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Pike Planning Pays Off

Two years after charette process, development is coming to Columbia Pike, and neighbors look for way to keep history alive on South Arlington’s changing Main Street

Columbia Pike’s past and future met, briefly, on a County Board agenda last week, as Board members looked at a plan to mark some history made along South Arlington’s Main Street and were set to finalize a vision for future development along the Pike.

At their Saturday, Feb. 7, meeting, Board members approved three updated Neighborhood Conservation Plans, including an update, after 37 years, for the Penrose neighborhood just north of the Pike. On the same meeting’s agenda was the master transportation plan for Columbia Pike, the final piece in the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan, and Board members approved it at a Feb. 10 recess meeting.

“That was kind of the final step in the planning process,” said Tim Lynch, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

“The Pike’s going to become less future tense and more present tense,” said Chris Zimmerman, County Board member and resident of a Pike-area neighborhood.

Some changes are imminent, and others are more vaguely defined right now, said Lynch. A townhouse development at the east end of the Pike is finalizing plans before beginning construction. Further west, on the southwest corner of the intersection of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive, a mixed-use project, incorporating existing storefronts with new construction, will include space for the Arlington Free Clinic, street-level shops, possibly a restaurant.

“There are a bunch of things simmering that will emerge as well,” said Zimmerman.

<b>AT THE SAME TIME,</b> Janet Dorn and her neighbors are trying to bring the past tense into the present. “We’re not just preserving history, but we want to make sure people inside the neighborhood, and out, are aware of it,” said Dorn, former co-president of the Penrose Neighborhood Association and editor of the neighborhood’s conservation plan. Penrose stretches from the Pike north to Route 50, between Washington Boulevard and Walter Reed Drive.

In the plan, Dorn and her neighbors make 63 recommendations to improve the neighborhood. Many are standard fare in neighborhood conservation plans: expand sidewalks, or add yield and stop signs to neighborhood streets.

But Penrose’s first five recommendations urge the County to create historic markers and ultimately a community museum to commemorate neighborhood history. Some of that history took residents by surprise, said Dorn. “We all live here, and when we figured it out, we were like, ‘Gee, we didn’t know.’”

The conservation plan also suggests a public art display centered on some of Penrose’s history, possibly centering on the trolley line that once ran through the area, or the radio towers located on the site of the current AT&T offices.

“We’re a really old neighborhood,” said Dorn. “We want more markers, and hopefully if we can do a public history showcase, people driving down the Pike will see that.”

<b>MOST PLANNERS AND</b> residents don’t see any problems with the Pike’s past and future rubbing elbows. “I wouldn’t say we’re in any way against Columbia Pike’s redevelopment,” said Dorn. “Our goal within that is that we get our spot. We’re trying carefully to put our mark on it as well.”

“People have consistently said, there’s a lot about the Pike we love,” said Zimmerman. “We want to conserve that while making changes.”

For his part, Lynch thinks the development will lead into the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Pike. “In terms of heavier construction, it is going to be right along Columbia Pike. As development starts to move toward the neighborhoods, it becomes smaller scale.”

<b>BUT JOHN ANTONELLI,</b> vice-president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association along the Pike, fears that Pike neighbors may have given up their leverage with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Initiative. Spearheaded by CPRO, the initiative led residents through a “charette” process, offering their input on what kind of development they want to see along the Pike.

Based on that input, advisors and county staff devised a form-based code, setting limits on what kinds of buildings and businesses could be located along the Pike. Developers can submit plans to build along the Pike, adhering to the form-based code, while subject to a shorter than usual approval process.

Lynch and Zimmerman point to the planned developments for the Pike as evidence that such a code is working, drawing developers to a neglected byway in South Arlington. Antonelli agreed, to a point.

<b>THERE ARE RUMORS</b> that the Adams Square shopping center, including both Giant and Safeway grocery stores, will be renovated under the form-based code. But Antonelli fears that could mean both grocery stores would close at the same time, and the county may not have the leverage to keep one open.

“A lot of what the community gave up was the opportunity for negotiations,” he said. “On the other hand, we get stuff built. If we stay the same, we fall behind.”

Still, Antonelli said, when the planned development along the Pike is built, it may come as a wake-up call to current residents.

“When all is said and done, I think a lot of people will think this is way too dense,” he said. “On the other hand is the economics, and that’s the way it’s going to get built.”

In Penrose, the process is a little nerve-wracking, said Janet Dorn. “There’s some anxiety about what will happen.”