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Alexandria needs to solve its affordable housing crisis, but should building up be the solution?

The City’s bonus density and height program would allow developers to increase heights of buildings to 70 feet in areas of the city that are capped at 45 feet in height, like in Del Ray.

City Manager Jim Parajon will discuss the Alexandria’s bonus density and height program at Agenda Alexandria’s upcoming discussion on Monday night, October 24. The event will begin at the Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street) with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the panel discussion with Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto and Kamilah McAfee, the senior vice president of real estate development for Wesley Housing.

In June, the Planning Commission deferred the proposal from city staff after a wave of Del Ray residents protested that the program will eliminate the neighborhood’s small town feel.

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.

Agenda Alexandria will be hosted this month by its Board Chair Rod Kuckro. In last month’s panel, Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes said that the city’s public school system needs school resource officers to curb violence.

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Alexandria Hyundai‘s special use permit has been extended to 2045 — with conditions.

After nearly three hours of deliberation on Saturday (October 15), City Council approved three special use permit requests to allow the dealership to continue operating until 2045, with the caveat that Council will take another look in 2040 at the permit for a service and storage parking lot.

Kevin Reilly has run Alexandria Hyundai on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. With Hyundai converting to electric vehicles, Reilly is forced to upgrade his dealership and get an extension to his SUPs, which previously expired in 2025.

Council voted 4-2 (with Council Members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre voting no) approving the SUP for the 22,000-square-foot lot.

Last week, the Planning Commission approved the plan for Alexandria Hyundai to keep operating, but denied the SUP to extend the life of the lot, which Reilly says he needs to keep operating. The parking lot is prime real estate on Mount Vernon Avenue, and the Commission agreed with City staff in finding that it does not comply with the city’s master plan, which outlines more active and pedestrian uses for that stretch of the Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly said that he needs the parking lot to stay in business.

“You can’t run a dealership unless you are facility compliant,” Reilly said. “It’s really economically unviable, and if you don’t meet the manufacturer’s customer satisfaction scores. Part of that is if your vehicle is in there (in the dealership), we need to have your vehicle to you immediately. If there’s no there’s no customer satisfaction, I just can’t operate.”

Reilly, a former president of the Del Ray Business Association, was praised for being a good neighbor by Council, and his proposal had the backing of the DRBA, the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Del Ray Land Use Committee.

“When I first moved to Del Ray there were literally just a handful of businesses on the Avenue,” said DRBA’s Gayle Reuter. “We are so thankful that over 20 years ago Kevin Reilly made the decision to move to Del Ray… Many of the events the community loves so much — the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the farmer’s market, Art On The Avenue — wouldn’t have happened without his early support in getting them going.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson praised Reilly and thanked him for running his business in Alexandria.

“We do appreciate what you do for the community and in Del Ray,” Jackson said.

The project includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use. The chargers will be installed by this time next year, Reilly said.

The plan also includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

Praveen Kathpal told Council that the property should be converted to housing or open space, and that keeping the dealership until 2045 on Mount Vernon Avenue is a long time.

“Our current mayor will turn 66 years old in the year 2045,” Kathpal said. “This year’s high school seniors will be unavailable for any 40-under-40 lists. Taylor Swift will be older than Kurt Cobain would be if he were alive today. We’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coolio’s hit, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ So, do we really want to be storing cars along Mount Vernon Avenue when all of that happens? I don’t think so.”

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Alexandria leaders agree that the city either needs to expand its aging middle schools or completely build a new one.

There are now 15,700 students within Alexandria City Public Schools, and roughy 2,000 more students are expected by 2024. That puts the city in a tricky position, as 10 ACPS schools are more than 70 years old and need continual maintenance, and a surge in elementary school kids means that Alexandria needs more middle school space.

The need for a new school was outlined in a joint facilities update between City Council and the School Board on Wednesday, October 12.

“We’ve got to be creative here with how we do things,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We can meet the needs of enrollment in our schools with properties we own today.”

A new middle school isn’t budgeted in the city’s 10-year fiscal year 2023-2032 Capital Improvement Program Budget. Three school replacements are currently funded: the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Minnie Howard campus, George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School.

The CIP also includes more than $12 million for the renovation of an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street for development by 2030. The space could be used as swing space for another school under construction or as a new 600-student-capacity school.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is in favor of converting the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street) into a new middle school. Other options include looking into the availability of land on Eisenhower East or at Simpson Field near Potomac Yard.

