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A new report, prepared for a City Council meeting tomorrow (Wednesday), looks back at the progress made on several priorities adopted earlier this year, from pandemic recovery to housing.

The mulit-part update tackles a dozen community-welfare topics identified as a priority early in 2022, with each of those broken down into a look at progress on individual initiatives. While some have been fully completed, others are still in their early stages.

Each item in the report has a percentage completed next to it. For pandemic recovery, the two items listed as fully complete involve creating out to more Spanish language and Black communities for tourism and investing more heavily in tourism overall.

For the first of those initiatives, the report said Alexandria plans to continue diversifying it’s tourism efforts over the next few years.

“The supplementary media buy to stimulate recovery was fully implemented,” the report said. “We invested $410,000 in new digital advertising to increase overall awareness, expand to more diverse audiences and sustain new regional market share garnered during the pandemic. We also developed new advertising creative with the ‘Drop In’ campaign to welcome audiences of color. We also expect this new creative to support our expanded marketing efforts in the next several years.”

Another nearly completed area in the pandemic recovery section emphasized working with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to expand mental health resources in schools.

The report said mental health professionals have been added to schools and the city worked with ACPS this summer on refining the referral process, mental health trends and more.

Other initiatives, particularly aspects focusing on small business recovery, are still in the nascent stages.

Progress was a little more behind in the housing section, where one of the listed goals was “provide diverse housing options at a variety of price points to support a thriving and inclusive Alexandria.”

The report listed the accessory dwelling unit and bonus height ordinance changes earlier this year as positive steps forward. Other parts of that work are still in progress. One of the big items is a Housing Master Plan update scheduled for FY 2024 that city staff is already starting prep work for. In the shorter term, an update on affordable housing funding is expected to come before the City Council later this fall.

The full report is available on the city website and is docketed for discussion at the meeting tomorrow.

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Ladrey High Rise in Old Town North (image via Google Maps)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) has announced some next steps for plans to redevelop Ladrey High Rise, a public housing building in Old Town North.

The current building is an 11-story, 170-unit high rise building housing seniors and residents with disabilities. The redevelopment plans will see that building and an adjoining property demolished for a new mid-rise construction. The new development is slated to be a one-to-one replacement of the units on the site.

The building primarily houses seniors and residents with disabilities. ARHA said in the release the new development will increase the number of units on-site that are committed affordable units.

The building is currently fully occupied, with residents temporarily relocated during redevelopment. Earlier development plans noted that current residents will have a right to return — priority on new units given to current residents displaced during construction.

“This is the next big step in our plan for improving housing and the quality of life for all residents in our city,” said ARHA CEO Keith Pettigrew. “When completed, the units in the Ladrey High Rise will rival other modern housing developments in Alexandria. We look forward to hitting the ground running so that we can get these longtime residents into their brand-new homes as soon as possible.”

New amenities in the redevelopment include underground parking, meeting exercise and service rooms, and a community plaza. Residents will also have access to rooftop amenity spaces. ARHA said the redevelopment was spurred on in part by a need to make the building more accessible to residents with disabilities.

Kenneth Burton, a 20-year resident of Ladrey who uses a power wheelchair, said the in the release that the current building is not designed for him to easily get around.

“We are the ones who are going to live here, who will utilize the building day in day out, so it’s good to have a voice in the process,” Burton said. “We have been told Ladrey would be renovated and upgraded many times before, but it hasn’t happened yet. But now this time, I believe it will.”

In a release, ARHA said it selected Winn Companies and developer IBF Development to help spearhead the redevelopment plans. The project still has to work through the city’s redevelopment process.

“Both firms have extensive experience developing quality affordable housing communities regionally and nationally,” ARHA said in the release. “The proposed development plan will replace all the current Ladrey units and increase the number of apartment homes available to working households.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Waypoint at Fairlington concept rendering (image via Wesley Housing)

Two years after it broke ground, The Waypoint at Fairlington (2451 Menokin Drive) is scheduled to have its grand opening later this month.

