Alexandria, VA

With relocation of affordable housing off the table for Minnie Howard, a committee of city and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) leaders met Monday to look to other projects to see where co-location could be implemented.

The city has several major relocation needs over the next few years, including a need to relocate four fire stations to fit changing population figures. At the Joint City-ACPS Facilities Master Plan community meeting, however, the focus was on affordable housing and school locations.

One of the locations being considered was the Community Shelter and Substance Abuse Center at 2355 Mill Road near the Hoffman Town Center.

Kayla Anthony, a representative from consultant Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc., said that the location was built 30 years ago and still serves a community need, but is in need of some refitting.

“Our first idea for a test fit focused on the affordable housing crisis,” Anthony said. “Housing is identified as an urgent need in assessment and aligned with opportunities in this site.”

One potential plan would see housing and the shelter co-located on the same site, and Anthony credited Carpenter Shelter’s new facility as an inspiration for the test fit.

Another test fit for the site would involve relocating the community shelter somewhere else and using the spot for mixed-use development including housing and commercial space.

“This takes our idea a bit further,” said Anthony. “One of the things we learned is because it can accommodate up to 200 feet of building height… and the shelter could be relocated to a surplus site, we wanted to see how we could maximize the site. If we relocated the shelter to a site in the future, that site could accommodate up to 300,000 square feet of multi-family and commercial units.

The proposal could include up to 160 residential units on the site.

“There’s more that can be done with the site if the shelter is relocated to another place,” Anthony said.

A map of the proposed mixed-use development at the site included both residential and commercial uses at the site.

Anthony emphasized that the test fits for the site is not approved by the city or even fully fleshed out plans, but are options the city could consider down the road.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Virginia Rolls Back Some Restrictions on Dining, Outdoor Gatherings — Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight. The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).” [Reston Now]

Alexandria Black History Museum Launches Online Exhibition — “Following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) requested that Alexandria residents share their thoughts, artwork, and more. ABHM wanted to document the Alexandria community’s response of this tragic event and preserve it for future generations. An online exhibition featuring the items received so far launched recently on the Historic Alexandria Online portal. The items collectively are called the Black Lives Remembered Collection.” [Zebra]

Leaders Predict What Alexandria Will Look Like in the Year 2050 — “You pop into the Torpedo Factory and delve into the immersive beauty of art and technology combined, then get your caffeine fix with ease as a retinal scan captures your regular favorite brew — fair trade of course, because all coffee is these days. With a coffee in hand, you board one of the free electric trolleys that departs every 10 minutes from King Street to any of the city’s neighborhoods — Potomac Yard, Inova West, Carlyle, Arlandria, Del Ray and more.[Alexandria Living]

Council Approves Newport Village Development — “UDR Newport Village LLC, has received approval for a development special use permit to tear down two garden-style apartments and build a multifamily residential building with 383 units near Northern Virginia Community College. According to the plans, 24 units would be studios, 255 would be one-bedroom units, and 104 would be two-bedroom units. At least a dozen of the units would be affordable, and the developer is making a contribution to the affordable housing fund.” [Alexandria Living]

City Environmental Award Nominations Open — “Know someone who is committed to protecting the environment and sustaining Alexandria’s natural resources? Nominate them for the Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award by March 25.” [Twitter]

George Washington Reenactor Conducting Community Conversations — “Join George Washington every Friday in February as he discusses his life during various periods of his life and engages the audience. The first week will be about his youth, the second week will delve into the American War for Independence, the third week will cover his post-war retirement at Mount Vernon and his time presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and the last installment will cover his Presidency and final retirement years.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 52F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Pastry Chef/Baker — “Seeking a full time pastry and/or bread baker for high quality artisan bread and pastry company. We are looking for a creative self starter who has attention to detail and a variety of skills from cookies and brownies to cakes, ice cream, mousses, desserts and pies- laminating skills a plus but not necessary. Creativity, drive and a strong work ethic are critical. This position comes with a lot of freedom to develop new items and grow the business. You will be producing a menu of set items according to our recipes but we are looking for someone who can creatively and efficiently develop and add more items- this is a growth position.” [Indeed]

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The North Ridge Citizens’ Association has launched a Change.org petition to save a 100-year old home in the neighborhood from development.

The home tucked away behind some trees at 506 N. Overlook Drive was built sometime in the late 19th century, although exactly when is a matter of some disagreement. The home was owned by Hampshire Fractious (page 12), a freed Black man who lived in the city sometime in the late 19th century.

It sold for $1.2 million late last year, according to real estate website Redfin. The new owner, JS Investment LLC, plans to subdivide the property and build two new homes.

The petition currently has 624 signatures with a goal of 1000.

