va. He was 78 and a resident of McLean, Va.
As a zoning lawyer in the area for almost 50 years, Mr. Walsh was a driving force behind many projects that transformed Washington’s Virginia suburbs from a sleepy crossroads to a sprawling commercial hub. There’s “nary a spadeful of dirt dug for a major development in Arlington that doesn’t have Art Walsh’s imprint on it,” The Washington Post wrote in 1982.
As a land development and zoning specialist, he handled cases across Crystal City and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, all hallmarks of North Virginia’s meteoric and at times criticized emphasis on urban growth.
Amid the rapid changes, Mr. Walsh was known for his ability to broker agreements between Arlington residents and his clients, which included major companies such as Marriott, Mobil Oil Corp., Gannett newspapers and developers Charles E. Smith Co. and Oliver T. Carr Co.
“Those guys don’t play dirty, and they know their facts,” former Arlington County planning commissioner Kathy Freshly told The Post in 1982 regarding Mr. Walsh and his mentor Barnes Lawson. “I would hate to be on the opposite side of them on an issue that’s really big for me.”
“They have a way of working the audience,” Freshly continued. “And Art has a tremendous sense of humor, one of those disarming ‘I’m-just-a-simple-country-lawyer’ things like [folksy senator from North Carolina] Sam Ervin used to say. But throughout the questioning, he’s always right on target.”
In 1983, Mr. Walsh, Thomas Colucci, Nicholas Malinchak and Jerry Emrich founded the firm today known as Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley and Walsh, which employs nearly 40 lawyers across offices in Northern Virginia.
In his latter years at the firm, Mr. Walsh worked on condemnation cases for the Metro system’s ever-expanding Silver Line and was instrumental in crafting the 2010 comprehensive development plan for Tysons Corner.
Mr. Walsh (who used the middle name Denis after confirmation) was born in Alexandria, Va., on April 27, 1944, and grew up in Arlington. His father was a paper salesman, and his mother was a teacher before raising six children.
He graduated in 1962 from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington and in 1966 from the College of William & Mary. He then served in the Army for two years, stationed in West Germany, and received the Army Commendation Medal. He retired from the reserve in 1976 at the rank of first lieutenant.
For more than 20 years, he organized an annual golf outing to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of his younger brother John, a type 1 diabetic who died of related complications in 2000. The event has raised more than $1.5 million for the foundation.
His marriage to Leslie Ada Hoffmann ended in divorce. In 2006, he married Nan Giancola, a partner at Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley and Walsh. In addition to his wife, of McLean, and his twin brother, survivors include two children from his marriage to Hoffmann, Ada-Marie Aman of Richmond and Sarah-Nell Walsh of Atlanta; two stepchildren; three sisters; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Walsh refused to speak of his work in terms of net wins and losses.
“We’ve lost cases, just like anybody has,” he told The Post. “I think that nothing is ever an absolute, total victory because there’s also a dialogue involving citizens, a process where you are constantly making compromises, negotiating and trying to come up with something that may not accomplish everything you want to accomplish, but it accomplishes your major objectives and gives people who raised objections some consideration.”