In an email, affordable housing developer Wesley Housing said the housing complex is scheduled to open on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The development features 81 multi-family units available at 30%, 50%, and 60% of the area median income.

“The Waypoint is Wesley Housing’s newest multi-family community located in the Fairlington neighborhood of Alexandria,” Wesley Housing said in the email. “The community will provide safe, quality, affordable housing for low- to moderate-income working families and individuals in an area with a wealth of resources.”

The development will also feature free Wifi, a community room, a business center, and a playground/park space.

“The property will be managed by Wesley Property Management,” Wesley Housing wrote, “and Wesley Housing’s on-site resident services team will provide year-round programs and services for residents so they may build up their lives.”

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Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaks at the Safeway at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo via Eli Wilson)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin hasn’t always gotten the best reception in Alexandria, but recent comments about working with localities to establish better affordable housing zoning could help find some common ground with local leadership.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said a recent Washington Post article about a trip to Michigan included some promising comments about improving housing availability.

In the Washington Post interview, Youngkin said he’s interested in how the state and localities can work together to change zoning and regulatory practices that limit the building of high-density housing.

Alexandria’s been making moves in recent years to expand density options for developers in exchange for greater affordable housing funding, but as Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, Alexandria’s ability to draft regulations on limits like allowable density and how much can be traded for housing is limited by state legislation.

While the generally liberal Alexandria has been frosty toward Alexandria’s Republican governor, it isn’t the first time there have been areas of overlapping interest. Shortly after Youngkin’s election, Wilson outlined several areas of shared interest, like holding Dominion accountable for outages and modernizing the tax structure.

Just one day after Youngkin was in the headlines for a spat at Safeway, staff from his Department of Transportation was in Alexandria with other local and state leaders to assess one of the crumbling Arlington-Alexandria bridges and show support for more infrastructure funding.

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A conceptual rendering of The Waypoint at Fairlington (Image via Wesley Housing)

Nearly two years after the project broke ground, The Waypoint housing development (2451 Menokin Drive) in the Fairlington neighborhood is scheduled to open in September.

The project, led by affordable housing developer Wesley Housing, is scheduled to have a grand opening celebration on Sept. 28.

“The Waypoint is Wesley Housing’s newest multi-family community located in the Fairlington neighborhood of Alexandria,” the developer said in a release. “The community will provide safe, quality, affordable housing for low- to moderate-income working families and individuals in an area with a wealth of resources.”

The project will have housing available at 30%, 50%, and 60% of the area median income.

Amenities at the site include free wifi, a community room, a business center, and a playground/park space.

Prior to development, the project generated some concerns from the surrounding community that said it would bring more traffic to the already congested community.

Another Wesley Housing development, The Arden, is expected to open in Huntington this fall.

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The Alexandria City Council is poised to approve an amended plan to build a 473-unit affordable housing complex in Arlandria, now that St. Rita Catholic Church has signed off on the project.

Citing safety concerns for parishioners and children, St. Rita Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington sought legal action against the City and the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation when the development was approved in January.

A key feature of the AHDC Glebe/Mount Vernon project was construction of two loading docks and a new private road with public access adjacent to St. Rita’s playground that would connect E. Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue.

The roadway and loading docks have since been removed, and the Planning Commission unanimously approved the changes last week. The changes take away one affordable unit in exchange for a new publicly accessible walking area where the alley is, as well as construction of a playground.

“Consequently, the revised project has been changed for the better,” Roy Shannon, an attorney for the diocese, told the Planning Commission. “The ultimate objective for the church is the safety and the health of its parishioners, especially the young children who attend the church in the school.”

City Council on Tuesday (July 5), will vote on the new changes, as well as on repealing the ordinance they approved in January and eliminate the roadway from consideration.

Attorney Duncan Blair represents AHDC, and said that the modifications are universally agreed upon.

