The sweeping redevelopment of defunct shopping center and Wonder Woman setting Landmark Mall cleared a major hurdle last night as the City Council approved some early financing and plans for the site.

The unanimous approval with little discussion on the City Council was in sharp contrast to a contentious meeting with the Planning Commission, the latter of the approval additional environmental requirements.

In addition to a broad approval of the redevelopment plans for Landmark, which will replace the mall with a new Inova hospital and mixed-use development across the 52-acre site, Council also approved $160 million in bond financing for “improvements, land acquisition and capitalized interest in connection with the development and redevelopment of a regional commercial and retail center known as Landmark Mall.”

It’s still the beginning of a long process, with work at the site not expected to start until the third quarter of 2022, but Council still celebrated the small win that has been decades in the making.

“We have been through so many different owners of this property and each time I would keep saying ‘the West End will rise again,’ and now the West End has every opportunity of rising,” said Council member Del Pepper, who has been a longtime advocate for development in the West End and Landmark Mall in particular. “It will be an opportunity where others up and down Van Dorn and all around can be thinking about whether there’s something new they want to do with their property to maybe improve things or expand. Look out, Del Ray and look out Old Town — the West End is on the move. We will be the place to visit when you want to have a good time, get a good bargain, or have good service.”

Mayor Justin Wilson agreed, saying this will be a catalyst project for the West End, and laughed that it met with less controversy and discussion at the City Council than earlier discussions about dog barking in city code.

“We spent longer talking about dogs barking than the most transformational investment in our city in a couple generations,” Wilson said.

“This dog don’t bark,” City Manager Mark Jinks said.

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It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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Landmark Mall rendering (image via City of Alexandria)

The plans to redevelop Landmark Mall are moving forward — but with a corollary added at the Planning Commission last week that requires the developer to step up their green energy policies and caused some tension on the Commission.

Dissatisfaction with the developer’s green energy plans were first expressed by Commissioner Stephen Koenig. He acknowledged that the developers hit the bare minimums required, but suggested the city should wield its power of approval for greater density to push for more.

“I am disconcerted this does not propose, and the city does not yet require, an explicit vision… carbon neutrality,” Koenig said. “If this is 2.4 million square feet of new buildings, creating a dozen new blocks, were animated by such a vision it would make an exemplary contribution to our efforts.”

Koenig’s amendment calls on the developers to prepare an energy and resilience plan to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Zoning to be included as part of the application to the City Council.

Koenig said he generally supported the project, but said he thought the environmental protections should go further.

The suggestion caught flack from the developers like Jay Kelly, vice president of development at Foulger-Pratt. Kelly said the Landmark Mall developers have gone above and beyond existing city policy and the additional requirement would be harmfully vague.

Planning Commission members Nathan Macek and Mindy Lyle also spoke out against Koenig’s amendment.

“I think this expectation goes beyond anything we’ve specified in policy to date,” Macek said. “I think we have to lay out our specific policy expectations — we haven’t drawn that line yet… I’m not comfortable making that extra leap with this specific case when we haven’t laid that expectation out there.”

The policy recommendation exposed a rift on the issue between those on the Planning Commission who believed the city should flex its authority to get more from the project and those who were concerned demanding too much could kill the long-awaited plans to “fix” the Landmark Mall site.

“This is sending a message that we think this kind of information needs to be there, and in the context of an application that is not only logically related to what is going to happen in the future but is not unduly burdensome on developer,” Planning Commissioner Dave Brown said. “One hand washes the other. We are not asking for much.”

But for Lyle, the threat of losing forward movement on Landmark Mall was a dire one after years of false starts.

“The entire West End is asking to have this property move forward,” Lyle said. “If you look at all of the letters we’ve received, this property has been a blight for as long as I can remember. The city stepping in to work with property owners to move this forward is a win-win on all fronts. This has been needed since 2003.”

Koenig’s amendment carried 3-2, with Lyle and Macek voting against it, and was incorporated into the main Landmark Mall package, which was unanimously approved despite Lyle’s and Macek’s misgivings about Koenig’s addition.

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Morning Notes

Inova Alexandria Hospital rezoned to allow Landmark project to move forward — “Inova’s Alexandria hospital campus is now zoned to allow for future residential development, after city council voted 7-0 to allow the rezoning to make it easier for Inova to sell the Seminary Hill hospital land to a developer.” [Alexandria Living]

New Harris Teeter grand opening set in Alexandria — “A new Harris Teeter grocery store in Alexandria is holding a grand opening on Wednesday, June 23 beginning at 8 a.m. at 4550 King St., in the West Alex development at the corner of King and Beauregard streets.” [Alexandria Living]

Little Theatre of Alexandria presents ‘Will Rogers’ USA’ at Fort Ward Park on July 3 — “Covid-19 is not keeping the Little Theatre of Alexandria down! LTA is coming back in 2021 even stronger than ever, and to prove it, they are presenting a delightful (and free!) evening of Will Rogers’ USA, in the Fort Ward Park Amphitheater off West Braddock Road, Alexandria, 7 pm, July 3.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 77F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 57F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Server at Cafe 44 — “Café 44 is a stylish American eatery situated along the Waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. We cater to a local crowd, attracting those who appreciate a spectacular view, quality food, great wine and craft cocktails. Whether you are a regular or a first-time guest, you are received with warmth and enthusiasm. Known as a hidden gem, we’re the ideal place to gather with family and friends.” [Indeed]

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The building blocks for what will become a sweeping mixed-use development replacing Landmark Mall are almost in place. A small discussion about street ownership could also have big implications for the future of the site’s identity.

