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Morning Notes

The ‘I Love You’ art installation at Waterfront Park opens on March 25, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Leasing Starts for Apartments Over Wegmans —  “Developer Stonebridge and its leasing partner Bozzuto, announced Wednesday the start of leasing for Easton, a boutique-style apartment building offering sophisticated design and amenities located in the Carlyle Crossing neighborhood. The 11-story building is slated to begin move-ins in mid-April just ahead of the anticipated May 11 opening of Wegmans Carlyle Crossing.” [Alexandria Living]

Ukraine Donation Drive Launched — Leaders launched an effort Wednesday to provide donations, such as gently used coats, new blankets, new pairs of sweat socks or heavy socks, and new pairs of gloves at locations around Northern Virginia. “No matter the scale – global to local – humanity is a community unto itself and we must always come to the assist of those in need,” Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the event. [Facebook, Patch]

Kingstowne Woman’s Family Raises Funds to Find Suspect — “The family of a missing Alexandria woman, who is presumed dead, is raising money to help catch her alleged killer.”[WJLA]

It’s Thursday — Light rain throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 58. Sunrise at 7:06 a.m. and sunset at 7:25 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Elbert Avenue Apartments, image via Google Maps

Alexandria non-profit Community Lodging has announced plans to significantly expand affordable housing in Arlandria-Chirilagua with the redevelopment of a 1940s apartment complex.

Elbert Avenue Apartments, a set of three three-story buildings constructed in the 1940s, currently has 28 units affordable for renters making 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) — the standard applied for evaluating affordable housing. But these buildings are in rough shape after what Community Lodging called years of “Band-Aid fixes”.

In a release, Community Lodging said the plan is to redevelop the site with 96 units available at various levels of affordability.

“The new property, currently proposed to include 96 apartments, would substantially expand Community Lodging’s impact,” the non-profit said. “The project provides a unique opportunity as Arlandria-Chirilagua faces challenges of rent increases and gentrification due to its location near Amazon HQ2 in Arlington and the upcoming Potomac Yard Metro.”

Community Lodging said affordable housing investments are particularly important for Arlandria-Chirilagua’s majority Latinx community where median household incomes are below 50% of AMI and are a “historically underserved and underinvested community.”

Financing for the project is being sought through a housing tax credit program. Households will be accessible for those at or below 60% of AMI. Of the new units, 20% will be dedicated to households at or below 50% of AMI.

Image via Google Maps

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A 14-story Arlandria apartment complex has been acquired by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, the latest move in an effort to preserve affordable housing in an area facing significant development pressure.

AHDC recently announced that it bought the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments from Florida-based ZRS Management with support of $51.4 million from the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund, and conditionally will reman affordable for at least 99 years.

The announcement of the sale comes as developments progress on Amazon’s HQ2, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the Potomac Yard Metro station — all projects that have raised concerns of gentrification.

“AHDC’s goal is to ensure that those who are currently living in this community have the chance to stay, and that households of all incomes will be able to enjoy the benefits of this vibrant neighborhood well into the future,” AHDC CEO Jon Frederick said in a statement. “As a non-profit that is dedicated to community development in Alexandria, the acquisition of Park Vue of Alexandria helps us achieve our mission of creating and preserving housing affordability here in our own backyard and allows us to create meaningful connections in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood.”

Earlier this month, City Council also approved a $10.5 million loan to the nonprofit to begin development on more than 500 affordable housing units in Arlandria at the intersection of Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue.

“The culture and diversity of neighborhoods like Arlandria-Chirilagua are what makes Northern Virginia such a wonderful place to live, work, and thrive,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Amazon Housing
Equity Fund. “But unique communities like this, with all its valuable contributions, could be otherwise lost to commercial development that does not factor in the affordability needs of the community. By teaming up with organizations such as Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, we are able to help preserve and grow the housing stock for moderate- to low-income households to help build more diverse and inclusive communities.”

No residents at the Park Vue building will be displaced by the sale, and the conversion to affordable units will take place over the next several years, according to AHDC. The purchase maintains “accessible” rents for households making up to 60% of the area median income.

