(Updated 4/15) What on paper might seem like a relatively commonplace resubdivision in Del Ray sparked a broader conversation at the Planning Commission over how uniform the historic neighborhood’s subdivisions should be.
The requested change (item 7) to 105 and 107 East Randolph Avenue was relatively small: increasing the square footage of one lot on Randolph Avenue from 8,250 square feet to 8,828 square feet by taking a portion of the backyard from another lot — both obviously with the same owner.
The change would leave one lot larger than its neighbors in the strictly rectangular grid plan and the lot next to it smaller than the others. The impact would be unlikely to be visible from the street, but neighbors and the Del Ray Citizens’ Association (DRCA) voice opposition to variance from the circa-1921 plot outlines.
Staff recommended denial of the change, saying the proposal would bring the lots out of character with other lots in the subdivision.
“Because the proposed subdivision does not result in lots that are substantially the same character as the area of comparison and are not in conformance with the goals of the master plan, as stipulated in the Zoning Ordinance, staff recommends the denial of the request,” the report said.
Members of the Planning Commission were divided on whether the change was out of line with the substantial character of the neighborhood. The Commission split almost evenly between those who saw the change as opening the floodgates to larger disruptions to the neighborhood and others who said the boundary change wouldn’t have a significant impact on the neighborhood.
According to Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek:
I struggle with this case. I went back and forth over the substantial character definition. Are we changing a lot by changing a lot line? No pun intended. But what really led me to agree with the staff recommendation is because the change in this lot would make one of the lots substantially larger than the others in this same subdivision. If, in the future, there were to be redevelopment on that redefined lot line: the density wouldn’t change, but the overall volume of potential development could be affected by that larger lot because you’re changing the square footage of that one compared to the norm. That’s notable in this case. I do think the irregular shape is noteworthy as well.
Commissioner David Brown said the Commission should hold changing those lines to a fairly high standard.
“I approach subdivision law very conservatively considering that this area has been undisturbed for 100 years,” Brown said. “It’s not like a variance on a garage that’s going to come and go and be there during some of the years, but not with the lasting permanence of subdivision lines.”
Strange zones in Alexandria have had some curious impacts, like a house being developed to fit on a particularly small lot. Commissioner Stephen Koenig said he didn’t take much stock in the argument that the subdivision change would affect the character of the neighborhood, but said he was voting against it on “the character of the geometry” — arguing that the neighborhood’s lot lines were “relentlessly rectangular” and the change would be out of character with the other lots around it.
Others on the Commission argued the change was pretty minor and the “character of the neighborhood” was an ill-defined concept. According to Commissioner Melissa McMahon:
I’m not convinced this change reaches the tipping point of it not being substantially the same character. We see these applications come through, and one of the oddball things to me is sometimes how narrowly defined the subdivision is. Like in this case, the subdivision we’re looking at is a relatively small area next to a bunch of other subdivisions in the same historic district, but even looking inside the subdivision there’s some variety of the depth of lots. The part that’s being cut out at the back still keeps the lot that is shrinking bigger than a whole bunch of shorter lots in this subdivision. So if we’re putting it in a table of sizes overall, I’m not convinced in my gut that this takes this out of substantially the same character of other lots.
Commissioners Mindy Lyle and Jody Manor agreed, saying this boundary line doesn’t change the character of the neighborhood, but in the end the Planning Commission voted 4-3 in favor of recommending the denial of the subdivision.
The city government could be opening up new swaths of Alexandria to taller buildings and more affordable housing.
Currently, the city trades bonus density in developments for more affordable housing, but only in areas with a height limit of 50 feet or above. Developers are allowed to exceed established height limits to a degree in exchange for affordable housing units or an equivalent contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Now, the city is hoping to drop that to areas with 45-foot height limits, which would open up new heights and housing options in places like Old Town, Arlandria and the West End.
At a meeting yesterday (April 12), the Office of Housing officials provided an overview of the proposed change along with a glimpse at where this change could affect the housing stock and height. Developments can not be increased more than 25 feet above previously permitted heights.
The change would open up the possibility for more height in several new areas, though staff warned that height isn’t the only factor determining which developments make that trade. Pre-existing limits on density, for example, make it unlikely for the trade to occur in some parts of the city where it would technically be allowed. Urban Planner Patrick Silva said, for example, that parts of the Parker-Gray neighborhood have site-specific limits rather than zone-wide regulations. Along Washington Street, there are federal rules limiting height in new construction.
