The Arlington County Board last week approved two adjacent projects along Columbia Pike that will add a grocery store and nearly 500 apartments to the south Arlington corridor.
Neighbors and county officials lauded the acceptance of the projects at the Oct. 24 board meeting as a major milestone, and expressed hope that they will serve as a catalyst for the transformation of Columbia Pike.
"This is so central to everything we are trying to achieve on Columbia Pike," County Manager Ron Carlee said. "This will set the tone for the future."
The first project will reconfigure the Adams Square Shopping Center, located between Cleveland and Adams streets, bringing 300 apartments, retail space and a 61,500 square-foot Giant— the largest grocery store in the county.
The County Board first rejected the project in July because it would have required changes to Columbia Pike's form-based code.
The code is a set of rules the community agreed upon that focuses on the appearance of a building rather than the use and allows for expedited development in the area. The developers then resubmitted their proposal through the normal site plan process.
Over the past decade several grocery stores on the Pike have closed, including a Safeway next door to Adams Square, and residents say that the current supermarket can no longer serve the needs of the surrounding community.
Many who live within walking distance to the Giant travel by car to Bailey's Crossroads to patronize larger supermarkets that also house banking services and other amenities.
"It goes a long way to ensuring we have places to eat and shops to keep us on the Pike instead of going elsewhere in the county,” said Lander Allin, a community activist who has been instrumental in shaping the future of the Pike.
BOARD MEMBERS BELIEVE that a rebuilt Adams Square will attract high-quality retailers and help rejuvenate the neighborhood.
"This will set the character for redevelopment on the Pike," said County Board member Barbara Favola. "It will create a sense of place — a main street feel."
As part of the deal, the developers will provide half of the land the county needs, and $100,000, to build a public square on the site, the first of three planned open spaces along the Pike.
Though residents attending the meeting said they were pleased to have a full-service grocery store in their neighborhood, some cautioned that having so many apartments abutting a residential neighborhood could cause problems.
"I'm not sure this solution should set the tone for the rest of the Pike," said Allie Merica. "We can't afford encroachment into single family neighborhoods.”
The County Board also approved a neighboring project on the former site of the Safeway, which will include 188 rental apartments, 32,000 square-feet of retail space and office units. The building was originally going to be comprised of condo units, but the changing nature of the market made the developers hold off on the project for a while and ultimately switch to rentals.
THE COUNTY FIRST BEGAN to craft a plan to transform Columbia Pike in 2002, seeking to create a more lively corridor with a plethora of shops and restaurants residents could walk to. With resident participation it drew up the innovative Form Based Code to simplify the development process.
Some residents along the Pike have been dismayed by the slow pace of development. Prior to last week's County Board meeting, only two other major projects had been approved.
But neighbors and officials said that these two new projects bode well for the future of the corridor and will encourage other developers to pursue ventures on the Pike."
"It's quite possible we may look back on this and say this was a turning point for Columbia Pike; a time when things we have been dreaming about actually started to emerge." said County Board Chair Chris Zimmerman.