“North Ridge is about to lose one of its most cherished and symbolic structures,” the North Ridge Citizens’ Association said in the petition. “The new owner of 506 N. Overlook Drive is proposing to demolish this historic Civil War era house, subdivide the property, and build 2 new houses in its place. This house was built in 1850, owned by a free African American man named Hampshire Fractious in the years immediately after the Civil War, and is said to have been used as a hospital during the war. It is listed as a Documented Historic Site in the 1992 Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation.”

A Washington Post article from 1992 similarly cites the home as being pre-Civil War and repeats the story that it was used as a field hospital. The Alexandria Master Plan for Historic Preservation lists the house (PDF page 69) as having been built in 1878 — over a decade after the Civil War ended. In a report on the subdivision reapplication, staff recommended approval.

“In summary, proposed Lots 500 and 501 would adhere to all subdivision and R-8 zone requirements,” staff said. “The lots are substantially similar in character as other similarly situated lots within the original subdivision.”

Staff said in the report that the building is not on the city’s list of buildings over 100 years old, despite the building being at the top of the list on the Master Plan for Historic Preservation’s list of buildings constructed before 1900.

The item is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 2.

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As plans for the redevelopment of Landmark Mall start to come together, the project’s architects turn their eyes to other successful developments in the region for inspiration.

Don Hoover, a landscape architect and urban designer with design firm Oculus, described the planned layout of the site at the Eisenhower West/Van Dorn Implementation Advisory Group meeting last night. The plan is to have a central “green spine” of open space running through the heart of the site and connecting to Holmes Run.

While tourism in Alexandria today is largely focused around eastern neighborhoods like Old Town and Del Ray, part of the goal of the Landmark redevelopment is to build an attractive space that will bring people in from throughout the region.

“It’s going to take a lot to make [this] a destination,” Hoover admitted, “and there are a lot of ingredients that go into that.”

Hoover specifically cited The Wharf, a mixed-use development in D.C. that opened in 2017, as an example of what they’re hoping to accomplish with the active retail space.

“The Wharf is something I consider as a good example of how to choreograph how you walk someone through the space,” Hoover said.

Hoover said the intention is to have a retail core at the center of the space, gradually tapering out toward the hospital and towards a hillside park on the east.

“We intend the retail core to be highly activated, then more passive as you go towards Inova and diminish to the east towards the open space,” Hoover said. “We’re building up the center to be an active space.”

Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said each parcel of the development will have 25% open space accessible to the public. Beyond just parks, Browand said those open spaces could have temporary active uses, like pop-up events and food trucks.

The Landmark Mall development is intended to replace the existing vacant mall with a new Inova hospital complex and extensive mixed use development. At the meeting, representatives of the developers said the project will have a mix of residential uses.

The plan is to have affordable housing built above a fire station, similar to the layout of the mixed residential-fire station in Potomac Yard.

Michael Cross, assistant fire chief, said the design in Potomac Yard does not put residences directly over the apparatus bay. Housing is built over the office and residential spaces of the fire station, helping to mitigate the impact of sirens on residents. Cross said there has only been one noise complaint at the site and it was related to non-emergency vehicles at the site.

In addition to affordable housing, the area is planned to have market rate apartment units, senior housing, and townhomes and condos for sale.

Construction of the hospital is projected to start in 2023, beginning to come online in 2025. The residential and retail corridor would come later, representatives at the meeting said, with the project is scheduled to be built in a series of phases and the earliest projection for completion sometime in 2032.

Image via City of Alexandria

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A long public hearing — and extended public debate in online forums and city meetings — over the controversial Heritage project ended with an unanimous vote approving the project.

Many on the City Council expressed reservations, including issues of size, increased traffic and additional burden on schools. Ultimately, however, the addition of new affordable housing units was an offer the Council felt it couldn’t refuse.

The Heritage is a project that will replace four buildings in southeast Old Town along S. Patrick and Washington Streets with three new apartment buildings. The project attracted controversy for its height and density — up to seven stories tall with 750 units — and earlier renderings were described by the Board of Architectural review as “lipstick on a pig”.

The project was widely criticized by members of the community, to the point of some residents creating a webpage dedicated to opposition and former Mayor Allison Silberberg weighing in against the project. Opponents said the buildings were too large for the site and would add more residents than the local infrastructure could support. Over 62% of respondents to an ALXnow poll on the topic had an unfavorable view of the project.

(Note: much of the public comment on the project was not available online at time of writing)

These criticisms found some support from the Council. City Councilwoman Amy Jackson expressed many of those same concerns, though she ultimately voted in favor of approval.

“You have [Historic Alexandria Resources Commission] and other commissions coming to us saying they don’t agree,” Jackson said. “It’s a mega-sized environment being placed on a footprint that is much smaller than what we are about to put on it. We have enrollment issues, [children here] will be in learning cottages. You have a bigger footprint showing that we now have stormwater and drainage issues.”