But some of the areas likely to be opened up under the policy change would include: parts of Arlandria, some areas of the West End, particularly in the Van Dorn corridor. Some areas of Old Town, particularly along King Street and the Waterfront were listed as likely spots for the height-affordable housing trade in new developments.
City Architect Tom Canfield said the appropriateness of added height would vary by the site and would have to factor in the conditions of nearby buildings. One main consideration would be how the buildings scale with their surroundings. Canfield cited the new Sunrise Senior Living development at the corner of Washington and Princess streets as an example of a recent development that scaled well with its surroundings while throwing shade at Taco Bell Cantina and the former Irish Walk building at 415 King Street as an example of one that scales particularly poorly.
“There are still plenty of cases you can find around Alexandria where there are cases that just aren’t appropriate,” Canfield said. “Either for extreme variations in height or very oversimplified and non-contextual architecture. Where judgment comes in… are situations where there could well be that adding two floors could be acceptable to everyone and cases where no floors or one floor is the sweet spot.” Read More
MidAtlantic Realty Partners LLC is scheduled to apply for a development special use permit and other permits at the May 3 Planning Commisison meeting.
The first phase of the development will replace the eastern building with a 367-unit tower, with phase two replacing the western building with a 435 unit building. The development will also include 44 total affordable housing units.
The development will also come with a parking garage built in phase one with a capacity for 775 vehicles and an undetermined number of bicycles.
“In summary, the proposed development will replace two aging office buildings with an urban, 802-unit, high-rise residential building near the Eisenhower Avenue Metrorail station that activates the street and further implements the vision set forth in the [Eisenhower East Small Area Plan],” MidAtlantic Realty Partners said in the application.
The project made the rounds in the design review boards last year. The project received unanimous approval at the Sept. 16 Design Review Board meeting, though Alexandria Living Magazine reported that at the time that Carlyle/Eisenhower East Design Review Board members at a meeting in June said the design was “too busy.”
The demolition and redevelopment of 628 King Street, formerly Banana Republic, is headed to review at the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) as the developer hopes to make some changes to the upper part of the building.
Currently, the building’s second floor is an almost entirely windowless brick facade. Jemal’s Gap Corner King, LLC, part of Douglas Development, is applying to demolish part of the north and west parts of the building to add windows to the second floor.
“Staff supports the proposed demolition, as the proposed changes will improve the appearance of the building, which currently appears imbalanced and bulky due to the lack of second-floor fenestration,” the report said. “The character-defining features of the building will be retained, and the overall proportions will be improved. The wall surfaces to be demolished are not of old and unusual or uncommon design, and they could be reproduced easily. Staff therefore recommends approval of the Permit to Demolish.”
The staff report says there was a 19th-century building on the site that was in poor condition and the 1949 BAR “reluctantly” approved demolition and redevelopment. the retail building at the site was combined with adjacent buildings for a store design referred to by the BAR at the time as “simple and dignified.”
Banana Republic and Gap Outlet closed at the location in January after decades in business.
The City of Alexandria is hosting a community meeting for a plan to allow additional bonus height in new zones in exchange for affordable housing.
Currently, developers can only apply for bonus height in zones with height limits of 50 feet. The new ordinance would take that down to allow developers to apply for bonus height in zones with 45 foot high limits. It’s a relatively minor change on paper, but it opens new density options across the city as well as more opportunities for affordable housing.
The virtual meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, from 6-8 p.m.
“It will be an opportunity for staff to share information pertaining to this two-part proposed Text Amendment and to obtain initial community input with additional opportunities for the public to comment through email, letters, and phone calls,” the city said in a release.
Additional information is scheduled to be presented at the Thursday, April 7 planning commission meeting before going to public hearings in May.
With Potomac Yard Metro Station coming along, city staff and leaders recently took a look at the rest of the planned development.
At a meeting of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group on Monday, Principal Planner Dirk Geratz took group members on a virtual tour of the development site and outlined how far development in the area has come — and how far some parts still have to go.
A map of the development corridor (meeting documents weren’t posted at time of publication, that’s why it’s so small) showed parts of Phase 1, the area closest to the Metro station where the Regal Cinema had been located, that are under construction. Phase 1 includes 19 acres of potential and planned development.
Furthest along is the Potomac Yard Metro station, which is currently planned to open later this year. Geratz said the north pavilion at the station is nearly complete. Full completion of the station is scheduled for summer 2023, a few months after the station opens. The pump station at the opposite end of Phase 1 is also under construction.
