Newsletter
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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The GenOn Power Plan redevelopment plans are headed to the City Council with the backing of staff and the Planning Commission but lingering concerns from local workers.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ plan is to replace the power plant on the 18.8-acre site with six blocks of new, mixed-use buildings of varying densities and heights and coordinated open space. The city is also planning to expand the boundaries of the Old Town North Arts and Cultural District to include the site.

Both city staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval. The staff report noted the plan not only remediates the defunct power plant site along the river, but extends the Old Town street grid and offers arts and affordable housing opportunities.

The development’s hit a few bumps in the road so far. Hilco said the site’s developable land is smaller than initially anticipated, with the developer asking for

A letter sent to the City Council from various tenant and worker groups, however, said the groups take issue with the jobs and housing types provided with the development, along with environmental concerns. The letter was signed by African Communities Together, Baltimore-D.C. Metro Building Trades Council, Build Our Future, CASA, UNITE HERE Local 23 and UNITE HERE Local 25.

“We urge Council to delay voting on Hilco’s Consolidated Development District (CDD) application until the project meets higher standards on the issues of good jobs, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability,” the groups said in the letter. “While each of our organizations is concerned primarily with only one of these areas, we are joining together in recognition of their deep
interconnections, and in our collective interest in creating a just and equitable community and a livable climate for all Alexandrians. Development in Alexandria must begin meeting higher levels of performance if we are to achieve this goal.”

The groups raised concerns similar to those brought up with the Hotel Heron project in January. The letter said without additional guarantees from the developer, the project would likely bring in 180 jobs with wages so low the workers could not live in Alexandria.

“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2021 Annual Report ‘Out of Reach,’ the hourly wage needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment without paying more than 30% of income on housing in Alexandria is $33.94,” the letter said, “more than twice the median wage for housekeepers in the local hotel industry.”

Benjy Cannon, Director of Communications for UNITE HERE Local 25, said there’s not a specific number the groups have in mind for what the workers should be paid, but said it should be significantly higher than the median wage.

“We don’t have a specific ask in terms of the figure, we just know that it has to be significantly higher than the median wage for housekeepers cited in the letter,” Cannon said. “Unionized hotel workers in DC and National Harbor make between $24-$26 an hour, which some of the workers who’ve testified before the Council and Planning Commission on these issues have cited as a point of comparison.” Read More

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Redesigned 515 King Street (image via GTM Architects/City of Alexandria)

After few months after purchasing 515 King Street — the big brutalist building in Old Town with a big clock on the side — Douglas Development is pitching a building overhaul to the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR).

The purchase of 515 King Street is just one of many recent acquisitions along King Street by Douglas Development.

According to a permit application scheduled for review at the Wednesday, June 15 BAR meeting. According to the permit, planned changes for the building include:

  • A new painted exterior to the brick building — images included with the application show it as a darker grey.
  • Added storefront windows along King Street and the other sides of the building
  • A new office lobby canopy facing King Street
  • A new “address sculpture” (in lieu of a tree in a planter box on King Street)
  • Expanded ground floor storefront

The building will also have a 5th-floor roof deck facing King Street. The new building will also have railing along a raised sidewalk to make the building ADA accessible from King Street.

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Seminary Hill Association President Carter Flemming and former Mayor Kerry Donley at Agenda Alexandria, image via Agenda Alexandria/YouTube

There are individual developments that can attract controversy but stepping back there’s a broader issue addressed at an Agenda Alexandria discussion last night with city leaders, developers and civic association representatives: whose vision shapes the future of Alexandria?

The discussion, moderated by Board Member Rod Kuckro, tackled a variety of development issues, including the slow death of office and commercial space in projects over the last few years.

For Carter Flemming, President of the Seminary Hill Association, there’s a concern that resident voices are being drowned out by the interests of developers.

“The voices of citizens need to be a better part of this equation,” Flemming said. “Many of the civic associations and the Federation believe over the last few years, the role of our associations and voices has been lessened as voices of developers and urban think tanks have taken a bigger role in our city… Many of us do not believe the City is working together with current residents. They’re building for a future we may or may not be a part of, but we should have a voice.”

On the City side, former Mayor Kerry Donley said there is an inherent incentive towards development for the City, as new development means more tax revenue to fund services.

“The City derives the bulk of its revenue from real property taxes; that’s how we grow and provide services,” Donley said. “It’s not accurate to say the council or the city is always looking in the developer’s favor, but under our way of governing in the Commonwealth of Virginia there is an inherent incentive for this locality and every locality to develop real property because that’s where we derive revenue to provide services.”

Donley and others in the discussion also outlined significant changes coming to what’s developed in Alexandria. Donley said the big push is for residential development, as brick-and-mortar commercial businesses were already facing a difficult battle against online retail pre-pandemic and a shift towards remote work drove a stake through the office market.