“As a partner with the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, Park Vue of Alexandria will maintain a 99-year affordability covenant,” AHDC said in the release. “AHDC will work with Amazon and other lending partners to refinance the property in the coming months to help support the long-term affordability of Park Vue of Alexandria.”

Alexandria lost 90% of its affordable housing stock between 2000 and 2017, and 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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Local developer Bonaventure hopes their new shopping center in the middle of Del Ray could be constructed as early as summer 2025. That’s if all goes according to their plan.

Right now the plan for 2525 Mount Vernon Avenue is still in its conceptual phase, but includes a four-story, 43-foot-tall building with 12,530 square feet of retail and 79 rental units on the one acre lot. Bonaventure is not planning on including any affordable housing units in the project, and will instead contribute to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

The 88,500-square-foot building is the former Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services. Bonaventure bought it for $22.5 million in the summer of 2019, along with the properties at 2401, 2403 and 2411-2419 Mount Vernon Avenue.

Bonaventure also owns the 144-space parking lot across from Pat Miller Square on Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Oxford Avenue, which will be available for residents of the new building, but shoppers will be relegated to parking on the street.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the developer wants the plan to go to the City for review in November, followed by the final site plan and building permit process, and then upward of a year-and-a-half for construction.

“If things go according to our schedule, we would go to public hearing in November,” said Cathy Puskar, an attorney for Bonaventure. “Following the public hearing, there’s a final site plan process and building permit process, and we would look to start construction in the fourth quarter of 2023, and the building would be completed in 18-to-20 months.”

Via Bonaventure

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The Mark Apartments, photo courtesy Washington Property Company

The Mark Apartments at 100 S. Reynolds Street near the Landmark area is under new ownership.

Washington Property Company (WPC) announced its acquisition of The Mark, a 227-unit apartment tower in the West End, last Friday. The company bought the tower for $52.7 million.

“This is WPC’s first acquisition of an existing multifamily property,” said Quinn Rounsaville, WPC Senior Vice President of Acquisitions, said in a press release. “We have long been committed to multifamily as an asset class in our portfolio, and this acquisition provides an opportunity to grow. We believe that with Amazon HQ2, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, the redevelopment of Landmark Mall, and Virginia’s business-friendly political climate, the Alexandria submarket is poised for tremendous growth over the next five to ten years.”

In the press release, WPC said it plans to complete an ongoing renovation program at the apartments to finish upgrading apartment finishes and features. WPC also said it plans a more extensive upgrade of the building’s systems and common areas.

The redevelopment planned at Landmark and the HQ2 development in Arlington were name-dropped as a key feature that made the building an appealing acquisition.

“It is just 1.4 miles from the Van Dorn Metro station and four Metro stops to Amazon’s HQ2,” the press release said. “Only a half-mile from the property is the Landmark Mall redevelopment, expected to comprise 4.2 million square feet of mixed-use development anchored by a new billion-dollar Inova Alexandria Hospital, delivering as early as 2025.”

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105 N. Alfred Street (photo via Google Maps)

A historic Old Town home that had most recently been an art gallery could undergo a conversion into a small hotel.

Bruce and Thelma MacGregor, owners of 105 North Alfred, are requesting a special use permit to turn a current commercial and apartment building into a hotel. The home was originally built in 1790, and the permit notes that the property was recently used as an art gallery with eight apartment units on the floors above.

The shift to the hotel business is not as big as it might seem on paper, though. The permit notes that for roughly ten years, all of the apartment units had been used as short-term rentals through Airbnb. The change is notable, though, as hotel revenue remains low in Alexandria.

According to the permit request, the changes will involve adding a new front-desk area and other amenities, with guests being able to book rooms and check-in remotely.

The MacGregors are also hoping to make a two-story addition to the property to the north, adding new bedroom units.

The permit request is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 7.

Photo via Google Maps

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Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

At an upcoming meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, the Planning Commission is docketed to look at over a new policy that would open up more “co-living” across the city.