Also under construction is the Virginia Tech innovation campus. Geratz said one of the main buildings for the campus is under construction with a plan to be completed in spring 2024 and open to students that fall.
Geratz said work is starting on the nearby infrastructure, but said that process can be more time-consuming.
“That’s grading for roadway and future pad sites, also importantly installation of utilities: water, sewer, electricity,” Geratz said. “That’s all underground, so it’s a lot of prep work has to be done before you can get started on paving the streets and construction started on the street.”
There are two residential buildings planned adjacent to the Metro station. Geratz said those are in the late stages of the site planning process.
“Once they get the building permit, they’ll be ready to start construction on those two buildings,” Geratz. “I’m guessing close to two years of construction, so those could be completed summer/fall of 2024, it depends on when they start exactly.”
Geratz said the residential buildings’ opening should coincide roughly with the opening of the Virginia Tech campus if all goes according to plan, but the Potomac Yard area has already had its fair share of delays.
But while Phase 1 of the Potomac Yard redevelopment should come online in the next few years, Phase 2 is still several years further down the road. Phase 2 includes the current retail shopping areas and the large parking lot.
The land area for Phase 2 is 50 acres — significantly larger than Phase 1’s 19 acres — and Geratz said there are still some vacant spots around the planned Phase 2 development area.
“Many retailers, including Target, have leases they’re committed to into the late 2020s, so there won’t be any immediate development there,” Geratz said. “There could be partial development on the out-parcels, but that’s maybe out five or seven years.”
At an April 7 meeting (Item 9), the Planning Commission is scheduled to review the development’s development special use permit. The 901 N Pitt Street development is proposed by the somewhat unimaginatively named 901 N. Pitt Street, LLC, which the application says is a mix of The Oliver Carr Company and Carr Holdings II LLC.
“The applicant, 901 N. Pitt Street, LLC, requests approval for an eight-story mixed-use building with 250 multifamily units with a restaurant and an arts and cultural anchor on the ground floor,” a staff report said. “The main portion of the building (eight stories) will front Montgomery, N. Pitt, and N. Royal streets with the primary residential entrance on Montgomery Street. Retail storefronts will be located at the corner of Montgomery and N. Pitt streets as well as Montgomery and N. Royal streets.”
Montgomery Street will also host the entrance to a performance space, part of the burgeoning arts district in Old Town North. While affordable housing has been the traditional trade-off for bonus density, the report notes that this is only the second project to take advantage of both the affordable housing option and the new art space tools for bonus density. The new project has a total of 250 total residential units proposed, with 16 affordable units to households at or below 60% of the area median income (AMI) — which the report notes is the equivalent to $54,180-$77,400 in 2021 for a household with one to four members, respectively.
“The proposed redevelopment at 901 N. Pitt Street is utilizing a height and density bonus for an arts and cultural anchor as well as a density bonus for the provision of affordable housing,” the report said, “similar to the recently approved Tidelock project located nearby.”
The staff report indicated that, while nothing is set in stone, City Dance could be the new arts occupant.
“Staff supports the bonus density and height finding that the proposal will bring an established regional arts and cultural anchor to Alexandria,” the report said. “Additionally, the design of the space accommodates a range of arts uses that may have needs for both indoor classroom space and outdoor performance space in the outdoor dining area, should the arts and cultural anchor change in the future. Although not yet officially announced, the applicant has indicated that City Dance is the most likely tenant for the arts and cultural space.”
Much of the building’s massing is shifted towards the other nearby developments of a similar height, with a 40-foot courtyard providing a setback from the adjacent Watergate Condominium Complex.
“The mid-rise red brick massing portion of the building occupies most of the site that fronts along both Montgomery and N. Royal streets,” the report said. “The proposed restaurant, retail, and arts anchor at the ground floor is primarily located within this building form comprised of large storefront windows, with large warehouse-style windows included on the residential floors.”
A movement decrying Bonaventure’s proposed mixed-use development in the heart of Del Ray launched online this month, and its organizer says the plan will ruin the neighborhood’s peaceful vibe.
Nate Hurto and a few dozen of his neighbors aren’t happy about the proposal to convert the old 88,500-square-foot former home of the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services building at 2525 Mount Vernon Avenue into a four-story, 43-foot-tall building with 12,530 square feet of retail and 79 rental units.
Hurto, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood, launched SaveDelRay.org earlier this month.
