Once tagged as the land that urban planners forgot, "destination" seems to be the new buzzword for developers with a hand in the Columbia Pike Corridor revitalization. Breaking from its existence as a pass-through to DC and back, developers are launching increasingly urban initiatives to attract offices and businesses to the corridor. And now in addition to the high-density mixed-use projects that are taking shape, planners in Arlington and Fairfax County are designing a streetcar that would run from Bailey's Crossroads (Skyline) in Falls Church, down Columbia Pike to the Pentagon City Metro.
"It's an initiative that’s been in works for quite some time, it's been approved and we are in the evolution and implementation of that right now. There is a desire to try to improve both the streetscape and transportation systems (see now the tie-in to Tennessee Williams?). We recognized that with revitalization and increased density there will be more people using the transportation systems," said Pamela Holcomb, Managing Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO), an organization formed in 1986 to resuscitate the ailing thoroughfare.
The "modified streetcar alternative" that was selected as the most appropriate model and that will now go forward is a tram-like trolley. Because Columbia Pike is so narrow, the trolley would run on either side of the street with inlaid rails that allow cars to coexist with the tracks. "This is not seen as a cutesy idea the way some places have done it. It is not for tourists, these modern light rails are intended for efficiency. This will attract businesses," Holcomb said.
It seems those working on the project imagine a more European-style tram reminiscent of Rome and Amsterdam, despite the slow speeds of those systems, that will run with traffic on either side of the street, a unique solution, at least in the DC area, to transportation challenges. Construction on the trolley is slated to begin in 2010 with delivery in 2014.
The trolley will arrive none too soon for developers tasked with integrating a new community with little sense of commonality and that, for its new found density, will stretch over three miles from end to end, but extend no more than one block deep in most places.
Tim Jasper, Project Manager for Columbia Village, said he has seen the benefits of streetcars and thinks the trolley will benefit the developments.
"I pushed for the Scottsdale trolley project too. I think the fact that we are not really on a Metro line here in Columbia Pike makes transportation a little more difficult, there are tons of buses. I think it would be a way cool idea; its kind of a different angle," said Jasper.
The Columbia Village project at Columbia Pike at S. Greenbrier, which developer Fairfield Residential LLC is working to re-name, will bring another mixed-use project to the strip. The site is the only one in Columbia Pike that allows heights over six stories and will, therefore climb to 10 stories (if you got it, flaunt it). The project will include over 234 residential units and approximately 7,500 s.f. of retail space with three levels of below-grade parking.
But other projects are also in the queue. "We are excited about the number of projects on line at Columbia Pike; it will really turn it into a destination (there's the buzzword) for people looking for apartments and retail in the area and make it a much more exciting place," said Margaret Smith Ford, Partner at Woodfield Investments', which is now building the Siena Park project at 2301 Columbia Pike. Designed by WDG Architects, Siena Park will eventually offer up 188 rental apartments, 32,000 s.f. of "neighborhood-serving" retail and restaurants, and 14,000 s.f. of office space. The $88 million project - replacing the old Safeway on the site - will also include three levels of underground parking.
By the time the trolley is finsihed, the Carbon Thompson and B.M. Smith Associates' Penrose Square will be completed as a mixed-use development and a stop on the trolley line. The developers have also donated a parcel of land in front of the development for a new town square for Columbia Pike; Arlington County is charged with its design.
Behind the green space will be a 57,000 Giant supermarket with 325 residential units above it that will be completed in 2011. Penrose Square will offer structured parking (325 retail and 400 residential spaces) and 40,000 s.f. of other retail space; vendors have not been chosen.
Andrew Gutowski, Senior Vice President of Carbon Thompson and Penrose Square project manager said the company strongly supports the trolley. "I've lived in Europe and have seen trolleys and trams and how they can help the community," he said.
He added that the trolley line and grocery store would have a mutual symbiotic relationship, the trolley bringing the store customers, and the store giving residents another reason to use the new form of transportation.
While the exact trolley brand has not been selected, Holcomb said the primary purpose is to more efficiently move people down the pike. Fear not, bus lovers, public buses will still be used during rush hour. As construction continues along the pike, the trolley team is in the process of environmental planning and engineering studies.
Also in the area is DSF Advisor's Halstead at Arlington, a 269-unit residential project with over 40,000 s.f. of retail and 450 spaces in an underground parking garage in the Southwest corner of Columbia Pike and South Walter Reed Drive. An example of a neighborhood-rebuilding project, the development will restore the facade of the Arlington Hardware building and will build a new location for the Arlington Free Clinic.