The discussion was prompted by a new Joint Facilities Master Plan Roadmap, presented by City Manager Jim Parajon. The roadmap prioritizes city renovation projects based on the condition of public buildings. City Hall, for instance, got an F rating for being “functionally obsolete.”

The roadmap is intended to be a guidance document for Council and the Board, filling in the blanks on potential developments.

A potential new use for the land at George Washington Middle School. (Via City of Alexandria)

The room of local lawmakers erupted in relief and laughter when City Manager Jim Parajon reiterated that the roadmap document is merely a guide.

“Just to be really clear, those illustrations that you saw, they are illustrations,” Parajon said. “It gives us some understanding of how a development or redevelopment could occur, or a renovation could occur.”

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The Alexandria Planning Commission partially approved plans that will allow for a car dealership to keep operating on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.

Alexandria Hyundai has operated on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. Owner Kevin Reilly says that his dealership needs to conform to industry changes by converting to electric vehicles in order to stay in business, and filed three special use permit (SUP) requests with the city.

The Planning Commission denied Reilly’s request to allow for the continued use of the parking and storage lots at 1605 and 1611 Mount Vernon Avenue, but approved two other SUP’s — with conditions — for the properties at 1707-1711 and 1801 Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly wants a 20 year extension on his special use permits, which currently allow his business to operate until 2025. His proposal includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use — in exchange for allowing the dealership to continue operating until 2045.

“Hyundai has a global design initiative program, and as a dealer if I do not comply, the financial penalties basically make it not viable for me to continue,” Reilly told the Planning Commission on October 6.

Reilly’s plan includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

City staff, however, say that the dealership does not fall in line with the city’s master plan, which calls for more active and pedestrian-serving uses for the neighborhood. Staff presented rendering of other potential uses for the site, such as townhouses or a mixed-use building with a car dealership on the ground floor.

The efforts were ridiculed by Cathy Puskar, Reilly’s land use attorney. Puskar said that heigh restrictions in Del Ray prohibit such development, and that the building used by city staff as an example of residential units above an auto dealership is 60 feet tall — 15 more than what is allowed. She also said that a conceptual drawing with town homes lacked details.

The conditions approved by the commission stipulate that:

  • Alexandria Hyundai would need to build a four-foot-tall decorative fence or wall along the 1600 block of  Mount Vernon Avenue
  • The dealership will need to add trees in front of the properties in the 1600 block, as well as remove 21 parking spaces for community use
  • If approved by City Council, the SUPs for the properties in the 1700 and 1800 block will need to be reviewed in 2032, and expire in 2045

Gayle Reuter of the Del Ray Business Association said that Reilly should be allowed to stay on Mount Vernon Avenue.

“Why wouldn’t we want to keep such an outstanding business in our neighborhood?” Reuter said. “For those who think that the ownership distracts from new development and improvements to the community, tell that to the brand new townhouses directly behind the dealership that are now on the market for $1.5 million.”

Neighbor Maria Wasowski disagrees.

“Auto sales and parking lots really divide the two commercial ends of (Mount Vernon Avenue),” she said, adding that her position was not personal against Reilly. “We all like him and don’t wish him ill.”

All three special use permit requests now go to City Council for review.

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Samuel Madden redevelopment rendering (image via Torti Gallas + Partners/City of Alexandria)

The Samuel Madden redevelopment project at the north end of the Braddock neighborhood is heading back to the community review process after a significant redesign.

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) is planning on tearing down a dozen aging townhomes at the north end of the Braddock Neighborhood, where Patrick and Henry streets reform into Route 1. They will be replaced with a new 500-unit multifamily residential development that would act — as it was called in some of the earlier meetings — as a gateway into Old Town.

The project had previously been lambasted by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) for the neglect of the previous townhouse units, which were allowed to significantly deteriorate, and for seemingly giving little care to the architectural character of the townhomes the new development would be replacing.

The new version of the project doesn’t quite emulate the WWII-era design of the townhomes currently on the site, nor does it retroactively fix the years of neglect for the buildings by ARHA, but it did receive a more positive reception by staff and the BAR with inclusions like a new northern courtyard and more significant setbacks at the southern end of the site where it sits across from much lower-elevation development.

The new community meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. It will be both in-person and virtual, with the in-person side held at the Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street).

A release from the City of Alexandria said the development team will be available to offer updates on the project and explain some of the new uses coming in, including mixed-income rental housing, community services, and early childhood education programs.