Co-living, as defined by the city, is a residential use which allows housing where private bedrooms can be connected to shared spaces, like kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Suites can have private bathrooms, but no private cooking facilities are allowed in individual suites or bedrooms under this use.

For anyone thinking “that just sounds like having roommates” — one of the notable differences is co-living spaces typically have individual leases for the tenants rather than a master lease for all residents.

Currently, co-living arrangements are required to go through the city’s special use permit process. The new city policy would:

Allow up to two co-living units in ALL multifamily, high/medium density residential, mixed-use, commercial, and office zones with an administrative Special Use Permit. More than two co-living units or proposals in townhouse zones require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (review by Planning Commission & City Council).

New co-living units are headed to neighboring D.C. and have been a popular option in other cities. A city presentation noted that co-living is not allowed by-right in Arlington County but can be approved in some multi-family development with a full special use permit hearing. Co-living is allowed in Montgomery County with some restrictions.

The city said in a fact-sheet on the new co-living policy that the goals of the policy are to preserve or even enhance the supply of market affordable units — residences considered affordable without being part of the city’s committed affordable housing development. The city’s market affordable housing supply has been in dramatic decline for years.

According to the city, the hope is co-living policy can help:

  • Provide additional flexibility for the creation of market rate affordable units
  • Streamline the approval process for these living arrangements to provide the market with more predictability
  • Expand housing choices by allowing this use where appropriate

The policy is not planned to impact single-family or two-family residential zoning. Currently, four unrelated persons are allowed to live together as a “family”.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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Last week Mayor Justin Wilson shared information on building inspection requirements following the disaster in Florida, but now the city is also pushing for state-level reform on building inspections.

The city’s scope of implementing  building code inspection requirements is bound by the Dillon Rule, which states that localities can only exercise powers expressly granted by the state. On July 8, Wilson sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging him to start the legislative process toward overhauling the state’s barebones inspection requirements.

“In the hours and days after the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers high-rise condominium in Surfside, Florida, I received numerous questions from residents in Alexandria about building safety in our community,” Wilson said. “As both a historic community and a growing community, the issue of building safety related to older buildings as well as new construction is one of particular interest.”

Wilson noted that there are 57 high-rise buildings in Alexandria that are at least 40 years old, and 51 high-rise buildings without sprinklers — the most of any locality in Virginia. Wilson also noted that a 2007 survey by the Virginia Housing Commission found that Alexandria had the most older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.

“The City issued a press release communicating information about the Commonwealth’s Uniform Statewide Building Code, inspection requirements for new construction, required periodic inspection of certain systems, and the process for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures,” Wilson said. “We did note, however, that there is currently no requirement in Virginia to proactively or regularly inspect building structure and that a building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations to the building that require inspection.”

Senator Scott Surovell noted on Twitter that Virginia condos are independently inspected every 5 years and repairs are recommended, but those are often ignored by Boards who are given immunity from liability.

Wilson noted that those studies are overseen and implemented by volunteers, not municipal building code officials, and the scope of studies outsourced to third parties is defined by those same Boards.

In the letter to Governor Northam, Wilson suggested slipping language into the American Rescue Plan Act funding to create a workgroup to look at potential changes to the building inspection requirements.

“I am asking that you consider including budget language establishing a work group of stakeholders on the issue of building safety in the Commonwealth in the appropriation bill for the Commonwealth’s tranche of ARPA funds that will be considered at the upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly,” Wilson said. “This workgroup would bring together stakeholders — including localities, building code officials, tenant groups, the development community, staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development and others to review building safety in the Commonwealth and identify legislative and budget proposals for the 2022 session.”

Potential changes Wilson suggested included:

  • New reporting requirements and transparency regarding current structural findings by homeowners and condominium associations
  • New authority for local building code officials to require inspections of buildings and structure in their community
  • A building inspection/recertification process
  • Emergency requirements that existing older buildings have structural assessments done within the next year.

