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Planning Commission says DHL temporary trailer on Duke Street has overstayed its welcome

DHL Express trailer on Duke Street (image via City of Alexandria)

International shipping company DHL Express drew some flack from Alexandria’s Planning Commission after the company let slip in a recent meeting that they had no plans to find a permanent home for their “temporary” trailer business on Duke Street.

The company was granted approval for a temporary trailer set up in the parking lot of Shoppes of Foxchase (4513 Duke Street) during the pandemic. DHL was up for a two-year extension of their permit to operate in the parking lot but was applying for an additional three-year extension beyond that.

“This was supposed to be a temporary trailer several years ago,” said Planning Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “A temporary trailer was suggested as a use during the Covid emergency. The President is declaring an end to the Covid emergency in May. Therefore, I think we should go ahead with the two-year recommendation of staff.”

Lyle recommended DHL find space to set up shop permanently in one of the nearby empty retail locations.

“There’s lease space available in West End Village and Van Dorn Plaza,” Lyle said. “Two years is plenty of time to get a space built out, under contract, and move the trailer. No one in the neighborhood thinks the trailer is a good idea and I’m not sure why staff was recommending a two-year, then a three-year extension. I’m fine approving two years, then the trailer goes away because it really is a glorified sign.”

But representatives from DHL said the company is making the temporary trailers approved by Alexandria during the pandemic its new primary business model. Representatives said the company only has two brick-and-mortar locations but around 20 pop-ups.

“We are preparing to close one [brick and mortar] location,” said Kelly Shepard, head of US retail with DHL Express. “The model has made sense with pop-ups and brick-and-mortar has been not scalable for us. We’ve been focused on scaling for pop-ups and our sustainability goals.”

Shepard said the company’s plan was not to transition into a brick-and-mortar location. Shepard said the plan was to continue operating the pop-up as long as it was considered acceptable by the city.

“I understand we would have two years to try and solve the problem of how we could potentially stay in Alexandria, but as a company, after we opened our two brick-and-mortar locations and that was not successful for us, we made a decision that this was our way forward,” Shepard said. “The intention is not to look for another brick and mortar solution, it was to continue with the pop-up.”

This ruffled some feathers on the Planning Commission, with members indicating this may have been a dishonest use of the city’s temporary zoning allowances.

“What you’re saying is: this is no longer temporary, this is a permanent ‘temporary’ solution that will never go away and you’ll keep coming back for temporary usage of a trailer,” Lyle said. “Staff has either been deceived that this was a temporary use or didn’t ask the right questions of the applicant.”

Staff noted that there had been other temporary trailer uses granted to some businesses, but Planning Commissioner Melissa McMahon noted that each of those involved unique circumstances.

“I appreciate staff pointing out that we have trailers for other types of land use that we support, but there are some differences,” McMahon said. “In a couple of the cases, trailer supported brick and mortar use, and that’s important to keep a business here and make sure this works in the space they have.”

Lyle said that if DHL, being a global company, wanted to operate in Alexandria they should file a permit to open in a retail location like every other business.

“There are places all over the West End and developers who have spent millions for approval, millions renovation shopping centers, and I don’t believe it’s fair to local businesses that we allow a pop-up for some things and other people have to go into brick-and-mortar,” Lyle said.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek proposed a compromise of a three-year extension from DHL to keep the approval consistent with other trailers approved in the past, which Lyle brought forward as a motion on the condition that, on Feb. 25, 2026, the trailer is gone.

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