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Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations

Landmark Mall rendering (image via City of Alexandria)

The plans to redevelop Landmark Mall are moving forward — but with a corollary added at the Planning Commission last week that requires the developer to step up their green energy policies and caused some tension on the Commission.

Dissatisfaction with the developer’s green energy plans were first expressed by Commissioner Stephen Koenig. He acknowledged that the developers hit the bare minimums required, but suggested the city should wield its power of approval for greater density to push for more.

“I am disconcerted this does not propose, and the city does not yet require, an explicit vision… carbon neutrality,” Koenig said. “If this is 2.4 million square feet of new buildings, creating a dozen new blocks, were animated by such a vision it would make an exemplary contribution to our efforts.”

Koenig’s amendment calls on the developers to prepare an energy and resilience plan to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Zoning to be included as part of the application to the City Council.

Koenig said he generally supported the project, but said he thought the environmental protections should go further.

The suggestion caught flack from the developers like Jay Kelly, vice president of development at Foulger-Pratt. Kelly said the Landmark Mall developers have gone above and beyond existing city policy and the additional requirement would be harmfully vague.

Planning Commission members Nathan Macek and Mindy Lyle also spoke out against Koenig’s amendment.

“I think this expectation goes beyond anything we’ve specified in policy to date,” Macek said. “I think we have to lay out our specific policy expectations — we haven’t drawn that line yet… I’m not comfortable making that extra leap with this specific case when we haven’t laid that expectation out there.”

The policy recommendation exposed a rift on the issue between those on the Planning Commission who believed the city should flex its authority to get more from the project and those who were concerned demanding too much could kill the long-awaited plans to “fix” the Landmark Mall site.

“This is sending a message that we think this kind of information needs to be there, and in the context of an application that is not only logically related to what is going to happen in the future but is not unduly burdensome on developer,” Planning Commissioner Dave Brown said. “One hand washes the other. We are not asking for much.”

But for Lyle, the threat of losing forward movement on Landmark Mall was a dire one after years of false starts.

“The entire West End is asking to have this property move forward,” Lyle said. “If you look at all of the letters we’ve received, this property has been a blight for as long as I can remember. The city stepping in to work with property owners to move this forward is a win-win on all fronts. This has been needed since 2003.”

Koenig’s amendment carried 3-2, with Lyle and Macek voting against it, and was incorporated into the main Landmark Mall package, which was unanimously approved despite Lyle’s and Macek’s misgivings about Koenig’s addition.

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