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Landmark Mall is gone, so what’s next?

A representative from developer Foulger-Pratt spoke at the Eisenhower West Landmark Van Dorn Implementation Advisory Group earlier this week to provide a bird’s eye view of what’s going on at the project.

Concept map for new Landmark Mall development (image via City of Alexandria)

Currently, Landmark Mall itself is almost completely demolished, saved for one corner still being used as an office to oversee the development.

While Inova is currently working through its own development application process at the western end of the development, other projects are in the works throughout the site.

At the presentation, the developer’s representative said the first four buildings to come online will be E1, E2, G and Eye on the map above. The E and G blocks will be part of a new housing development called Aspect.

The two residential buildings will have a total of 390 units and will be connected by a bridge, with residents able to move between buildings easily. The development will also have around 70,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Block Eye is set to become a development called The Brightly. It will feature 390 residential units with “big box retail” on the ground floor. The developer said that could be anything from a gym to a large retail store.

Clockwise below block Eye are blocks M and L2, which are both slated to become townhomes, with that development process scheduled to kick off beginning in 2023.

Block L1 is set aside as senior housing, but a previous contract for that development fell through in August. The Foulger-Pratt representative said that project is going back on market to find a senior housing developer.

Block K, set in the center of the new development, is named Thrive and the developer said it will have a more “neo-industrial” aesthetic. Thrive is set to have 337 residential units with 30,000 square feet of retail space.

The rest of the development includes:

  • Block J: dedicated affordable housing
  • Block D: future multifamily project
  • Block H: split between hotel and condominiums

The developer’s representative said none of those three projects have begun the application process.

The Foulger-Pratt representative said horizontal infrastructure work starts in November while the rest of the development starts to work through the application processes. If all goes well, vertical construction at the site could begin as early as January 2024. Infrastructure at the site is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter of 2025 with the buildings completed starting in the fourth quarter of 2025.

The developer was, once again, confronted by city officials about the project’s terrible name: West End.

As far back as the start of demolition on the mall, city officials have been urging the developer to pick something else. The area is already locally known as Landmark, but “West End” generally refers to the broader section of the city rather than this specific development. The representative at the meeting said Foulger-Pratt is “pretty wedded” to the West End branding, but that the expectation is over time the individual developments within the site — ie Thrive or The Brightly — will become the more commonly used names.

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Inova has major plans for the former Lanadmark Mall site, and will conduct its second virtual community meeting on Monday, October 17.

The timeline for the project is still subject to change, but the proposed 675,000 square foot Inova at Landmark project is proposed to be 16 stories tall, and include a 130,000-square-foot cancer center and 110,000 square-foot specialty outpatient care center. Inova wants to open the hospital in 2028.

The meeting will be held on Zoom at 6 p.m. More information is below.

  • The webinar ID is 894 6389 3829
  • The dial-in number is 301-715-8592
  • The passcode is 776943

The project is designed by Ballinger and Ennead Architects, and is being managed by Foulger-Pratt. Inova and their design consultants will present an overview of the project and answer questions in the meeting.

Last year, the city bought the 11-acre parcel of land for $54 million from The Howard Hughes Corporation. Inova has a 99-year ground lease for the hospital land, and the property will be transformed into a mixed-use site with a “walkable urban neighborhood, according to Foulger-Pratt.

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615-621 King Street development proposal (image via City of Alexandria)

The Mansly, a redevelopment of the Walgreens and a bank at 615-621 King Street, got its approval from the City Council — but not without some heavy side-eyeing and one “nay” vote after the Council criticized the underwhelming affordable housing contribution.

Technically, affordable housing didn’t and legally couldn’t have anything to do with the Council vote. The city has a trade set up, securing affordable housing units or contributions in exchange for extra density, but the staff report said the development wasn’t requesting density or height above what’s already recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan and applicant The Silverman Group hit the bare minimum requirements for affordable housing contribution.

According to the staff report:

The applicant is providing a voluntary monetary contribution of $45,178 to the City’s Housing Trust Fund. This contribution is consistent with the City’s Procedures Regarding Affordable Housing Contributions, including the 2020 housing contribution policy update that established a new contribution rate for non-residential to residential conversions. Dedicated affordable units are not part of this project as the applicant is not requesting increased density, FAR or height through City Code Section 7-700 nor an increase in density beyond that recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan.

