Alexandria, VA

The enormous power plant in North Old Town has been shut down for nearly a decade, but plans have finally emerged to break the property up into smaller parcels for redevelopment.

The Potomac River Generating Station, more commonly known around Alexandria by its former name GenOn — which still adorns the building’s signs — was decommissioned in 2012.

The property’s owner, the Potomac Energy Power Company (PEPCO), is scheduled to bring a plan forward at the March 3 Planning Commission meeting to divide the property into three parcels..

The first lot, by far the largest at 818,944-square-feet, would encompass the administrative building and the power plant itself. Two smaller lots, 121,285-square-feet and 164,734-square-feet respectively, would be located at the western end of the property. Lot three would run along E. Abingdon Drive.

Following years of cleaning up the property, plans approved in 2017 would see the power plant redeveloped and turned into a pedestrian-friendly, urban neighborhood, as reported by the Washington Business Journal. An arts district and a waterfront park are also included in city plans for the area.

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A new series of buildings, including a towering automated parking garage, could be replacing a parking lot just off King Street in Old Town.

The groundwork for the project was laid months ago when the city agreed to sell the lot at 116 S. Henry Street, in addition to another parking lot along King Street.

“The development consists of three separate buildings: a townhouse condo with two units facing S. Patrick Street, an automated parking structure that will provide spaces for the new developments on this site, and a mixed-use four-story building on S. Henry,” the applicant, Galena Capital Partners, said in its application.

In the discussions over whether to sell the property, Planning Commissioners said they were “nerdily excited” for the automated parking garage.

The designs for the building show that cars will be driven onto a platform where a sliding structure can turn and shift the vehicle into a parking spot. The six-story garage will be accessible from Downham Way, which connects S. Henry Street and S. Patrick Street.

The designs for the building are scheduled to go to the Board of Architectural Approval on Wednesday, Jan. 22, for approval

Map via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Financing for Wegmans Development — “The developers behind Carlyle Crossing, the Wegmans-anchored mixed-use development going up near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station in Alexandria, have lined up $253 million in financing for the project. ” [Washington Business Journal]

Five-Year-Old Found Wandering in Cold — “Authorities in Alexandria say a young child who was found out in the cold early Friday will be reunited with her mother… The 5-year-old was found near a Taco Bell location at the intersection of South Van Dorn Street and Edsall Road before 4 a.m.” [Fox 5]

Alexandria Man Found Murdered — “A City of Alexandria resident has been identified as the victim of a homicide in Mount Vernon, Fairfax County Police say. The body of Micale Kebede, 31, was found near a bridge at Old Mill Road and Gateshead Road Wednesday evening.” [Patch]

School Board Approved Ten-Year Plan — “The Alexandria City School Board has approved a $530.7 million ten-year plan to continue to modernize ACPS schools while also funding facilities repairs to the school infrastructure needed.” [ACPS]

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(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) After 20 years of planning, work has started on the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Officials past and present came together at 2 p.m. today (Thursday) at the future Potomac Yard Metro station, currently the parking lot of Regal Potomac Yard movie theater.

The goal is to have the station opened by March 2022.

“This has been a quarter-century in the making,” Mayor Justin Wilson said, who then jokingly quoted former Vice President Joe Biden. “This is a big… deal.”

The Potomac Yard Metro station is helping to spur new development throughout the area, including a new Virginia Tech campus and a new mixed-use redevelopment where the Potomac Yard Shopping Center is today. Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington was also cited during the ceremony several times as a new development bound inextricably to the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Wilson credited former Mayor Patsy Ticer, who died in 2017, with leading the fight in the 1990s to keep a Washington Redskins stadium from being built at the site. Wilson then recognized the string of mayors that followed her: Kerry Donley, Bill Euille, and Allison Silberberg for each pushing the effort to have the station built forward.

Wilson also credited staff, particularly City Manager Mark Jinks, and local residents.

“This station will happen because of the persistence of residents,” Wilson said. “This will be their station.”

Not all of those residents are happy with the way the station is currently structured. A southern entrance to the station was initially promised to local residents, but swelling costs for the site resulted in the entrance being eliminated. Almost as controversial as the change was the revelation that members of the City Council and staff privately knew about the change but continued to say publicly said the south entrance was still planned.

