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
Though barely more than five minutes on a in a nearly six hour meeting, on Saturday the City Council finally did away with one of Alexandria’s more bizarre street names.
Toward the end of the meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to replace Swamp Fox Road with Hoffman Street, celebrating local developer Hubert Hoffman Jr., founder of the The Hoffman Company that developed much of the nearby area and for whom much of Eisenhower East is named.
The question of whether Swamp Fox Road was named for Revolutionary War guerrilla and slave owner Francis Marion attracted some discussion during the renaming process, but Councilwoman Del Pepper said the name was a legacy of the area’s boggy origins.
“This was called Swamp Fox and the reason was because it was truly a swamp,” Pepper said. “The only people who believed in it was Dayton Cook and Hoffman, because if all you have there is a swamp you have to dream big. It’s a most appropriate naming because Hoffman had a lot, if not everything to do with the development of that area, East Eisenhower.”
The City Council unanimously agreed to the change, though some lamented the loss of the strange name on a prominent road through the Hoffman Town Center.
“I just wanted to say Swamp Fox has always brought a smile to my face but I have no opposition to this,” said City Councilman Canek Aguirre. “It’s good to recognize Mr. Hoffman, but hopefully we can bring Swamp Fox back somewhere in the area.”
“We’re going to have to find another Swamp Fox somewhere,” Mayor Justin Wilson agreed.
Map via Google Maps
Right at the heart of the Hoffman Center, near the National Science Foundation and the AMC theater, is a street that bears the unglamorous name Swamp Fox Road. Now, the real estate company is in the final stages of having the name changed to honor the Hoffman Company founder Hubert N. Hoffman, Jr.
The proposal to rename Swamp Fox Road to Hoffman Street is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Jan. 5, then to the City Council on Jan. 23.
The Hoffman Company claimed in the application that the new street would honor a man who spent his life working to develop and improve Eisenhower East.
Mr. Hubert N. Hoffman, Jr. (“Hoffman Jr.”), a life-long- Alexandria supporter, dedicated to his family business and put his resources into transforming Eisenhower East into the vibrant mixed-use area that now surrounds the Eisenhower Metro Station and Eisenhower Valley. In 1958, Hoffman Jr. purchased nearly 80 acres of land in the Eisenhower Valley (See Figure 3). At that time, this area of the City was largely unimproved and overlooked by the rest of Alexandria. This would soon change as Alexandria continued to grow in the latter half of the 20th century.
The federal government acquired a portion of Hoffman’s land in the early 1960’s for the new Capital Beltway. In 1966, the Hoffman Company was founded by Hoffman Jr. to implement his vision for the Eisenhower Valley. Soon after in 1966, the Holiday Inn was constructed and opened for guests. In 1968, the Hoffman Company built Hoffman Building 1 and, in 1971, the company built Hoffman Building 2. The construction of these two commercial buildings and subsequent lease to the federal government was a major [economic] development success for the City of Alexandria. The Department of Defense was the original tenant of both buildings.
There is little remaining evidence to what “Swamp Fox” originally commemorated. Pre-development, the area was largely marshlands flowing down to nearby Hunting Creek — one theory of the street’s name. Another is that it celebrates Francis Marion, a leader in the Revolutionary War nicknamed Swamp Fox (and largely fictionalized for the 2000 film The Patriot).
According to the staff report:
Aside from this explanation, the origin is unknown although the Office of Historic Alexandria finds that it could be a reference to Francis Marion, a South Carolinian Revolutionary War officer nicknamed the “Swamp Fox”. As noted in an article from the Smithsonian Magazine, “Francis Marion was a man of his times: he owned slaves, and he fought in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians.”
The report noted that the Naming Commission was unanimously in favor of changing the name.
Map via Google Maps
Over 13 years since it was originally proposed, a plan to turn the quiet southeastern corner of the Eisenhower corridor into a pair of mixed-use towers is coming back with some new proposed uses.
A project called 765 John Carlyle proposes turning the empty grass lot near what is still Eisenhower Circle — for now — into “two mixed-use towers conjoined by the common podium” according to an application by Carlyle Plaza, LLC.
While the original plan was for both towers to be office buildings, the new application says the southern tower will have 15 levels of senior living. The number of units, and price range, aren’t listed in the application. The northern tower will remain an office building in the new plans.
“The project will also include ground-floor retail to activate the adjacent streets,” the developer said. “The towers are conjoined at the base by an above-grade parking structure that ascends approximately four stories above the ground floor retail and lobby space.”