“Demand for commercial space is next to nill, but demand for residential is the highest and best use for properties,” Donley said.

Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria, said the challenges from the pandemic and more force the city to reconsider older plans.

“We are, as Kerry was saying, facing a set of challenges that none of our jurisdictions have faced before,” Moritz said. “There is certainly a desire to ensure that our master plan, which is guiding orderly growth, is reflecting new challenges that are coming.

Moritz also said there’s a much greater emphasis now on bringing additional voices to city meetings beyond just civic associations.

“Our expectation is that people who have never been involved before are added to the mix,” Moritz said. “It’s a stronger system when more voices are heard.”

Austin Flajser, President & CEO of The Carr Companies, said he believes the voice of developers in city policymaking is overstated.

“Fundamentally, [development] starts with the rules in place,” Flajser said. “It starts with a small area plan and that shapes the concepts of what is viable and not viable… If there are developers that have a big voice in the process, I’d like to meet them. I don’t feel like I have a big voice in the process. We follow the rules as laid down.”

The next step, Flajser said, is to look at market demand.

“Just because I’m allowed to build a hotel doesn’t mean I’ll build a hotel if the demand isn’t there,” Flajser said. “I can’t imagine someone building an office building in the near future.”

One of the touchier topics raised in the discussion was single-family zoning. While city leaders have been reconsidering zoning laws in a push toward greater equity, some local residents have expressed concerns that the end goal is the elimination of single-family zoning.

The topic was raised, but only Moritz responded and with a somewhat nebulous answer:

First, because I’m a planner of a certain age: personally I feel I have responsibility as part of the regulatory infrastructure that allowed what started out as an intentional disinclusion of people of color from single family neighborhoods, intentionally keeping families of color from wealth-building opportunities, and that for years we pretended it hadn’t happened and it was okay because we’d legislated that people couldn’t be disciminated against. But that ignores the long-term impact on those families.

It’s a good idea to come together and talk about those things. As for what comes out of those conversations: I have an extraordinary optimism about Alexandria and its ability to talk through issues like that and come up with the right approach. I believe that those conversations would be healthy and I look forward to doing my part.

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2121 Eisenhower proposal, image via SK+I Architecture

A last-minute disagreement between city staff and developers of a new development in Carlyle raised concerns about fairness in the city’s development process.

There was little indication before the City Council meeting (item 12) on Saturday, May 15, that the development at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue would take up two hours of discussion and argument.

At the public hearing, the project faced both criticism from affordable housing advocates for its lackluster contribution and an 11th hour objection from staff over a technical development detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

The central question was whether or not the above-ground parking space at the site qualified as part of the square footage of a building for purposes of things like the developer contribution to affordable housing.

Vagueries and disagreement in what the city was asking from the developer led City Council member Kirk McPike to describe the whole issue as “Calvinball” — a reference to the game played in Calvin and Hobbes where the rules are inconsistent and change mid-game.

The staff report recommended approval, and there was no discussion of this issue at the Planning Commission.

“In recent days it’s become clear that there’s a difference of opinion between the applicant and staff on how to apply the $5.46 per square foot toward the above-ground parking portion of the residential development,” said Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning. “First, I do need to apologize to the applicant for the extreme lateness in bringing this issue to our collective attention … but staff’s view is that the Eisenhower East Plan is clear on what the contribution applies to and even more clear on what is exempt.”

Moritz said the condition applies to development built above ground and developments approved under the previous plan are exempt. The plan also exempts commercial development because the market for commercial development is challenging. Finally, the plan exempts bonus density applied to affordable housing.

Moritz said part of the analysis is what value is being created by the upzoning that the plan is providing — the increase in value that each property owner is getting.

Attorney Cathy Puskar represented applicant Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners and not only expressed disagreement with staff’s conclusion that the parking should qualify as square footage to be factored into the developer contributions, but said the process by which the issue was raised was unacceptable.

“We often have issues that come up at the last minute before we come to you at City Council and it’s always unfortunate but we’re able to work through it,” Puskar said. “In this instance it’s not only unfortunate it’s egregious. I received a call 23 hours before this hearing telling me that high-level staff at planning and zoning had a different interpretation of our obligation on the developer contribution than had been discussed during the small area plan, than had been agreed to, and has been documented in the conditions.”

Puskar said the disagreement amounted to a $1 million additional fee to pay the city.

The vagueness of the rules and their implementation in the development sparked some frustration from the dais.

“We’re voting on this language, we all agree on the language, but nobody agrees on what the language means,” McPike said. “There’s kind of a Calvinball aspect to this.”