A group of local residents were at the groundbreaking with a banner and signs demanding the south entrance be restored. The entrance has continually been brought up in the Potomac Yard Working Group meetings, including earlier this week on Tuesday, but while a ramp may be built from the southern neighborhoods to the area outside the station, it’s not the true southern entrance many residents are hoping for.

Staff said at the meeting that changing the design now to include a new southern entrance would significantly increase the cost of the project.

“What is annoying is that they sold us a bill of goods and it was a lie,” said Michael Whitehead, a nearby resident.

“It’s been a frustrating process,” said Adrien Lopez, a leader in a group of local residents calling for southern access to be restored.

On the dais, Mila Yochum, President of the Potomac Yard Civic Association, recognized the ongoing debate but said that local leaders shouldn’t mistake it for a lack of excitement about the Metro station.

“We’re excited to be a part of [this] development,” Yochum said. “I can’t wait to walk down to my favorite restaurant. I’m eager to see the station come to completion and we will continue to work on a southern entrance.”

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Alexandria is seeking public input for what to do with a prime piece of waterfront property currently occupied by eight parking spaces.

The lot at 2 King Street is currently owned by the City of Alexandria, a byproduct of its acquisition of the Old Dominion Boat Club building that was once across the street. But the city received an unsolicited proposal from the owner of the adjacent development to develop the property.

If the sale is approved, the section of the Fitzgerald Warehouse building that currently houses Mai Thai would be torn down and replaced with a new building.

The Alexandria Waterfront Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting in City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 6:30-8 p.m. to discuss the future of the site. According to the city website:

The property to be discussed at the community meeting is not the park area, but the remaining portion with eight parking spaces located across Strand Street, which is currently leased for private parking. The City has not decided on the future use of these eight parking spaces and is interested in hearing from the public about what kinds of public or private uses would be desirable.

While the site will likely be sold to the adjacent property owner, City Councilman Mo Seifeldein said in an earlier meeting that he believed it could be put to better public use.

At a Waterfront Commission meeting, staff said whether the site is sold to a developer or stays with the city, some kind of change is likely. Waterfront Commission members said that public uses, like the inclusion of public restrooms, should be a requirement if the site is sold.

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Morning Notes

Bus Barn Set for Demolition — “Located at 600 N. Royal St., the former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) bus garage, a.k.a. bus barn, has remained vacant since August 2014… Demolition of the bus barn is scheduled to begin on January 2, 2020. In its place, a mixed use apartment building will be built.” [Zebra]

Prominent Local Pastor Announces Sabbatical — “After 30 years of preaching more than 5,000 sermons, the Rev. Howard-John Wesley stood in front of his congregation on Dec. 1 and admitted he needed a break from the Lord’s work… Wesley, 47, has been pastor of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., for the past 11 years, leading four services every weekend, averaging 4,500 in attendance and 50,000 viewers online.” [Washington Post]

ACPS Gets Grant for Multicultural Books — “ACPS is to benefit from a $60,000 grant to spend on new books for students. Our division was selected from 100 applications received by First Book, a nonprofit that advocates for equal access to quality education for children in need.” [ACPS]

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The city is hoping to bring new affordable housing to the Eisenhower Valley, but some on the Planning Commission said the city is shooting itself in the foot with snobby development guidelines.

The plans to reshape Eisenhower — a topic that came up several times this week — went to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 3. While the commission mostly praised the vision presented in the plans, Commissioner Mindy Lyle pointed out that efforts to create more affordable housing in the area are inadvertently hamstrung by the city’s own zoning and design practices.

“We are never going to achieve our housing goals as a city unless we get over the snob factor,” said Lyle.

Lyle said that many types of housing, such as back-to-back units, two-over-two homes, and rows of housing with back-facing garages — all of which are common in D.C.’s residential neighborhoods — are frowned on in Alexandria’s guidelines.

“[These units] provide an ownership entry into the market that doesn’t have to be funded by [the city housing authority] — that can be entered into by young couples,” Lyle said. “We are doing ourselves a disservice as a city if we don’t start looking at different housing types and get over ourselves.”

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek argued that it was unlikely to see townhouses built in the core of Eisenhower East, where new developments will have height minimums and are expected to bring higher levels of density to the neighborhood. But Lyle said that further west there are long stretches of Eisenhower Avenue prime for townhomes.