The Eisenhower West Landmark Van Dorn Implementation Advisory Group met on Monday to put some of the finishing touches on some of the initial framework discussed over the last few months. One of the major points of discussion is over who will own the roads.

While The Wharf is cited as an inspiration behind some of the development concepts at the former Landmark Mall site, some at the advisory group meeting pointed to the city’s Carlyle neighborhood for inspiration.

“If it’s a private street, we would require public access easements so everyone has access, making sure it’s open and available to everyone,” said Jeff Farner, Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria

Jonathan Rak, a partner at law firm McGuireWoods, said his leading preference would be for privately owned streets with public easements.

“All of these framework streets will have public access easements so that they function with the same types of access as any dedicated street,” Rak said. “As a comparison, all streets in Carlyle are privately owned but have public access easement and look, smell, and feel like any other public street.”

Rak said privately owned streets with public access easements can help give more flexibility with how the street is built and how it operates.

“In terms of why we’ve been asking for some private streets… one of the things we want to be able to do is enhance paving materials in those areas,” Rak said. “Having a private street gives us more flexibility in terms of paving materials. [If we] want to have the ability to close down some portions of those streets to make them into farmers markets, street festivals, those kinds of activating type uses, private street with public easement lets us do that.”

There are other questions and concerns moving forward that will need to be addressed down the road by the City Council and Planning Commission. Agnes Artemel said there are still lingering questions about sustainability and building heights — particularly minimum heights, as some developers have come back to the city saying they aren’t planning to go as high as some earlier estimates.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the early plans for Landmark Mall at the June 24 meeting, with those plans headed to the City Council on July 6.

Image via City of Alexandria

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Representatives of the new Landmark Mall development are planning to host a public meeting later this week for folks hoping to hear the latest on the concept plan and answer some questions.

A virtual community meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 13, at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

“With a live presentation format, representatives from the applicant team will provide an overview of the Landmark Coordinated Development District,” the applicant said in an email.

The session will also field questions posted by the community in a forum on the project website.

Plans for the redevelopment, particularly for the mix of residential and commercial space east of the hospital campus, has been moving forward over the last several weeks. Developers are hoping to create an active retail space along a public boulevard similar to The Wharf.

To join the meeting, folks can call in at 301 715 8592 or join via Zoom with meeting ID 919 9409 1745 and passcode 505116.

Image via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

T.C. Williams completes comeback to win school’s first volleyball state championship — “For a moment, T.C. Williams sophomore Milan Rex was scared. The Titans were trailing Kellam two sets to one in the Virginia Class 6 championship Friday in Alexandria, and the chance at a perfect season seemed to be fading. Coach A.J. DeSain reminded the Titans they belonged in this moment, enabling Rex to lock in. She then powered T.C. Williams to a 23-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19, 17-15 victory — the program’s first state title. [Washington Post]

Mayor Wilson defends donation from Planning Commission Chair — “Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek gave Wilson a donation the day after Wilson voted with the majority of council to reappoint Macek to his post. Macek’s employer, the engineering firm WSP, has played a leading role in numerous large projects in Alexandria, including the under-construction Potomac Yard Metro.” [Alex Times]

ACPS shifting to three-foot distancing in classrooms — “With our work to reconfigure our classrooms to three feet of physical distance between students, we will have all classrooms reconfigured and our strategy to accommodate lunch by April 26 which will allow us to transition more students after April 27. Read more about the planning and implementation process below.” [ACPS]

Alexandria Police hang out with ARHA residents — “We had a great time spending time with the Princess Square community this morning. Our officers had fun on the playground with the kids. Thank you ARHA for inviting us to stop by.” [Twitter]

Inova Landmark named ‘Deal of 2020’ by Washington Business Journal — “I constantly hear ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ … But the hard part is done. It was about assembling the right players and having the will to get it done.” [Washington Business Journal]

Wilson, Chapman, Aguirre, McPike and Gaskins gets rush of endorsements — “The decisions to be made are tough and require bold, consensus-building leadership. We are encouraged by the number of candidates stepping forward to run for City Council and Mayor this year. We think there are some in particular that stand out as ready to lead us through the recovery.” [Alexandria Forward]

Handgun and animal bones found in Potomac River cleanup — “There was an interesting discovery during an Earth Day river clean-up along the Alexandria waterfront today. A handgun and what were determined to be animal bones were found. The weapon was determined to be many years old. Thank you for calling APD!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Sunny skies (during the day). High 67F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Clear to partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 47F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.”  [Weather.com]

New job: Worship producer — “The Worship Producer supports the communications ministry at Aldersgate United Methodist Church (AUMC). As part of the staff team, the Producer will design and create video and media content for in-person and online worship (which may also be used for marketing and promotional purposes) and will be responsible for online streaming of Sunday morning worship. The Producer, assisted by other church leaders, will build a video ministry volunteer team to assist them in designing, creating, and sharing content video content for the church.” [Indeed]

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In the latest Agenda Alexandria conversation, local business and civic leaders came together to discuss the highs and lows of the recently proposed City Manager’s budget.