“We look forward to moving forward with the first phase, which is utility relocation, including improving stormwater in the area to benefit the community, underground parking and then shortly be able to go vertical and provide the much-needed housing,” Blair told the Planning Commission.

Blair said that the demolishing of the existing buildings at 221 West Glebe Road and 3606, 3608, 3610, 3612 and 3700 Mount Vernon Avenue will take up to two years, in addition to massive utility relocation and construction of a two-level underground parking garage. He said that the 3.26-acre development of the two new affordable housing apartment buildings would be finished in late 2025 or early 2026.

Alexandria is experiencing an affordable housing crisis and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. The city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

After public outcry over a rushed plan, the Alexandria Planning Commission deferred a city staff proposal to allow developers to build affordable housing into new apartment buildings up to 70 feet in height in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

There were more than 30 speakers at the meeting on Thursday, June 23, mostly residents of Del Ray.

Gayle Reuter has lived in Del Ray for 40 years, and said that the proposal would ruin her neighborhood’s small town feel.

“I understand the city is in need of and has promised increased affordable housing and endorsed the Washington COG Regional Housing Initiative,” Reuter told the Planning Commission. “If this is approved, developers will come to come in and the Avenue with its small town feel of mom-and-pop businesses where Main Street still exists will be gone forever.”

The proposal would allow developers bonus height of 25 feet in any zone or height district where the maximum allowable height is 45 feet.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek asked city staff to present a refined proposal to the community before reintroducing it to the Commission for review again.

“I think it’s an important tool, and I think I think the actual impact would be very modest in terms of when it would choose to be enacted,” Macek said. “I don’t think you’re gonna end up seeing 70-foot buildings and this and that. That is sort of the extreme if every site were to redevelop, but I don’t think that that’s the reality of what would happen. But rather than speculate about that, I think we have a chance to step back and study it or provide some projections, some best guesses about what we’ll see so that we can inform the decision and possibly take it in steps with a pilot for a phased amount of density and we can revisit.”

Under the proposal, numerous areas of the city would be open for developers to move in and increase the height of 45-foot-tall buildings to a maximum of 70 feet in height — specifically along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

The proposal does not apply, however, to single family, two story and town home dwellings.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“While approximately 800 market-rate and affordable units of housing are currently generated per year in Alexandria, meeting the RHI (Regional Housing Initiative) goal involves the production of an estimated additional 300 units per year, of which 75 percent are recommended to be affordable,” staff wrote. “This represents an estimated additional 2,250 affordable units over the 10-year period…”

Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto said that the community needs time to understand the potential impact of such a move.

“I think we really need to look at the impact that it could have communities have to the existing housing stock, and to the very nature and character of our neighborhood,” Hurton said. “How will it affect the existing stock of apartments, rentals, condos that are affordable? How will it affect businesses, especially along Mount Vernon Avenue and governed by the small area plan?”

Commissioner Stephen Koenig said that he was swayed by the input of residents.

“I’m certainly persuaded by the sort of breadth and depth of the input that we’ve had tonight,” he said.

Commissioner David Brown said that the City needs to reevaluate its approach.

“We we have a process where we figure out what works in particular places,” Brown said. “It’s called planning. We haven’t done any planning here. We need to look at each one of these zones, figure out what the likely impact is going to be in that zone and figure out whether or not that zone should be considered a candidate for affordable housing.”

According to the City:

At the core of the Bonus Density and Height Program of Section 7-700 is the idea that the affordable housing gained through incremental increases in density and height is a positive exchange.

Additionally, by its nature and in alignment with the City’s All Alexandria Resolution, the initiative provides affordable housing opportunities in locations that might otherwise not receive them, and this specific proposal could increase the likelihood of affordable housing in projects that are more mid-scale. Moreover, each project approved through this proposal would be reviewed rigorously and through a public process to ensure that additional density and/or height is designed in a way that respects the neighborhood.