“You’re going to see more development as you go towards Cameron Park,” Lyle said. “There are a few places there [that are] primed for redevelopment.”

Karl Moritz, director of Planning and Zoning, said that city staff are internally reviewing many of the assumptions made in the past about what types of housing could be utilized throughout the city.

“I do agree, that’s a subject worth examining,” Moritz said. “We’re looking at ways of putting houses on properties where zoning doesn’t currently allow.”

Currently, the plans are to utilize bonus density for new developments as leverage for investments in affordable housing. While this tactic is commonly used throughout Alexandria, staff said one difference in Eisenhower will be that developers won’t be able to just invest in the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing to be built elsewhere: affordable housing for bonus density in Eisenhower will have to be built somewhere in the immediate vicinity.

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Morning Notes

Redevelopment Plan in North Old Town — “As the American Physical Therapy Association prepares for a move to Potomac Yard, its current headquarters in North Old Town Alexandria is now slated for a major mixed-use redevelopment.” [Washington Business Journal]

ACPS Teacher’s Harrowing Journey — “When Onelio Mencho-Aguilar was 13-years-old, he left his mother and siblings to embark on a treacherous journey through rural Guatemala to the U.S. alone…  against the odds, he found a home here in Alexandria and with the support he found, he thrived. First as a student at T.C. Williams High School and now as a teacher at the International Academy where new arrivals to the U.S. are educated and supported.” [Alexandria City Public Schools]

New Suicide Prevention Effort — “DCHS now offers two locations where Alexandria residents and employees can obtain free locking medication boxes and firearm trigger or cable locks as part of Lock and Talk Northern Virginia. This safety program is a collaborative initiative of the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia.” [City of Alexandria]

Community Services Board Marks Anniversary — “On Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., in City Council Chambers, Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson will present members of the Alexandria Community Services Board (CSB) with a proclamation for 50 years of community service and support.” [Press Release]

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There are big things in store for Eisenhower Valley, and local leadership says the southwest Alexandria neighborhood is ready for its moment in the spotlight.

The city is in the middle of developing an update to its master plan for the Eisenhower Valley. Leadership from the Eisenhower Partnership — an organization that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary — spoke with ALXnow about how they see that plan taking shape.

Agnés Artemel started the Eisenhower Partnership in 1994, when the Carlyle neighborhood was just a twinkle in a developer’s eyes. Artemel said she remembered how the first marketing piece the partnership ever put out showed the federal courthouse under construction.

One of the big shifts in the plan would be changes in land use. Today, Eisenhower is mostly a collection of office buildings and some scattered retail. Artemel said the new plans call for a shift toward more residential uses and greater flexibility for mixed use developments.

“The new plan is more flexible to fit the market conditions,” Artemel said. “The original vision was office parks here, but the world has changed and multi-family [residential] is a great addition.”

The East End

Artemel said the strip mall at the end of Eisenhower Avenue (2000 Eisenhower Avenue), home to Foster’s Grille and Zikrayet Lebanese Restaurant and Lounge, has leases that run to 2025, but sometime after that the property will likely be torn down and redeveloped. The update to the Eisenhower Master Plan aims to have this eastern end of the Eisenhower Valley transformed into a retail-focused and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

At Hoffman Town Center (2404 Eisenhower Avenue), many of the new developments announced after the arrival of the National Science Foundation — like the new Wegmans — are starting to take shape. But there are concerns about how the local streets will be able to handle the additional traffic.

“People say that visitors will take uber or bikes, but that’s not going to happen,” said Kay Tyler, who joined the organization in 2005. “We need to focus on transportation.”

Daniel Beason, the current vice president of the partnership, said he was excited about the DASH network’s restructuring that would create more frequent, reliable service in high-density areas like Eisenhower.

The group also noted that the type of complete street changes, like the controversial new bike lanes recently installed on Seminary Road, shouldn’t come to Eisenhower Avenue.

“We’re suburban density, it’s not right for us,” Artemel said. “The city wants to be Copenhagen, which is a noble goal, but we’re not there yet. We’re too spread out.”

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The city-owned small parcel at 2 King Street — currently home to eight leased parking spaces — could have a big impact on the block at the end of King Street if the city approves a sale.

