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Planning Commission backs Landmark redevelopment plans

Thrive (image via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria’s Planning Commission’s recommendation of approval for the long-awaited “West End” development was offset slightly by concerns that the city isn’t doing enough to pressure developers into adopting more environmentally conscious design.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 in support of development plans for a large chunk of what was once Landmark Mall. The recommendation heading to the City Council supports four sprawling blocks of development with a mixture of multifamily residential, ground-floor commercial, and medical office spaces.

But while there was some enthusiasm from the Planning Commission about seeing these plans come to fruition, some lamented that the developments don’t follow best practices for minimizing energy consumption.

“I recognize that the Planning Commission is likely to concur with staff recommendation of approval for this project on the basis that it is compliant with CDD and DSUP requirements. I won’t be joining that consensus,” said Commissioner Stephen Koenig. “In critical aspects of operational performance, this project will underserve the community and damage the environment. It is not fully responsible architecture in this era of accelerating climate transformation.”

Koenig said developments should be expected to do more to design their buildings with an environmental focus at their core.

“We miss the opportunity to achieve a cleaner environment, neighborhood resilience, and expanded affordability which are integral to our vision for the future of our city,” Koenig said.

Commissioner David Brown said that he agreed with Koenig’s concerns, but disagreed that they should cause the Planning Commission to not support the project overall. Brown said in a recent Planning Commission case, the Commission voted not to recommend a parking lot be allowed to continue operating as it went against previously established plans for the area, but the City Council later voted to allow that operation to continue.

“I agree with everything [Koenig said] except his decision not to support the project,” Brown said. “I will be supporting the project… My loadstar is playing by the rules. In this case, the applicant has all the way down the line played by the rules. If I’m not going to give an applicant a pass because they do more than the rules, I’m not going to turn down an applicant because they do less than we might have hoped in the way of climate change.”

Brown added later that the project also represented an exemplary mixed-use zoning plan.

Like Brown, others on the Planning Commission said they shared Koenig’s concerns that the city isn’t doing enough to require more environmental protections on sites, but said the positives of the Landmark redevelopment plans still merited approval.

“This is one project that, as the small area plans evolve… didn’t have to adjust community expectations that were developed during the small area plan to meet what’s being presented,” said Planning Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “This project has met all of the expectations set forth to the community during those processes and I think that’s unique to this particular site.”

The redevelopment plans now head to the City Council for review at a meeting on Saturday, Dec. 17.

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