The requirement that a project using this provision obtain a Special Use Permit means that all impacts of the project are thoroughly reviewed and mitigated as a condition of approval.

As for outreach, City staff noted:

The City undertook the following outreach: established a Bonus Height Webpage; developed and posted Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in English, Spanish and Amharic; conducted two virtual community meetings–on April 12 (130 attendees) and May 19 (90 attendees); addressed questions during the meetings and posted Questions/Comments/Responses subsequent to the meetings; and advertised engagement opportunities through eNews and directly to Civic Associations and to those who contacted the City by email or other communication.

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ARHA headquarters (image via Google Maps)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) announced that later this year, the headquarters will be renamed in honor of activist and former ARHA Chairman A. Melvin Miller.

Miller, who died in 2015, was a civil rights activist and affordable housing advocate in Alexandria who, among his many positions in city and state leadership, served as chairman of ARHA from 1970 to 1977 and from 2001 to 2012.

“This is a deeply deserved honor for Melvin Miller,” ARHA CEO Keith Pettigrew said in a press release. “Mr. Miller made it part of his life’s work to help those who were not as fortunate as he was, particularly when it came to housing.”

One of Miller’s accomplishments was pushing for city policy that required every affordable housing unit demolished to be replaced one-for-one.

Pettigrew thanked ARHA Commissioner and School Board member Willie Bailey and Living Legend John Porter their help in getting the building named after Miller.

“We felt this was an appropriate way to honor Melvin’s legacy in Alexandria,” Porter said. “Melvin was very involved in education and civil rights issues, but his main focus was on equity in housing. And we thought naming the administrative building for him would be an ideal way to remember his contribution, so we made that recommendation to ARHA. Then, the pandemic struck and slowed down the process.”

In addition to his work with ARHA and the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Miller served for seven years on the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia and on the Alexandria Board of Education.

“We felt this was an appropriate way to honor Melvin’s legacy in Alexandria,” Porter said. “Melvin was very involved in education and civil rights issues, but his main focus was on equity in housing. And we thought naming the administrative building for him would be an ideal way to remember his contribution, so we made that recommendation to ARHA. Then, the pandemic struck and slowed down the process.”

The ceremony to rename the building is currently scheduled for September.

Image via Google Maps

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Samuel Madden homes (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) gave a thumbs up to the demolition of an Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority property, but not without a stern rebuke to the housing authority’s history of neglect.

ARHA is working through the city process to demolish the Samuel Madden homes at the north end of the Parker-Gray neighborhood. The homes were built as workforce housing during the Second World War and ARHA leadership said the properties have deteriorated beyond preservation.

The plan is currently to turn the buildings into a larger mixed-use development that will replace the current 66-units across 13 buildings with 500 residential units.

Keith Pettigrew, CEO of ARHA, said that retrofitting the buildings is cost-prohibitive and unit configuration doesn’t comply with current codes. Pettigrew also noted that over their 75-year lifespan, the buildings have received minimal capital maintenance.

BAR members lamented that the buildings are in a state requiring demolition and questioned how their redevelopment would change the boundaries of the historic district.

“What impact does this have to the historic district?” BAR member John Sprinkle asked. “We spent $100,000 [for the] nomination for Parker-Gray, now we’re losing x number of buildings out of that district.”

Sprinkle said if the historic buildings are replaced in Parker-Gray, the rules should and boundaries should be changed to reflect that.

“Frankly, for the Parker-Gray district, perhaps those boundaries need to be reevaluated or redrawn because no one wants to be here ten years from now when they’re doing a window replacement and do an evaluation for a building built three years from now,” Sprinkle said. “We’re losing resources and the boundaries have to be redrawn, both at a national level and local level.”

In contract to Alexandria, Sprinkle said Arlington was doing a better job with garden apartment preservation.

“Arlington has taken substantial efforts to identify historic resources, get them listed on the register, filling out [tax credits],” Sprinkle said. “In our case, we’re not doing that.”