The new development will add 24 residential units to the site along with 6,414 square feet of ground-floor commercial space into the property.

The application also included a request to take the parking requirement for the residential units down to zero, which the City Council had no objections to, but city officials did note that the $45,178 contribution was pitifully low.

“This project does do a lot… my only concern goes back to housing in general within our region,” said City Council member Canek Aguirre. “We know that we have an issue, especially around affordability. If we look at ‘well we’re building more units at market rate is that really bringing down the price for everybody else?’ Not really. Especially because the majority of the housing we need to see built is for 50% of the area median income and below.”

Aguirre was the sole City Council member to vote against the project. While Aguirre’s comments on the development focused solely on the affordable housing aspect, Aguirre said he found enough cause in city ordinance 11-504 — involving adverse effects to the neighborhood — to vote against the project.

“I believe we need to be giving options and availability across our entire city,” Aguirre said. “This just doesn’t do that for me. Of course, that’s not a reason to vote against this, but I believe for some other reasons under 11-504 I will be voting against this.”

While other members on the City Council voted in favor of the project, many added similar comments of disapproval at the lackluster affordable housing contribution.

“There are rules to the game,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “They didn’t come in requesting additional [floor area ratio] so that doesn’t trigger the conversation for on site [affordable housing]. At the same time, when I hear us talk about who this project is going to be marketed to: there are low-income residents in our neighborhoods who fit that description, who want to live near where they work and want to make their lifestyle cheaper and more manageable, who want to have greater access to transit.”

Gaskins said the city should try to do more to push affordable housing more in projects like The Mansly.

“Whatever we can do to be thinking about how do we not limit ourselves from having these conversations,” Gaskins said. “There’s a big difference between saying ‘you’re required to do something’ and saying ‘let’s figure out maybe what we can do to help us reach those goals.'”

Council member Sarah Bagley agreed that the applicant abided by current requirements, but echoed the sentiments of others on the dais that it doesn’t advance the city’s goal of creating diversely priced and inclusive housing.

“There’s a lot of room for a lot of improvement here,” City Council member Amy Jackson added. “All contributions are voluntary and we appreciate the contributions being made, but $45,000 wouldn’t even buy you one of those units if we were really looking at it and they’ll make that in a month’s worth of rent.”

Still, the project was approved in a 5-1 vote.

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Samuel Madden redevelopment rendering (image via Torti Gallas + Partners/City of Alexandria)

It’s a second shot for the proposed Samuel Madden redevelopment after the plans’ first encounter with the Board of Architectural Review sparked some debate.

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) project aims to tear down a dozen aging townhouses at 899 and 999 North Henry Street — 66 units in total — and replace them with two new multifamily apartment buildings featuring 500 residential units.

The proposed change would be a massive shift in scale for the pair of properties and be a marked visual change to the approach into Old Town along Route 1. The project faced some pushback from the Board of Architectural Review for demolishing homes identified as architecturally characteristic of the historic Parker-Gray neighborhood.

The staff report heading into a BAR meeting tonight (Tuesday), however, expresses more support for the project and said the applicant worked with staff to make changes to the properties.

As previously noted, staff finds that the applicant has been responsive to comments from the Board
and staff and has made significant changes to the proposed design throughout the Concept Design
review phase. These changes include the following:

  • Addition of shoulders on portions of the building facing the historic district;
  • The reconfiguration of the north building to extend the building further into the proposed
    park, relocating the public open space to the north end of the south building;
  • The creation of an exterior courtyard at the north end of the building;
  • Reorganizing the building organization to locate the entry lobbies across from one another
    to further the connection between the north and south buildings;
  • The addition of significant setbacks at the south end of the south building in response to
    adjacent buildings;
  • The elimination of a floor and overall lowering of the south building.

The report said the changes are the direct result of comments from the BAR.

“Staff appreciates the responsiveness of the applicant and the collaborative approach to the design the Board and the applicant have engaged,” the report said. “Based on all of these revisions, staff finds the height, mass, and scale to be appropriate for this location and the surrounding context.”

In general, the staff report said the new architectural shifts in the project will help it blend in more with the buildings around it, including those west of the property that are taller than the proposed development.

“Staff finds that the general architectural character of the proposed design is compatible with the Design Guidelines and the nearby context,” the report said. “Staff recommends that the Board endorse the proposed height, mass, scale, and general architectural character…”

The report also noted that the approval should be contingent on a few more minor changes, like slight elevation and window changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Google Maps

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