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Landmark Mall rendering (image via City of Alexandria)

The Landmark area is getting one step closer to the city’s goal of being a mixed-use community at tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting.

At the meeting tonight, the Council is scheduled to review several amendments to the city’s Landmark-area ordinances ahead of the area’s planned mixed-use redevelopment. Among these is the creation of a new Community Development Authority (Item 36), a new five-member board that will be in charge of overseeing several aspects of shaping Landmark Mall. In particular, the CDA will manage the financing, designing, and construction of the area’s public infrastructure and services, financed through a combination of bonds, private contributions, and other sources.

According to the new ordinance:

The CDA is created for the purpose of exercising the powers set forth in the Act, including acquiring, financing, funding, designing, constructing, equipping and providing for the construction, installation, operation, maintenance (unless dedicated to and accepted by the appropriate governmental entity other than the CDA), enhancement, replacement, relocation and alteration of all or portions of the public infrastructure, facilities and services more particularly described in the Petition (the “Infrastructure”) (or otherwise facilitating such undertakings by, and in cooperation with, the City), which description is incorporated herein by reference.

The five-member board will be appointed by the City Council.

The CDA is not quite a Business Improvement District, with the scope of the CDA focused more around the nitty-gritty of infrastructure rather than promoting the area and creating community events, but there is some overlap in that the CDA can handle things like decorative lighting and management of the new public spaces planned through the Landmark area. The petition from local landowners forming the CDA outlined some of the specific areas that will be covered by the CDA, including:

  • Sanitary sewer mains and lines
  • Water mains and lines, pump stations and water storage facilities
  • storm sewer mains and lines
  • landscaping and related site improvements
  • parking facilities
  • sidewalks and walkway paths
  • storm water management and retention systems (including best management practices, water quality devices and erosion and sediment control)
  • lighting (including street and decorative lights in public rights of way)
  • street and directional signage
  • wetlands mitigation
  • roads, curbs and gutters (inclusive of rights of way and easements related thereto)
  • public park, plaza and recreational facilities
  • new or enhanced public access and open space areas
  • any and all facilities and services appurtenant to the above including the acquisition of land (collectively, all such existing and new public roads, utilities, facilities and services hereinafter, the “Infrastructure”).
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Morning Notes

School year starts at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School — “With a little uncertainty and a lot of hope, Alexandria enters a new chapter for its students.” [Zebra]

Brokerage firm KLMB chosen to find tenants for Landmark Mall — “The first phase of the 4.2 million-square-foot mixed-use redevelopment, to be anchored by a 1 million-square-foot Inova Health System hospital, isn’t slated to deliver until mid-2025. But KLNB and the development team, including Foulger-Pratt, Howard Hughes Corp. (NYSE: HHC), and Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE: SRG), have started working on a retail master plan to identify potential anchor tenants — which they hope will then help draw smaller shops and restaurants to the development.” [Washington Business Journal]

The Fund for Alexandria’s virtual gala is this Thursday — “All funds raised will directly benefit children in foster care or at risk for abuse and neglect, helping to ensure that each child has their basic needs met and providing life-enhancing and enriching opportunities that many of these children miss out on, like dance, art or karate lessons, summer camping, school field trips, scouting and team sports.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies during the morning hours. Scattered showers and thunderstorms developing in the afternoon. High 94F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 40%… Isolated thunderstorms during the evening, then skies turning partly cloudy overnight. Low near 75F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Real estate agent (training included) — “Have you reached your potential in your career? Are you making the money you deserve? Do you have the tools, leadership, and supportive environment to help you succeed in this lucrative and exciting industry? If you answered ‘No’ to any of these questions, Keller Williams Realty is your answer.” [Indeed]

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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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