Jackson said that a pre-COVID traffic study done early last January did not reflect the perspective of many, herself included, who sat in heavy traffic already near the site.

“We’re going to have a lot of problems concerning traffic,” Jackson said. “I’ve sat in that line for 5-10 minutes trying to get off Gibbon street to get on Route 1. I don’t know how you’re going to put another 400 units on that property and have it all go well.”

But others, like City Council members Canek Aguirre, Del Pepper, and John Chapman said the opportunity to gain 57 units was too rare to pass up.

“This is an opportunity for the city to save housing in this area,” Chapman said. “There are issues in that neighborhood with stormwater and traffic… [but] it needs to be on us to make those areas ready for development. We’re struggling to capture [housing], to retain it, so [having] the oppurtunity to create?”

Jackson called into question whether the gain in affordable housing was worth the concerns expressed by members of the council and the community, but the answer for other members of the governing body was: yes.

“This is a difficult vote to make,” Pepper said. “I think of all the times we’ve been excited to get two units, teeny weeny units. But here we have a chance to add to what’s here. We desperately need every affordable unit we can get, that is for sure. I have friends who are not able to stay in the city and they don’t know what to do. They need to be in the city because of their jobs and they stay awake at nights wondering how they are going to pay their bills. Here is one more opportunity to help not those folks individually, but in general.”

Image via City of Alexandria

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It was a cold week in Alexandria.

With bits of snow and temperatures hovering at around freezing, our top story this week was on Allison Priebe, the local business owner who was robbed while pumping gas in Old Town. Police later released suspect photos and advise anyone pumping gas to keep their keys with them and lock their vehicles.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria is now at 9,903 cases and no new deaths, which is an increase of about 150 cases since Monday’s report. Meanwhile, as the city contends with a growing vaccine waiting list, the Health Department is warning residents of COVID-19 vaccine scams.

More than 260 people participated in our weekly poll. This week we asked about voting in the upcoming City Council and mayoral elections, and 87% plan on voting in the primary and general election; 6% only plan on voting in the primary; 5% aren’t voting and 1% will only vote in the primary.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  2. BREAKING: Large Power Outage Reported in Old Town
  3. ACPS Releases Semifinalist Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School Renaming
  4. Just In: ‘QAnon Shaman’ from Capitol Siege Transferred to Alexandria Jail
  5. Poll: What Do You Think of the Proposed Heritage Development in Old Town
  6. Mayor: Brace Yourselves, It Could be End of Summer Before City Moves into Next Vaccine Phase
  7. BREAKING: Councilman Mo Seifeldein Running for Alexandria Mayor, Hatch Act Conflict in Question
  8. Alexandria Sheriff: Jailed ‘QAnon Shaman’s’ Organic Food Request is Normal
  9. Just In: James Lewis Files Paperwork to Enter City Council Race
  10. Photos: The Regal Potomac Yard Movie Theater is Being Torn Down
  11. City Councilman’s Virtual Super Bowl Party Ambushed by Racists and Nazi Trolls

Photo via Alexandria Police

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The GenOn Plant on the Potomac is getting redeveloped, but don’t expect to see mixed-use development on the site anytime soon.

The first public meeting for the planned development was held last night (Thursday) and mainly served as a meet-and-greet for the community and the developers.

Mary Catherine Gibbs, an attorney representing the developers, said early on that designs for the mixed-use development to replace the power plant wouldn’t be coming until significantly further down the line. Gibbs repeatedly referred to the meeting and upcoming public engagement as “the beginning of the beginning,” a notion repeated by others throughout the meeting as they laid out the timeline.

“Deconstruction starting in 2023, we would also be submitting a DSUP plan for infrastructure as well [around the same time] to be done with those approvals and ready to start first phase of development when we’re done with remediation in early 2023,” said Melissa Schrock, senior vice president of mixed-use development at developer Hilco. “[Construction] would be sometime between 18-31 months after.”

Schrock and others said the plan is to develop the parcel as an urban, mixed-use development with housing. Representatives of the development weren’t shy about saying that the upcoming plans for Potomac Yard and Amazon’s HQ2 also play a role in how the site will ultimately shape up.

While much of the development remains to be decided, one of the more intriguing proposals brought up during the meeting was the suggestion that the GenOn replacement could implement some sort of water-based transit — ala the Waterfront Taxi.

To get to all of that, though, the project is going to have to go through significant environmental rehabilitation to bring the former power plant site up to code.

“We’re starting with enviromental and sustainability,” said George Needs, the other Hilco vice president of mixed-use development. “Remediation is expensive, but we have expertise to do it with in-house environmental expects and bring these projects to regulation closure.”