The budget included a proposed tax rate reduction, but City Council candidate Bill Rosssello challenged the overly sunny narrative about the reduction.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

Rossello was joined on the panel by Rob Krupicka, former City Council member and Delegate and owner of Elizabeth’s Counter, and Janet Blair Fleetwood, Secretary of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s representative on Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC).

The group discussed the current imbalance between the residential and commercial tax bases, which has only gotten worse during the pandemic.

“Back in 2009, we used to get 30.5% of revenue from commercial, said Fleetwood. “It is now 21.3%. We have a good situation here, with Virginia Tech’s Innovation area coming in, Amazon, the Patent office, the National Science Foundation, and Landmark. We should start looking to grow businesses that will come in and bring good jobs and use commercial real estate.”

Fleetwood said there has been talk that post-pandemic, companies may not want to use commercial real estate as they did before, but Fleetwood said she has also heard from companies that they will still need physical footprints for team projects.

“I don’t think commercial footprint is going away,” Fleetwood said.

Krupicka noted that questions about the balance between residential revenue and commercial revenue may fundamentally change post-pandemic.

“The balance between residential revenues and commercial revenue… there are fundamental shifts happening right now that make that an old debate,” Krupicka said. “People are working from home now, and you’re going to see a lot of businesses that don’t go back to commercial office when COVID ends.”

Krupicka said one of the larger concerns is that small business have to compete against larger companies like Amazon and pay taxes those companies don’t.

“Small businesses are competing against Amazon and large internet companies,” Krupicka said. “There is big international competition that pays a lot less taxes than small mom and pop. Small mom and pop has to pay BPOL tax… small businesses like mine are writing checks to government, but doing it in the hole. If you broke even on COVID, you’re paying on gross receipts, not profits.”

Krupicka said Amazon pays retail taxes, which benefits the city, but in general pays less on taxes per transaction than small restaurants or retailers.

“We need to have conversation about if we want small businesses to be at a disadvantage tax wise,” Krupicka said.

On the other side, Rossello said the burden on residential taxpayers has grown considerably and is pushing people out of Alexandria.

“We’ve taxed out so many middle class folks, who can afford to pay decent mortgage or rent, but find it more affordable to leave,” Rossello said. “We’ve seen whole neighborhoods turn over from diverse middle class neighborhoods to gentrified neighborhoods where houses on very small lots are $1.5 million dollars.”

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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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Morning Notes

Beyer Asks for Pause After 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths — “500,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19. Every one of them was a person with a story, friends, a family. It’s a tragedy that’s too large to comprehend, but we should take time today to think about them, and strengthen our resolve to do all we can to end this awful pandemic.” [Twitter]

Eviction Moratorium Extended to March 31 — “The CDC moratorium on residential evictions has been extended thru March 31. If you received an eviction notice, call the Office of Housing at 703.746.4990.” [Twitter]

T.C. Williams High School Kicks Off Football Season — “Watch the Titans kick-off their football season under first year Head Coach Rodney Hughey vs. the Robinson Rams LIVE tonight (Monday night) streaming online. Show your support and post online to Facebook or Twitter. Let us hear from you Titans Fans – Students – Alumni – Parents – Friends!” [Facebook]

Howard Hughes CEO Excited About Landmark Mall Future — “O’Reilly broke his silence about Landmark in an interview with the Washington Business Journal after being named the company’s permanent chief executive in December. He stopped short of calling the project a done deal, but he believes Howard Hughes has assembled a strong team with Inova, developer Foulger-Pratt, architect Cooper Carry, and Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE: SRG), the real estate entity spun out from Sears Holdings Co. that owns the old Sears store at Landmark.” [Washington Business Journal]

Community Group Hosting Taylor Run Stream Presentation — “Learn more about stream restoration from environmental experts and residents who have been studying the Taylor Run project for more than a year and hear what we think should be done to restore Taylor Run, protect Chinquapin Park, and help the Bay.” [Environmental Council of Alexandria]

The Chamber ALX Women’s Forum is March 11 — “After almost a year full of the unexpected and the unprecedented, this forum will bring together women at all stages of their careers for an interactive discussion filled with inspiration and insight, centered around this year’s theme of resiliency, and learning how to find the opportunities amidst the challenges.” [The Chamber ALX]

Today’s Weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High 53F. Winds WSW at 15 to 25 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph… Mainly clear early (in the evening), then a few clouds later on. Low 32F. Winds W at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Front Office Agent — “And just like our hotels, no two colleagues are the same. So we’re curious about you. How will you inspire the eclectic rhythm in our hotels? How will you bring the local neighborhood story to life? At Hotel Indigo® hotels, we’re excited to meet spirited characters who can delight the most curious guests.” [Indeed]

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