The new building is part of a broader plan to turn Eisenhower Avenue into a hub of commercial and residential activity, with a particular focus on the eastern end of that corridor to take full advantage of the nearby Patent and Trademark Office and relatively new National Science Foundation building.
The project is scheduled for review at the Carlyle/Eisenhower East Design Review Board on Monday, June 22.
Nobody on the City Council seemed particularly happy about transportation changes planned for Eisenhower Avenue, but at this point too much money has been invested to turn back, city staff argued.
The plan, which has been in the works since 2003, involves turning the traffic circle at the east end of Eisenhower Avenue into a T-intersection, adding turn lanes to the intersection with Mill Road, and widening Mill Road.
The plan had been funded through state and federal funding, but higher-than-expected construction bids left the project over budget and in need of $2 million from the City of Alexandria. The Council voted to approve the funding, though with some reluctance and pushback from some local residents in the public comment.
Rebecca Tiffany, a resident of one of the nearby buildings, said her children frequently cross the five lanes of Mill Road and she can watch the traffic from her window.
“The traffic circle is basically never congested,” said Tiffany. “There are no issues with the traffic circle. There’s a plan to turn it into a T-intersection, and I firmly believe that’s a solution in search of a problem.”
Tiffany said many in her community enjoy the circle, with its central grassy area and statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom the circle is named.
Each of the public speakers noted that they were unconvinced adding more turn lanes would fix the traffic backup on Mill Road, given that most of the backup is caused by cars trying to get to Maryland on I-495.
“I personally think we have the worst traffic in Alexandria, and we don’t complain about it as much as others because it’s a different kind of community than communities with lots of time on their hands,” Tiffany said. “Everyone works a lot, but you actually see the full backup. One or two cars can come through the intersection at any time.”
Daniel Beason, Vice President of the Eisenhower Partnership but was speaking as a resident of the street, said he was concerned the only thing that would change with adding more lanes is it would signal to navigation apps like Google and Waze that they can direct more cars on that route.
Even some on the dais explored the idea of voting no on the funding but were told in no uncertain terms by City Manager Mark Jinks and Yon Lambert, director of Transportation and Environmental Services, that this would be a bad idea.
“The city has already expended state and federal funds to acquire right of way,” said Lambert. “The city gone through construction bidding process, we received four bids. Where we are right now, the council has three options: cancel the project, reduce the project scope, or provide additional money to close the funding gap. Staff strongly recommends alternative three because that is the only option that is viable. If canceled, the city will have to repay VDOT $3.6 million for the acquisition of right of way and for design costs.”
“To underscore: we’re asking for $2 million to build the project and would have to come back and ask you how to fund $4 million not to do the project,” Jinks added.
Lambert also pushed back against the characterization of the T-intersection as worse than the existing traffic circle. The T-intersection would allow better use of open space than a green area inaccessible at the center of a roundabout, Lambert argued.
The T-intersection would also support the increased levels of development planned for the east end of Eisenhower. Councilman John Chapman said the value of changing the street design hinges on those properties actually being developed.
“With what we’re looking to do at east Eisenhower with [underdeveloped] lots there, judging by how many units coming to that area, a T-intersection will probably work a lot better than an overflowing circle,” Chapman said. “My concern is… we haven’t seen some of those proposed developments come in. Some of the things we’ve reviewed haven’t fleshed out. So I’ve started to disagree that we need to actually move on this.”
“We need to figure out if some of these developments are going to develop,” he added, otherwise “”we’ve done a project that wasn’t totally necessary and that’s a big concern.”
Mayor Justin Wilson reiterated at the meeting that he wasn’t enthralled with the project, and said as much on the ALXnow Facebook page in response to a reader’s comment.
“I don’t love this project and I was not a fan when we originally approved it back seven years ago,” Wilson said. “I did push most recently to see if there were other options given where we are. Unfortunately, there are not great options.”
At the City Council meeting, Wilson said the situation raised questions about how the city keeps up with its larger capital projects. Despite their misgivings, the council voted unanimously to approve the funding request.
Photo via Google Maps
The Alexandria Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a plan update to increase the number of affordable housing units in Eisenhower East.
Under the proposal, 10% of additional residential rental development will be devoted to affordable rental units. At full buildout, the plan anticipates up to 400-450 affordable units in Eisenhower East, versus the 66 affordable housing units that currently exist in the area.
“The plan supports the city’s Housing for All policy and objective to develop or preserve 2,000 affordable housing units through 2025, as well as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments regional housing initiative to increase the production of affordable housing over the next decade in response to significant forecast shortages,” notes a staff report.
The Planning Commission meeting was set to take place tonight, but that may be delayed due to weather. It is not clear when the City Council will vote on the final plan update.