Needs said plans for both the demolition and the redevelopment of the site will likely span several years.

“This is a very visible project, it’s a prominent waterfront site, so we know how important this is and as we think about conceptualizing a plan we know the key to success is a plan that engages with the public, is transparent, and builds trust,” Needs said. “It’s a generational project, a 10-plus year commitment.”

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New York-based multinational investment firm JPMorgan Chase & Co. has taken over financial management of the massive Potomac Yard redevelopment from Texas-based Lionstone Investments.

But even though the Washington Business Journal broke the story on Feb. 11, sources familiar with the 20-acre project say that the transition was made more than a year ago and will have no impact on development, which includes Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus that is slated for completion in 2024.

“Not sure why the article is coming out now as the change happened over a year ago and has had no impact on the project,” Cathy Puskar, an attorney with property developer JBG Smith, told ALXnow. “…(E)verything proceeded on time and according to plan.”

JBG Smith and JPMorgan Chase broke ground on the Virginia Tech development last month with the demolition of the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater.

Representatives from Lionstone and JPMorgan Chase could not be reached for comment.

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While debate continues over the Heritage development, the city has turned its eyes towards a proposed revitalization of the park running through the heart of the development.

The plan to revitalize Wilkes Street Park envisions turning the area between S. Alfred Street and S. Columbus Street into a park with ply areas, seating and passive areas along with an improve multi-use trail.

A public hearing on the project is scheduled for the Park and Recreation Commission meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18.

“The Wilkes Street public open space will be a visual and functional green connection for people rather than cars between the neighborhood east to the Wilkes Street Tunnel and west to the open spaces created by the cemeteries,” the city said in its public guidelines. “The improvements of the Wilkes Street public open space also present an opportunity to incorporate the history of the neighborhood through interpretive design elements.”

The bikeway that goes through the park will remain intact in the new redesign.

“An important bikeway goes through the park,” the city said in its guidelines. “This bikeway must remain and be incorporated as part of the park design and will follow the Complete Streets Design guidelines’ preferred width for two-way Protected Bike Lanes. Additionally, this route is a commuter route for pedestrians and this use of the park must also remain. The two uses must co-exist in the safest design possible.”

The redesign of the park is included as part of the redevelopment of the Heritage, which is headed to the City Council for review on Feb. 20. The project attracted some criticism from city leadership over the project’s aesthetics and scale — and from the public over concerns that the development adds considerable density to southern Old Town.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Says Images of Capitol Siege Should be Viewed by Everyone — “These images of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history are disturbing. But these things happened, and we cannot erase these events, their causes, or their meaning. Everyone should watch this.” [Twitter]

Pat Malone, Cancer Survivor to ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ for 24 Hours Straight — “Patrick J. ‘Pat’ Malone, a seven-year cancer survivor, and 20-year Air Force veteran will ‘stand up to cancer’ for 24-hours straight, during his Seventh Annual Stand Up To Cancer.” [Zebra]

City Says There Was Error in Vaccine Scheduling — ” AHD has recently identified an internal process error that resulted in several hundred people within the 65-74 age group receiving appointment phone calls out of order. To ensure that no one was skipped due to this error, AHD sent emails for appointment scheduling on Sunday, February 7. Many people who have already scheduled appointments or received vaccines were contacted, and those who received the email unnecessarily should ignore it. The link cannot be used to schedule second doses and it cannot be used by others. As of February 8, AHD has contacted everyone ages 65-74 who pre-registered for their first dose by 7:30 a.m. on January 12.” [City of Alexandria]

South Alex Construction Moving Along One Year After Fire — “One year ago on Monday, a large fire caused $48 million in damages to the South Alex development, which was under construction at the time. Now, developer Combined Properties and architect, Hord Coplan Macht, are getting closer to opening, despite the setback.” [Alexandria Living]

Former Mayor Kerry Donley Endorses Alyia Gaskins for City Council — “I am happy to support Alyia as she launches he campaign for City Council. Alyia has a solid background in public finance and community activism, which will be important as she serves Alexandria on City Council. Alyia represents the enthusiasm of a new age of the Alexandria community which will be important for years to come.” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Partly cloudy skies in the morning will give way to cloudy skies during the afternoon. A few flurries or snow showers possible. High 43F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph… Cloudy with snow (in the evening). Low 32F. Winds light and variable. Chance of snow 80%. Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Private Piano Teacher — “Old Town Music School, an old fashioned preparatory Music School in Old Town Alexandria for over 20 years, is expanding and hiring a community of professional musicians/teachers who offer a nurturing, positive and personal approach to piano lessons. Students are beginning through advanced intermediate levels. Seeking out-going, motivated and fun teachers to join our faculty.” [Indeed]

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