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North Tract Gets New Plot

Land swap brings county seven acres.

<bt>The county's plans to create a new recreations center on the North Tract, a swath of abandoned industrial land north of Crystal City, came one step closer to reality Tuesday. In a land swap with development company Monument Realty, county planners got seven additional acres for the project.

“Arlington and the North Tract will gain a highly visible gateway with spectacular views into the District and the resources to develop this signature recreational facility inside the Beltway," said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette during a press conference at the project site. "Most importantly, we have preserved these valuable views for future generations.”

The exchange gave Monument Realty a five-acre plot of land on the North end of the tract, where several abandoned warehouses and the Clark Street Theater now stand. Monument said it plans to develop its new site. The county got $25 million for the project as part of the deal, along with a seven-acre site that was once the Twin Bridges Marriot Hotel. The deal is the result of a two-year negotiation.

"We'll be looking at whether this will change the timetable for construction," said Eric Beach, North Tract Project Planner. "It's possible that this may push us back. It's still too early to say."

The new land, Beach said, is slated to become the home of the project's aquatics component. Original plans called for aquatics and sports to be housed in the same building. County planners, Beach said, are still evaluating the new acreage for environmental contamination.

"We'll be looking at land records to determine its prior uses," said Beach. "We know there was a gas station there at one point and that the site underwent an environmental cleanup by the station's owner when he left."

According to a 2001 National Planning Commission study, the land Arlington acquired in the deal is perfect for a public facility because it has such a sweeping view of Washington, D.C., and easy access to Interstate 395. The county's plan to develop the North Tract was put into motion in 2004 after voters passed a bond granting the project $50 million of its estimated $90 million total cost. The project brought some controversy to the County Board in May after the price tag for its final design exceeded the $5 million set aside for design costs. But the project is pushing ahead regardless. Private funding, like the $25 million included in the land deal, and partnerships are expected to close the funding gap, according to county statements.

"The agreements announced here today are major steps toward realizing our vision and transforming a dingy industrial strip into a world-class community open space and recreation source," said Tobin Smith, chairman of the North Tract Task Force.

CONSTRUCTION ON THE North Tract facility, according to Smith, is planned to take place in two phases. The first includes building the aquatics complex — complete with a 50-meter swimming pool, a deep-water diving pool, a recreational pool and a warm-water pool that can also be used for physical therapy — and a series of synthetic grass sports fields. During phase two, the county plans to acquire an adjacent strip of land for tennis and basketball courts, a running track and a playground. A pedestrian footbridge will also link the complex to the Roaches Run waterfowl sanctuary.

Prior to coming under county ownership, the North Tract has been used for several different businesses, according to Beach. Before the creation of the George Washington Parkway, he said, the site was under the waters of the Potomac River. It was created by construction crews using filler to create a land mass. It was once the site of a scrap metal yard, and before that it was home to a cement yard. It has also been used as a nursery for a landscaping company and as a yard that stored towed cars.