Read More

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Bonaventure has released its second concept design for its mixed use shopping center proposal for 2525 Mount Vernon Avenue in the middle of Del Ray.

Bonaventure made a few big changes, including reducing the size of the proposed mixed use building from 88,500 square feet to 72,000 square feet. The number of esidential units has also been lowered from 79 to 73, and the building setbacks have been increased along Mount Vernon, Stewart and E. Mount Ida Avenues.

Cathy Puskar, Bonaventure’s land use attorney, said that the developer received lots of feedback from the city and community on their first conceptual design.

“We continue to do our work to try and work with you as residents of Delray to address concerns and issues and hopefully get to a point where we have a project that everyone can be proud of,” Puskar told members of the Del Ray Citizens Association in a presentation Monday night (May 16).

Bonaventure is also giving the community a parking lot, so to speak. The developer owns the 144-space parking lot across from Pat Miller Square on Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Oxford Avenue, and 73 spaces will be available for public use. The lot currently allows for 33 shared retail parking spaces.

“We are proposing to provide our residential parking on the lower floor of the of the parking structure,” Puskar said. “We would have 73 parking spaces that would be available for shared retail use so the public would be able to use those spaces.”

Bonaventure bought the home to the former Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services for $22.5 million in 2019, along with the neighboring properties at 2401, 2403 and 2411-2419 Mount Vernon Avenue.

Notable changes:

  • The number of residential units has gone from 79 to 73
  • Residential square footage went from 75,970 square feet to 63,200 square feet
  • Increased building setback along Mount Vernon Avenue from nine feet to 12.1 feet
  • Increased building setback along E. Mount Ida Avenue from seven-and-a-half feet to 10.7 feet
  • Increased building setback along Stewart Avenue from nine feet to 10 feet
  • Residential balconies have been removed

As for stormwater concerns, Puskar said that the new plan relocates a storm sewer pipe from the sidewalk into the street, and that the pipe will be increased from 15 inches to 18 inches.

“We received a number of comments about being concerned about stormwater and stormwater runoff and stormwater treatment,” Puskar said. “Since we have to relocate the pipe anyway, we’re working with staff to upgrade that pipe to help as they continue to do infrastructure improvements to address stormwater concerns in the area.”

Bonaventure is not including affordable housing units in the project, and will instead contribute to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

The company wants their plan to go to the City for review in November, to be followed by a final site plan and building permit process, and upward of a year-and-a-half for construction. Barring unforeseen circumstances, development could start in the fourth quarter of 2023 and be finished in approximately 20 months.

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Rendering of new proposed Samuel Madden development (image courtesy ARHA)

The Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority (ARHA) is getting ready to tear down a cluster of affordable garden apartments in Parker-Gray and turn the lots into a larger mixed-use development.

Samuel Madden Homes at 899 & 999 North Henry Street currently comprises 13 two-story garden apartments built in 1945 with 66 affordable housing units. The homes were build to house defense workers during WWII and were transferred to ARHA’s predecessor in 1947. The plan is to demolish and redevelop on the site with two new buildings with 500 residential units

ARHA is headed to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday (May 18) for a permit to demolish and a concept review for the new development (items 6 and 7).

The staff report for the BAR described the homes as “contributing structures” to the Uptown/Parker Gray National Register Historic District, describing them as one of several groups of buildings by architect Joseph Henry Saunders, Jr. that helped establish the look of the Parker Gray neighborhood.

“As such, demolition of these structures requires a higher degree of scrutiny than non-contributing structures,” the report said. “Staff is always reluctant to recommend demolition of any building
that has historic or architectural significance, but several factors mitigate against retaining these buildings.”

The staff report said that while the homes are representative of a popular construction style in the area, there are ample enough “colonial revival” style buildings in the area. The report also said that while the scale of the buildings were once generally reflective of much of the neighborhood, there are several high-rise multi-use buildings in the neighborhood.

“Since the construction of this community, the scale and character of the neighborhood has undergone radical change,” the report said. “Samuel Madden now appears out of scale with the surrounding community.”

As for a permit for the new development, the staff report suggests that some further refinement is needed.

“Staff has been working with the applicant on the development of their documents and recommends that as the project progresses, the applicant explore different architectural motifs that relate to either the history of the site or to the surrounding buildings. The Board has often encouraged applicants to take design inspiration from the historical use of the general area of the city.

The staff report says the proposed building needs some touch-ups to bring it more in-line with some of the neighboring development.

“Staff recommends that the BAR request the applicant to return for a second Concept Review after addressing feedback from the Board and Staff. Staff finds that the height and scale of the project as submitted is appropriate for the immediate context,” the staff report said. “The applicant should continue to develop the massing and architectural character, taking into consideration comments from the Board and Staff.”