At the Waterfront Commission meeting this morning (Tuesday), staff said the city received an unsolicited offer for the lot in June from the current owners of the adjacent Fitzgerald Warehouse building. The City Council subsequently authorized staff to consider the sale and look into alternatives for the property.

Staff said the proposed plan would involve tearing down the late 20th-century addition to the historic property — which currently houses Thai restaurant Mai Thai — and replace it with a new extension that would take advantage of the waterfront view. The historic Fitzgerald Warehouse, where Starbucks is currently located, would not be torn down.

Staff was skeptical of the likelihood that another development could be built on the site, saying it could theoretically be its own building but “it would be a tight fit.”

One way or another, the parking spaces at the foot of King Street are likely going away soon. Jack Browand, division chief with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said that the current use does not fit with the city’s plans to make the surrounding streets more pedestrianized.

“Even if it stays with the city, it would be improved in some way, like turned into an outdoor seating area,” Browand said.

Whether the property stays with the city or is sold to a developer, several members of the Waterfront Commission said that part of the deal should be the inclusion of public restrooms or other public uses at the site.

Staff said a public meeting will be held in December to gather more ideas for what to do with the site, but no specific date has been scheduled.

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Despite some concerns from neighbors, the Planning Commission unanimously gave the thumbs up a new 22,794 square-foot, gothic-style Presbyterian church, a couple of blocks north of T.C. Williams High School.

The new building will replace the existing 3,400 square foot Alexandria Presbyterian Church at 1300 W. Braddock Road, as well as a parking lot and an adjacent residence, but the congregation is larger than the church can contain. The congregation also has held worship services at Del Ray Baptist Church since 1999, but the new church will bring all of the members together under one roof.

The church’s parking lot will have 98 lots and bicycle parking. There is no open space requirement for the church, but 34 percent of the church will remain open space to meet the city’s stormwater requirements.

Most of the speakers at the event were members of the church who said they were excited to finally all be able to congregate together in one facility.

The church faced some gentle pushback from neighbors. While neighbors said they appreciated the mission and community work of the church, they had concerns about the traffic and stormwater impact of the new facility.

Neighbors cited concerns about traffic on Scroggins Road, a small, two-lane street navigation apps have turned into a cut-through corridor to avoid the crowded Braddock Road, Quaker Lane and King Street. Some said the gridlock on the street has made it difficult for residents to access their own homes.

The traffic study done by staff was also criticized for taking place during the government shutdown, giving an uncharacteristically low estimate of traffic on the street. Residents said crowding at T.C. Williams has led to more students parking on nearby residential streets.

The Planning Commission recognized the concerns from neighbors, but Commissioner Maria Wasowski said the church can’t be expected to single-handedly address the traffic, parking and stormwater problems on Scroggins Road.

Commissioners were also dubious that the church, which would likely see peak occupancy on Sundays, would have a noticeable impact on school parking and commuter cut-through traffic.

“There are four churches in Old Town that rely on on-street parking, and everyone seems to survive,” said Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “Churches enhance our community.”

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project, which will not require City Council approval unless the Planning Commission’s decision is appealed.

Photo (top) via City of Alexandria, (below) via Google Maps

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Just a few days after submitting plans for the Virginia Tech site near the North Potomac Yard Metro station, JBG Smith has submitted early concept designs for the development that will replace Target and the other Potomac Yard stores.

While the area is known today as a big-box shopping center and surface parking lot, the majority of the new development will be office and residential spaces in a large grid, the Washington Business Journal first reported. Ten of the buildings will be required to have retail, with optional retail at the southern end of the site.

Other features of the plan include a hotel at the north end of the site and school or community facility at the southern end. The site was one of the locations considered for a second high school, but while the School Board ultimately voted to stick with an expanded T.C. Williams High School, administrators still expressed interest in putting some kind of educational facility at Potomac Yard.

Several of the properties closest to the North Potomac Yard Metro station are classified in plans as a flexible neighborhood zone. Current plans show the majority of that space — including the Target, as offices.

A public meeting to discuss the North Potomac Yard development is scheduled for next Thursday, Nov. 14, from 7-9 p.m. in the National Industries for the Blind (3000 Potomac Avenue).

In all, the two redevelopment plans total more than 8 million square feet of space.

Photo courtesy Streetsense

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