“We’re not anti-development or against progress,” Hurto told ALXnow. “We just want everybody to take a concerted look at this, and most importantly to let the City Council and the Planning Commission and everybody else know that this is important to us.”
Hurto says the development ignores the guiding principles of the city’s Mount Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan, which includes preserving the historic scale and character of the neighborhood and providing convenient parking and transportation solutions.
“Go to the site and imagine a building that’s twice as tall as the existing structure,” Hurto told ALXnow. “I think if you stand at the corner, where Pork Barrel BBQ and Tops Of Old Town are, just look north on Mount Vernon Avenue. Imagine a structure that’s twice as tall right there on the street, right next to the houses. It does not convey a small town neighborhood feel, it does not convey any of the historic sense of place.”
Bonaventure owns the 144-space parking lot across from Pat Miller Square on Mount Vernon Avenue and E. Oxford Avenue, which will be available for residents living in the new building. The company says that the residential and retail parking required for the project can be accommodated and will be provided in the the existing lot in the 2400 block of Mt Vernon Avenue.
“We want an emphasis on ensuring that there is sufficient parking for the development, that traffic controls are in place,” Hurto said. “Instead of fundamentally altering the community, we want the developer to look at this project and say, ‘How do I make this really fit into Del Ray?”
As for SaveDelRay’s strategy, Hurto wouldn’t say much.
Bonaventure last briefed the Del Ray Citizens Association on the project in February, and wants the plan to go to the City for review in November. That would be followed by the final site plan and building permit process, and upward of a year-and-a-half for construction. That means, barring unforeseen circumstances, that development would start in the fourth quarter of 2023 and be finished in approximately 20 months.
Images via Bonaventure
Inova has filed concept plans for the 10-acre site that will relocate the Alexandria hospital to the former Landmark Mall property and is expected to start construction in 2024.
Phase I of the campus construction proposal includes a 565,525-square-foot level 2 trauma hospital with below-grade and structured parking, a 107,239-square-foot cancer center and a 88,085-square-foot specialty care building, according to the development concept plan filed with the city last week. The existing parking garage will remain, adding 550 parking spaces for the campus to the additional 950 spaces to be constructed.
The construction timeline would start with the hospital in 2024, and the cancer center and specialty care center in 2026. Construction and opening for the campus is targeted for 2028.
The development concept plan states 1.66 acres of open space is required and is incorporated into the plan’s document.
Phase 2 includes the potential for hospital expansion, Inova spokesperson Tracy Connell said.
Inova Health System will host a virtual community meeting on Wednesday (March 30) at 6 p.m. about the development proposal for the new hospital campus. Representatives from Inova and their design consultants will present an overview of the proposed development and answer questions, according to Inova’s website.
When the city initially announced the relocation of the hospital from the Seminary Hill location, it said that it would expand to over 2,000 health care workers.
“The hospital would be one of only three Level II trauma centers in Northern Virginia, seven statewide, and 270 nationwide, providing 24-hour specialty services for brain injuries, complex fractures, and other trauma care,” the hospital system’s website states. “The addition of a medical office building would allow an estimated 50 specialty physicians to see patients on the same campus as the new hospital.”
The proposal lists the companies involved in the project as Urban, LTD, as the civil engineer, Gorove Slade as the traffic engineer, Ballinger as the architect, Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh as the attorney and Davis Utility Consulting, LLC, as the utility engineer.
With construction slated for later this year, the planned John Carlyle Center for Health and Wellness is looking for tenants.
The developer behind the 126,000-square-foot medical facility is starting to push out the word ahead of construction that space is available to lease. Cushman & Wakefield is handling the leasing of the medical offices and retail spaces.
“We are in active discussions with potential tenants including hospital systems, national and local specialty practice groups,” Cushman & Wakefield representative Lindsey Groom said.
The facilities are expected to begin construction at the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth quarter of this year but an exact date has not been determined as construction logistics planning and the permitting process continues. The project at 765 John Carlyle Street will also include a 268,000-square-foot senior living residence and four-level parking garage.
Groom said there is a lack of these type of medical office properties in Northern Virginia.
“With the average age of medical office buildings in the I-395 North submarket being 40+ years old, this brand new facility will help address this strain going forward and help meet the demand for specialty care by providing healthcare providers and their patients with access points and care delivery in communities that are currently underserved, as the area’s population continues to grow,” Groom said.
The project saw some bumps in January when the developer made changes to the approved design that city staff did not support.