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Agreeing with some residents that county staff may have taken a ready-fire-aim approach to the topic, Arlington County Board members on March 23 deferred for a month a proposal to give the owners of the Pentagon Row development more flexibility in any future supermarket on the parcel.

“Everybody needs some reassurance,” said County Board member Libby Garvey, part of a unanimous vote to provide direction to County Manager Mark Schwartz and bring the matter back in April.

A site-plan amendment recommended by staff would allow the Rockville-based Federal Realty Investment Trust out of a 1998 agreement that required the mixed-use development to include a full-service grocery store of 40,000 to 70,000 square feet and a full-service drug store of 8,000 to 20,000 square feet.

Residents in the vicinity raised alarms about the prospect, and found a willing ear among some County Board members.

“The thing that worries us is that this full-service grocery store would be replaced by something that doesn’t meet the needs of the community,” board member Katie Cristol said.

(Cristol noted that, given how vague zoning rules for supermarkets were, a 7-Eleven could be enough to satisfy the new requirement proposed by staff.)

Located on a 15-acre parcel in Pentagon City, Pentagon Row has long included a Harris Teeter supermarket. And despite concerns of neighbors, it is unlikely to be going anywhere soon.

“Harris Teeter’s lease is a long-term lease, as most grocery-store leases are,” said Geoff Sharpe of Federal Realty Investment Trust.

How long? Sharpe declined to be specific, but gave some hints.

“They have quite a few more years left – more than five, more than 10,” he said, but acknowledged that Harris Teeter had some options to unilaterally abrogate the lease and leave.

Without future flexibility, any departure by Harris Teeter could lead to no replacement being found, and that could result in other tenants departing, Sharpe said.

Apparently County Board members did not see the controversy coming, as the measure was initially placed on the board’s March 20 “consent agenda” for non-controversial items. But with criticism bubbling up from residents of Crystal City, Aurora Highlands and surrounding communities, it was separated out for it own hearing.

At the meeting, most County Board members indicated they’d be willing to provide Federal Realty Investment Trust with some added flexibility. But board chairman Matt de Ferranti said he wasn’t necessarily an enthusiast.

“I’m not quite as far along on the road to adoption,” he said.

County Board members left the matter in the hands of County Manager Mark Schwartz to referee between staff and the property owner.

“We can work with this,” he said of the guidance provided, but added he hoped the measure wouldn’t be re-litigated from the starting gate in April. “I’d like the conversation next month not to be retreading the same earth,” Schwartz said.