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City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof

Residents of the Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood been besieged over the last year.

As a largely Latino community disproportionately impacted by job loss during the pandemic, local residents have pushed back against rent payments. But even as Alexandria starts to pull out of the pandemic with an eye toward job recovery, the city is working through efforts to build a plan to save Chirilagua — less than a mile from Potomac Yard and Crystal City — from the gentrifying effects of Amazon.

“Many Arlandria residents have been candid in expressing fears about displacement and gentrification, anxiety over losing their community and the culture of their neighborhood over time,” said City housing planner Tamara Jovovic in a public forum earlier this week. “Addressing this will require an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Jovovic said Chirilagua already faces a misalignment in housing needs and rent availability, with local families spending too much on rent and utilities. She said the city’s goal is to create housing affordable to individuals and families at roughly 40% of area median income (AMI). For individuals or small households, that ranges from $36,000 to $60,000 per year.

The city has started working on facilitating public-private partnerships to push for affordable housing development in the area, with Jovovic saying the city is looking at how to turn city-owned areas like a parking lot on Mount Vernon avenue into use for affordable housing.

“The deeper the level of affordability of units, the greater number of tools needed,” Jovovic said.

One of the questions raised by residents in the forum was whether the city would expand height and density restrictions. City staff said the plan is not to increase those restrictions, and that developers wanting expanded height or density will consequently be required to offer a maximum number of affordable housing units.

“We’re moving forward with the same heights,” said Jose Ayala, a city planner. “[W]e want to make sure anything proposed in neighborhood related to an increase in heights is related to affordable housing.”

Late last year, the city codified a long-standing trade in Alexandria development: You can get more height and density than is typically allowed in an area, but only if you add affordable housing proportional to that expansion.

“Development applications could request through [Development Special Use Permit], that’s an optional zoning tool,” Jovovic said. “[They can request] up to 25 feet of additional height in exchange for one-third of density associated as affordable housing

Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said other feedback the city has received so far highlights the need for the city to make better use of parks as meeting spaces.

“Community feedback emphasized the need for social areas and to increase park facilities,” Browand said. “Including having picnic areas and established grilling locations. We don’t have a lot of public restrooms throughout, so [that means] being able to extend outdoor experience by having public restrooms for the public.”

Jovovic emphasized the importance of getting a plan into place before the area starts to feel the effects of Amazon.

“While affordable home ownership may not seem like a pressing need now, the plan will be recommending we expand home ownership training and counseling to make it geographically to make it more accessible and linguistically,” Jovovic said.

The plan is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission and City Council late this fall or in early winter.

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