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Planning Commission Says Paving Facility Near Van Dorn Metro Must Close

As the city works to make the Van Dorn Corridor a more residential-focused area, the Alexandria Planning Commission agreed with staff’s assessment that Virginia Paving Company will have to close shop.

The Planning Commission voted at their Thursday (Oct. 3) meeting to recommend requiring asphalt company Virginia Paving Company to cease operations at its West End facility near the Van Dorn Metro station at 5601 Courtney Avenue.

The original staff recommendation was for the company to vacate within three years, but Planning Commissioners recommended extended that date to seven years in a unanimous vote.

In 2015, the City Council adopted the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan — which called for the transformation of the area around the Van Dorn Metro station into a new commercial and residential hub. New developments are planned for the surrounding area, including a new residential development at the Vulcan materials site, but urban planner Nathan Randall with the Department of Planning and Zoning said that momentum to redevelop the area is fragile.

“While the existence of these projects since 2010 suggests that some momentum exists regarding redevelopment in the area, staff believes this momentum is delicate and could be damaged by continued operation of the asphalt plant,” Randall said. “Developers are likely aware of the goal [and] continued operation of the plant could stymie future development.”

In one form of another, the paving plant has operated at that location since 1960, though ownership of the plant has changed hands a couple of times since then. The Eisenhower West Small Area Plan includes plans for a new park at the nearby Backlick Run creek and a multimodal bridge crossing through the property, but the status of what would happen to the plant remained unclear at the time.

Closure of the plant will have some downsides for Alexandria. There are 110 jobs at the site currently, which will be either lost or relocated out of Alexandria once the plant closes, according to Randall. And while the city is expecting approximately $1 million in new revenue from future development at the site, the plant currently provides Alexandria with all of its asphalt, so the city would incur costs as it switches to another source.

“We typically don’t act to sunset the right of businesses to operate in the city, so I take the gravity of the planning choice before us tonight with that in mind, but I think that’s the right decision,” said Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek.

The company is fighting back against the recommendation.

Mary Catherine Gibbs, an attorney representing Virginia Paving Company, noted that the company had spent over $4 million in improvements to the property, arguing that forcing the company to leave defies other parts of the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan.

“The plan’s goal number 2 is that the new mix of uses are able to coexist with industrial uses remaining in the area long term,” Gibbs said. “The properties are specifically told in the plan that they maintain their rights under current zoning. That’s specifically stated in the plan.”

Planning Commission members said that Virginia Paving Company has become a good neighbor, but it didn’t change the needs of the area.

“Virginia Paving Company made significant improvements, not just in the plant but in communications,” Planning Commission member Mindy Lyle said, “but that doesn’t negate the effects of the asphalt plant sitting in the middle of a redevelopment area.”

The Planning Commission, however, unanimously agreed with Gibbs that three years was not enough time for the Virginia Paving Company to smoothly shut down operations.

“It would seem unfair and arbitrary,” Planning Commission member Maria Wasowski said. “[Three years] is a short time for a large enterprise to change course.”

The closure of the asphalt plant is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council at its Saturday, Oct. 19 meeting.

Images via City of Alexandria

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