“The tragic collapse of the condo building in Florida is highly unusual,” Wilson said. “There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent disaster are, thankfully, quite rare. However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety in our communities and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety across the Commonwealth.

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In the wake of the condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson says that Virginia needs to update its building safety regulations.

While calling the June 24 collapse of the 40-year-old building a rarity, Wilson tweeted that it has raised safety concerns since Alexandria has “most of the older high-rise residential buildings in Virginia.”

“There are millions of commercial and residential high-rise buildings in the United States and catastrophic structural failures like the recent catastrophe are, thankfully, quite rare,” Wilson said. “However, this is an opportunity for us to consider and revisit the issue of building safety, and identify ways to review and potentially enhance building safety.”

In Virginia, building owners are not required to have inspections on structural integrity after buildings get a certificate of occupancy when construction is complete. They are only inspected if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection.

“Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure,” City staff said in a release.

Wilson told ALXnow that he will soon send Governor Ralph Northam a letter asking his office to look into the matter.

For now, residents with concerns about the structural integrity of a building can contact the Department of Code Administration.

“The City is committed to the safety of our residents and I look forward to working with City staff, my City Council colleagues, other localities, members of the General Assembly, members of the Administration and other key stakeholders to identify ways to ensure the safety of buildings and structures in our community and in those across the Commonwealth,” Wilson said.

According to the City:

Virginia’s building code requires multiple layers of inspections, reviews and monitoring, particularly related to building structure and integrity, that initially take place during building construction. The inspections are performed by professionally licensed architects, engineers, municipal inspectors, special inspectors, senior engineers, certified technical experts, certified laboratories and certified testing agencies. Once these inspections have been passed, the building will receive a certificate of occupancy.

Building owners are then required to have periodic inspections of certain systems, such as elevators, fire protection and fire alarm systems. Currently, there are no requirements to proactively or regularly inspect building structure. A building that has received a certificate of occupancy is only inspected again if there is a change in occupancy or alterations that require inspection. As part of this inspection process, the statewide building code contains provisions for identifying and correcting unsafe buildings and structures. If a building is identified during an inspection as being structurally unstable or unsafe, there are provisions to handle that situation.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Accuses Trump of Racism — “Just more straight-up racism here from the man who couldn’t disown white supremacy on a national stage 24 hours ago.” [Twitter]

Alexandria GOP Chair Says Residents Fear Being Republican — “He said that the local Republican chapter is in full support of Donald Trump. He believes that Republicans in Alexandria may be silent but significant… He shared that many local Republican supporters fear repercussions if they make their opinions public.” [Alexandria Living]

Apartment-Hotel Company Leases Old Town Building — “Sonder USA Inc. has applied with Alexandria to operate the apartment-hotel coming to 805 King St. The 9,700-square-foot, four-story building, owned by North Carolina’s Asana Partners, has a Warby Parker eyeglasses boutique on the ground floor. Renovations are underway to convert the offices around and above that store to residential units, all with small kitchens, ranging from 225 square feet to 527 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Alexandria Drivers Third Rudest in U.S. — “According to a study by Insurify, Alexandrians aren’t very nice people behind the wheel. In fact, we’re pretty darn rude.” [Alexandria Living]

Police Congratulate Retiring Parking Enforcement Officer — “Congratulations and best wishes to PEO (parking enforcement officer) Charity Roberts. Thank you for your 31.5 years of service–you will be missed!!!” [Twitter]

Living Legend James Henson Honored — “On Sunday, Sept. 27, the newest Living Legend of Alexandria, James Henson, received quite the surprise. Friends presented him with his official Living Legends portrait. They gathered outside the Departmental Progressive Club (DPC) to walk to his home.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. High 73F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.A steady rain in the evening. Showers continuing late. Low 53F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 70%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Marketing and Communications Manager — “You will be responsible for supporting APCO’s communications and marketing efforts associated with elevating the organization’s profile within emergency communications. The ideal candidate will create and execute strategies that promote the organization’s programs and services while developing and implementing communications plans and related promotional collateral.” [Indeed]

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