- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

The Arlington County Planning Commission tonight is expected to recommend approval of a new set of rules designed to help spark and shape development along Columbia Pike.
Planners said they will favor adopting the "form-based code," a set of planning rules that dictate the size and design of buildings and streetscapes. The goal of the rules is to give potential developers a clear idea of what residents are seeking.
Already, one developer, Capstone Properties, has submitted plans for a 17-unit townhouse and office complex on Columbia Pike, using the new rules as a guide. Several other developers are poised to submit plans once the rules are approved, county officials said.
Residents and county staff members created the rules over the past several months following a series of intense design sessions with architects and dozens of meetings with neighborhood associations.
Though the Planning Commission said it was leaning toward recommending the Arlington County Board approve the code, tonight's meeting could be contentious, they said. The county board will vote on the code Feb 22.
Several aspects of the new rules remain unresolved, including the width of streets on Columbia Pike's west end and new parking arrangements. Some planners have indicated they wanted more information on the county's commitment to a new transportation plan, which would include either streetcars or rapid buses.
"The big issue is the transportation and parking component," said Planning Commission Chairman Ted Saks. "There are still a bunch of things that are up in the air. Are these questions something we can just check on and say, 'We will move ahead'? I don't know the answer to that. We will find out [tonight]."
Arlington County residents will have a chance to try out one of the buses that could be part of the new transit system today. The bus, which sits low to the ground and has a price tag of about $1 million, will be on display at the Adams Square shopping center on Columbia Pike.
Some residents have expressed concern that new development would come at the expense of affordable housing. In a sign that the county is listening, the Arlington County Board of Supervisors approved a plan Saturday to redevelop the Columbia Heights complex, located along Columbia Pike in the county's west end, to include affordable housing.
Supervisors agreed to preserve five apartment buildings while also approving construction of a four-story condominium building. Of the 205 units in the entire complex, 119 will be affordable to families making less than 60 percent of the area median income.
The development will be renamed Monroe Apartments in honor of Charles Monroe, the former Arlington County Board chairman who died unexpectedly last month during a board meeting. Mr. Monroe had been personally involved with the planning.
Two apartment buildings will be demolished to make room for the condominium building, which will house 96 units.
In addition, some two-bedroom apartments will be expanded to three bedrooms.
Affordable housing is "always raised as a concern," at public meetings, Mr. Saks said. "Consistently. It's always one of the top priorities."
Officials earmarked the dilapidated Columbia Heights complex for redevelopment because residents complained it was unsafe and an eyesore.
Community members were concerned that a developer would decide to purchase the property and demolish it, eliminating a significant portion of the county's affordable housing units.

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