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After two decades of Landmark Mall redevelopment being just out of reach, city officials and developers alike let out wild roars of satisfaction as the wrecking ball crashed into the side of the building today (Thursday).

There’s still a long way to go before the first buildings of the new hospital and mixed-use development start coming online — currently slated for 2026. Still, demolition marked the furthest point of progress for redevelopment since meetings to that effect started in 2008.

There were multiple false-starts for redevelopment. The mall faced a slow death in the 2000s and early 2010s, with major anchors pulling out and leaving smaller upstart shops in the mostly-empty husk of the building. The plug was pulled in early 2017.

For many of those gathered, seeing the front of the mall cave-in was a bittersweet experience.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “I’m emotional. It’s an exciting and sad day. I remember coming here when I was 9 and it was open air. It was a place I always came to with my mom and friends. It was a gathering place, but now it will be so much more. It’s a very nostalgic day.”

The mall was eventually briefly resurrected for a scene in Wonder Woman 1984 but the mall itself looked closer to the one from Dawn of the Dead until city leaders and developers from Foulger-Pratt started communicating in 2020.

“March 2020 was a pretty crappy time,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “We thought the world was ending. I’m sitting on my computer in one Zoom meeting after another and I get an email on March 19 from [CEO] Cameron Pratt that said ‘you don’t know me, but I’m going to redevelop Landmark Mall.'”

Wilson described the email as the city administration equivalent to the Nigerian Prince scam but then-City Manager Mark Jinks told Wilson he thought the email was serious.

“That kicked off a process that led to today,” Wilson said. “It’s happening because everyone refused to quit… If ever there was a process willed into development by the public, it was this.”

Pratt said his first real job was working as a construction laborer on a Landmark Mall renovation.

“I’m excited to continue our involvement,” Pratt said. “It’s a unique moment in time. We knew we had one shot to pull this off and we promised [the city] we would only ask for exactly what we needed to pull this off.”

Pratt said there were bumps in the road leading up to the demolition and there would be more — a few minutes later this proved true as the button intended to signal the wrecking crew failed to start the demolition — but the city and developer have built a strong relationship over the last few years that will help development moving forward.

Pratt also acknowledged that reaction to the development’s new name, West End, has been mixed.

“There’s been a lot of positive and negative feedback,” Pratt said. “We’re not trying to appropriate the West End, we want to contribute to that community. We hope this becomes the heart of the West End.”

Pratt later told ALXnow the name was meant as an acknowledgment that there’s already a vibrant community in the area and that the mall should serve as a gathering place. That justification didn’t hold much water with some at the demolition, but that didn’t dampen spirits in the crowd.

“I don’t love the name,” admitted City Council member Kirk McPike. “I think people will still call it Landmark. But whether you call it Landmark or just call everything west of Quaker Lane the West End, it’s still a good thing for the area. It’s going to attract innovation and be a new medical hub. [Along with] Potomac Yard, we’ll have these two engines on both sides of the city generation innovation and jobs.” Read More

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New development plans submitted to the City of Alexandria show a mixed arts-retail district that could be an integral part of designs to reshape Old Town North.

The new 349,000 square-foot Montgomery Center development fills the block from N. Royal Street to N. Fairfax Street and Madison Street to Montgomery Street, sandwiched between the one-acre Alexandria House Park and 2.4-acre Montgomery Park.

Developer Carr Companies submitted the plans for the redevelopment of Montgomery Center, drawn up by Cooper Carry, to the Urban Design Advisory Committee for Old Town North.

The development plans show two mostly-residential mixed-use buildings featuring retail and a 13,460 square foot arts venue. The core of the development will be split with a T-shape courtyard connecting the retail and arts center spaces. The project is planned to include 331 residential units.

The site will also include an event area with renderings of ice skating shown as a potential concept for the space.

The plans also show underground parking at the site.

A presentation of the development plan is available online.

Hat tip to an anonymous tipster

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The relatively diminutive five-story brick buildings at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue are eclipsed by the taller buildings to either side, but that could change with redevelopment plans headed to the City Council this week.

At their meeting on Saturday, May 14, the City Council is set to review plans (Item 12) to replace the building with two towers connected by a six-level garage. Plans indicate that there will be 802 units of multi-family housing in the building, with 44 set aside as affordable housing.

The new development will also build a new roadway connection Mill Road and Elizabeth Lane.

Much of the ground floor is reserved for amenity space, though one space is noted as being set aside for a dog wash.

The staff report also includes a note that the development will come with contributions to Capital Bikeshare ($60,000), the City’s Housing Trust Fund ($1,499,186) and the Eisenhower East Implementation Fund (Approx. $5.46 per square foot). The project was endorsed by the Planning Commission in a 6-0 vote.

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