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It once was a centerpiece of Arlington mixed-used-development planning. But just like a trickle of rain can, if it goes on long enough, create the Grand Canyon, the little-by-little exodus of ground-floor-retail spaces continues.

Next up: County Board members on April 18 are slated to act on a request to eliminate the requirement that 6,200 square feet of office space in the Park Place building on Fort Myer Drive be dedicated to ground-floor retail. If approved, the space will be converted to a fitness center for tenants, plus conference rooms and indoor/outdoor seating areas.

The building made its debut in the early 1980s, but spaces for retail on the ground floor were never winners, county staff said in a report to board members. Nearly 15 years ago, County Board members approved the conversion of about 3,400 square feet on another side of the building for offices.

For many years, county officials were insistent that retail be placed in office and residential buildings in certain areas. The problem – as developers apparently knew but county leaders seemed to miss – is that retail spaces are dependent on visibility and foot traffic, which each can vary widely even within the same building.

(At one business-organization meeting years back, developers simply shrugged their shoulders, saying they often penciled in “zero” for the expected revenue for those spaces in their financial plan and operational budgets.)

As a result, recent years have brought, if not a flood, at least a decent trickle of county leaders allowing such spaces to be converted to a number of uses.

Sometimes, however, such spaces have enough viability that those nearby come to rely on them.

Such is the case with the Courtland Towers residential building on North Veitch Street, where a proposal to convert a convenience store into four new residential units has drawn criticism from those who live in the vicinity as well as the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association.

Opponents of the change say the store is a lifeline for some residents, including elderly residents with mobility issues. But county staff has recommended allowing the conversion.

Oddly, given that county staff have identified community opposition, the proposed Courtland Towers change is on the County Board’s April 18 “consent agenda.” If a resident or board member objects to the matter being decided without a discussion and separate vote, the matter will be held on April 21.

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(1) comment

Janet Smith

The Arlington County Board (of Supervisors) has been abusing its Consent Agenda for years to disallow discussion of important issues (usually appropriations and spending issues) by taxpayers. How about a [thumbdown] Editorial by local media?

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