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Sparking Interest

County plans aim to bring new development to Nauck neighborhood.

For years, the tide of development has swept over Arlington heighborhoods. Home values around the county have risen steadily, and high-rise apartments have risen up along the Metro rail lines running through the county.

But for years, that rising tide has not lifted the hopes of Nauck neighbors. "Your money goes farthest there," said Darnell Carpenter. "It’s more expensive to do anything everywhere else in Arlington."

That’s because there’s no shortage of houses or land in the South Arlington neighborhoods, historically a home to the county’s African-American population. "We’ve got a fair amount of vacant land in the community," said Christian Dorsey.

County Board members had that land in mind on July 10, when they voted to approve a Nauck revitalization initiative centered on a new Village Center Action Plan. As part of that plan, properties in Nauck running along Shirlington Road could be renovated or redeveloped without seeing taxes increase for up to 23 years.

In addition, the county approved a "Town Center" for the intersection of Shirlington and 24 th Road South, an area that would be a focus of business development, and a gateway to the neighborhood at the intersection of Shirlington and Glebe Road. Along with the plans for Nauck, Board members also approved $1.5 million from the county’s Commercial Revitalization Program, which will pay for some land to build the Town Center, along with street and sidewalk improvements around Nauck.

Incentives for new development in Nauck could lead to a lively mix of homes and businesses in the neighborhood, said County Board member Paul Ferguson. "I’d like to see more neighborhood-based retail," he said, and small businesses. It would be nice if Nauck attracts more "mixed-use" projects, Ferguson said, putting apartments or townhouses, ground-floor shops and small business space "in one area, without driving, whether you live, work or are coming to shop there."

"Clearly, this is not going to happen tomorrow," said Dorsey. "But in a relatively short term, in the next five years."

ATTENTION TO the neighborhood is already paying off, said James Brown, lead planner on the Nauck revitalization initiative. "There are a number of projects looking to take advantage of what was passed," he said.

Two sets of plans filed last week by Arlington developers could take advantage of tax exemptions under the Nauck plans: a project combining 6,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, parking and 12 townhouse units, facing on Shirlington Road; and a two-phase project combining ground-floor commercial and retail space with apartments above.

"We want to give them some hsouing options," said Dorsey, who is heading the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation, developer of the two-phase apartment and commercial project proposed for Nauck. "This will give people in Nauck some places to walk to … and it will make Nauck a little bit of a destination."

OVER THE LAST two years, county planners have turned their attentions to aging Arlington neighborhoods along Columbia Pike and around the Clarendon Metro station.

Both of those efforts have focused on charettes, community forums and open houses designed to collect neighbors’ desires for the Pike or Clarendon that are then used to synthesize building guidelines.

But a charette was not necessarily the right answer for Nauck, said Brown. "This is a much more compact, and smaller area" than the Pike, he said. "This is a small and cohesive area." Neighbors were already starting to focus on how to renew the area, and that gave county planners an idea of what the community wanted to see.

Pike redevelopment plans centered on form-based code, voluntary building guidelines designed to give developers stricter design parameters in exchange for faster government approval.

But speedy approval is not the draw in Nauck, said Brown. Instead, revitalization plans for the neighborhood focus on tax exemptions for new projects. County Board members approved an eight-year tax exempt Special Revitalization District for Nauck, with tax assessments in the area increasing due to inflation, but not from improvements or new construction on the land.

"You could build up to a $10 million project on the lot," said Brown, and it would not be subject to increased assessments.

Projects adding affordable housing to Nauck (housing available to families of four making less than $54,000 a year) could also be eligible for 15 years of tax exempt status.

"YOU CAN GET up to 23 years tax exempt," said Dorsey. He said such incentives make development more attractive. "Usually, you buy land at increased prices, and you can’t make it affordable," he said.

County Board members hope that will serve to attract development, said Ferguson, but they want to see a mix of businesses and homes in what has long been a mostly residential neighborhood.

"We laid out a vision of what we’d like to see, and if you’re able to meet that vision, working through the community, it should be well received by the County Board," said Ferguson.

That could help Nauck keep its character even as new buildings rise there. Right now, Dorsey said, "seniors in Nauck, living in the houses where they raised their families, if they want to downsize — they’ve got to leave Nauck."

New development could help them stay in Nauck-area apartments, and it could also keep some of their children. "Younger professionals, who grow up in Nauck households, don’t see homes in the community," said Dorsey. "They may move to Prince George’s County, or to Springfield, but we want to give them some housing options at home."

NEW BUILDINGS COULD also give Nauck neighbors a chance to attract businesses to their community like they had seen flocking to Courthouse, Clarendon and Ballston, said Dorsey. "Typically, the planning Arlington is known for takes place along Metro corridors," he said.

But not all developers are as excited about the program. "We remain optimistic, and we’re hoping to spur some kind of revitalization down along [Shirlington]," said Carpenter, head of the Capitol Development Corporation. But "the jury is still out," he added.

Carpenter’s company is working toward final approval of a 150-unit residential and commercial building along Shirlington Road, a project that was already in the planning process before the Nauck revitalization initiative was approved by the county.

Any development in Nauck is a high-wire act, Carpenter said. It must add new businesses and homes to the neighborhood without driving out long-time residents, or driving up prices too much. At the same time, Nauck can’t be too much of a burden to for-profit businesses.

"People have located there because it’s cheap," said Carpenter. "Now we’ve got to find out how we can help them achieve … extra profit. They don’t want to spend money to renovate and upgrade without a strong market."