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Behind the Scenes of the Slow Race to Finish Virginia Tech’s Potomac Yard Campus

(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) Virginia Tech has to hit 750 master’s degree graduates per year by the end of the decade in a school that hasn’t even been built yet if it wants to hold onto state funding for the project.

During a panel discussion at Agenda Alexandria last night, some of the local leaders working on Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard opened up about the slew of opportunities and challenges the school will face over the next few years.

David Baker, assistant director of government and community relations for Virginia Tech, said the 750 master’s degrees target was a condition of the funding Virginia Tech got from the state to support the school’s development.

The first challenge will be getting the project built by 2024, which the panelists said is their deadline to give Virginia Tech enough time to get the school up and running to hit its deadlines. The project is currently in the design review process, which started in November and is expected to run through fall 2020.

“We’re focused on the area east of Potomac Avenue in phase one to hit the 2024 timeline,” said Bailey Edelson, development senior vice president for JBG Smith. “In terms of planning and construction, that’s lightning-fast. We’re working quickly to make sure they can meet their obligations.”

Once the project finishes construction in 2024, Baker said the school plans to start hosting classes that fall. It will offer master’s and PhD programs with a focus on computer science and engineering, Baker said, with no undergraduate program planned.

(A temporary campus utilizing vacant retail space at the Potomac Yard shopping center will host about 400 students before the opening of the permanent campus.)

While housing is set to be constructed as part of the larger redevelopment of Potomac Yard, no residential areas are set aside as student housing.

“But when we bring multifamily units online, those often serve as housing for graduate students and anyone else who wants to live here,” Bailey said.

She said JBG Smith was committed to co-locating affordable housing at the site. City regulation requires developers seeking bonus density — density beyond what is allowed by local zoning — to supply affordable housing, but some developers instead offer a financial contribution to Alexandria’s Housing Trust Fund and the housing is built elsewhere. Bailey said bringing a supply of housing affordable at all levels to “National Landing” was crucial for the project.

The panel also featured Ryan Touhill, chief of staff for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Amol Vaidya from the Potomac Yards Civic Association. As they look at the new development coming online, many residents have already been vocal about their disappointment with the process.

Vaidya said it’s important for local residents to take an active part in the discussion about development.

“We want development to be something that happens with us and not to us,” Vaidya said. “We’re a pro-development community, like to see opportunities, jobs and whatnot, but throughout this dynamic process the partnership is key.”

The next Potomac Yard meeting is an advisory committee meeting on Sunday, Feb. 5, at City Hall.

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