Sprinkle also said that it was ARHA who let the buildings get into their current deteriorated state.

“I wonder: who wasn’t maintaining those old buildings so there does have to be this investment,” Sprinkle said. “So the degradation is on whose list? You’re saying one of the reasons for [demolition] is they’re poorly maintained.”

Pettigrew argued the current residents shouldn’t have to languish in deteriorating buildings because of past neglect.

“I inherited what I inherited,” Pettigrew said. “Residents have expressed to me: they look to the left and they see The Bloom and they look to the right and see James Bland. They want to live in new buildings as well, so we like to follow their lead because this is their home.”

Kevin Harris, president of the ARHA Resident Association, confirmed that current residents have been involved in the development planning process and are asking for the buildings to be redeveloped.

“The fact remains: the buildings that residents are currently residing in need to be redeveloped,” Harris said. “It has to happen. They’re outdated and there are a lot of things that have deteriorated… I don’t even think you can maintenance some of this stuff because of the age of the building. It’s something that needs to happen, I don’t know any other way of saying it.”

James Spencer, chair of the BAR, said he felt divided over the issue.

“With tearing down public housing, it’s a double-edged sword, because part of me feels like yeah, some of it needs to come down because it’s derelict and poorly maintained,” Spencer said, “and then the other side of me is: if it’s historic it needs to be maintained.”

Ultimately the BAR recommended approval of the demolition in a 4-1 vote.

Image via Google Maps

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The City of Alexandria is considering increasing the number of auxiliary dwellings allowed in commercial buildings and nixing the parking requirements for most of them.

One of the biggest behind-the-scenes projects at City Hall has been an effort to make auxiliary dwellings — formerly accessory dwellings, we’ll get into that later — more viable in Alexandria.

The goal is to provide a boost to market-rate affordable housing which has been in freefall in Alexandria for years. A staff report indicated that there were areas for greater flexibility within the zoning ordinance, including changes to parking requirements for the units.

“Currently, the Zoning Ordinance prescribes a very limited number of ‘Accessory apartments’ in each commercial zone,” the report said, “however; staff believes a slight increase in the number of those units and the location of those units within a structure could lead to a greater number of units and housing options for residents.”

The city has been working on codifying residential dwellings in commercial spaces — one of the oldest housing types in the city — and adjusting that language to “auxiliary dwelling” rather than “accessory dwelling” to avoid confusing overlap with other “accessory” zoning uses.

One of the obstacles to creating auxiliary units has been parking requirements, which the staff report are said on ratios meant for fully-residential developments.

“Currently, parking requirements for ‘accessory apartments’ are based on multi-family parking ratios,” the report said. “In many areas of the city, multi-family parking requirements disincentivize the creation of ‘Auxiliary dwelling units’ due to a lack of available land to meet the parking ratios. Additionally, parking increases the cost of housing, leading to higher housing costs. “

The staff report said many of the auxiliary apartments are located on dense commercial corridors, like along King Street, which have frequent transit services. The staff report proposed that auxiliary dwellings that are within places classified as “enhanced transit areas” will not require parking.

According to a map in the staff report, though, areas of the city listed as an “enhanced transit area” covers much of the city. Commercial zoning is marked in red, meaning auxiliary dwellings in the red blocks within the larger grey zones are the ones that would have no parking requirement.

Map outlining enhanced transit areas in gray with commercial areas in red (image via City of Alexandria)

“Because most of the ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ will be located within the Enhanced Transit Area and require two or less parking spaces, parking would often not be required,” the report said. “Given this, staff is proposing to not require parking for any square footage dedicated to ‘Auxiliary dwellings’ within the Enhanced Transit Area.”

The report said eliminating the parking requirement would both reduce the cost of creating the unit and would, in theory, draw residents that do not own cars and would rely on transit, walking and other modes of transportation.

The changes are scheduled for review at the Planning Commission (item 2) on Thursday, June 23.

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