Monday, June 13, 2011

Arlington To Deem Old Strip Malls "Essential"?

Reports the Arlington Sun Gazette:
County Board members in early July are expected to formally designate 23 properties where preservation efforts are “essential.” But how far the county government will be able to go, beyond moral support and persuasion, to keep those 23 intact remains to be seen. [...]

Eleven garden-apartment complexes - some since converted to condominiums - are ranked as “essential” for preservation: Arlington Village (built in 1939), Barcroft Apartments (1939-53), Buckingham Village (1937-53), Calvert Manor (1950), Courthouse Manor (1936-55), Fairlington (1943-45), Fillmore Gardens (1942-48), Lee Gardens/Woodbury Park (1949), Lee Gardens/Sheffield Court (1942) and Wakefield Manor (1943).

Two shopping centers, Arlington Village (1939) and Colonial Village (1937), also are on the list, along with commercial buildings that range from the Arlington Cinema ’n’ Drafthouse on Columbia Pike to the G.H. Rucker Building on Wilson Boulevard.
Every community should strive to identify and protect things that help define its identity and if an iconic building like the Cinema & Drafthouse ever disappeared, I think we can all agree something would be lost. And as the National Trust for Historic Preservation points out, in many cases the greenest building is the one that's already built.

But to pick on just one of the glaringly questionable listed properties ... Colonial Village Shopping Center? Really? Sure, its current tenants are cool, what with Ray's Hell Burger and one of Arlington's few remaining non-Starbucks coffee shops. But is it really "essential" to have an old strip mall with a large surface parking lot on a prime spot on Wilson Blvd. between Rosslyn & Courthouse?

If a developer wanted to put an apartment complex there so lots more people could live close to Metro, with new space for Ray's & the coffee shop at ground level, would Arlington be worse off for it? Or would that be an improvement on how the space is currently used? Is it in the community's best interests for the County Board to be trying to persuade developers to keep their hands off our essential strip mall & surface parking lot?


Anonymous said...

Going further out into Arlington County, vacant or partially vacant strip malls are not unusual.
So when a well-managed strip mall exists, giving independently owned companies a place to thrive in a walkable neighborhood, I wonder why we would want to challenge them.
This may not be the greenest BUILDING, but having this mall available for people to walk/bike to is great.
Introducing a developer to the scenario may not produce the same results. The strip mall may not be "essential," but it is good and worth protecting.

Rob Pitingolo said...

That strip mall has always seemed out of place to me. I was riding past last week and noticed that Greenberry's Coffee has changed into something else. I haven't been in there yet, so I can't comment on the business itself. Any time a business along that corridor fails or changes ownership or whatnot, I can't help but wonder what happened. Was it mismanaged? Did it get priced out? Or was it something else?

TheGreenMiles said...

Rob, I wonder if there's enough density in that immediate area for a coffee shop, never mind one off the street behind a parking lot, to thrive. I think we all assume the whole Wilson Blvd corridor is dense, but the County Board has severely restricted building height in that immediate area, and there are two whole blocks where there's nothing at all thanks to the Great Recession. I can see why destination places like Ray's would do well, but can also see why neighborhood corner stores might not.

NotJustMary said...

It's easy to gloss over and call COlonial Village Center "an old strip mall," but that would be misleading and betrays lack of understanding of the "essential" part. Arlington was the birthplace of the New Deal's progressive policies for housing for working people. Garden apartment complexes like Fairlington, Colonial Village,are among Arlington's most important historic resources. Because so much change has happened along arterial streets, examples of the early transit-oriented shopping clusters that served these 1930s-40s neighborhoods are rare. Colonial Village is one of the few. The County is a national leader in transit-oriented development, growth in density around Metro stations was an early commitment and it has paid off. Yet, the County's heritage, especially those parts of it that after careful analysis fall into the rarified "essential" category, should not be dismissed through misguided advice to replace it with pious transit-related development. One can and should have both -- to retain history and sense of place while developing sustainably.

eylngrl said...

I agree that it shouldn’t be torn down. Not everything needs to conform to our contemporary standards. Every building already looks alike. We need some places that a small business could start or maybe even thrive. They can't pay the expensive rent demanded by newer retail spaces. If "green" is an issue... then suggest using permeable pavement for the parking lot. I'm all for that to reduce runoff. But a reminder of the past in the face of all the high rises is just fine as well.