Alexandria, VA

Modera Tempo, an apartment and retail building at 5760 Dow Avenue, has had a notorious parking shortage for years. But a change approved at a Planning Commission meeting last week has opened up unused residential parking to customers.

Modera Tempo is a popular hangout on the Landmark/Van Dorn Corridor, but it is common to see cars circling like vultures in front of the Starbucks trying to snag one of the handful of parking spots outside/

In a report on the request to change the parking, staff noted that a lack of accessible parking was cited as a factor in the closure of several businesses, namely Portner Brewhouse which closed in 2018.

“This parking dilemma has had a true impact on small businesses located in this development,” said Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “To think it’s been open three or four years to get to this point: we’ve seen three businesses go out of business, and a lot of that is due to parking.”

According to the report:

Following this departure, [Modera Tempo’s owners] hired Walker Consultants to conduct a parking study and it was determined that the building was over-parked for residential use. The study found approximately 100 unused parking spaces at any given time within garage, even during maximum leasing capacity. In contrast, the Study found that the commercial parking did not meet current market demands. As a remedy, it was recommended that a portion of the residential spaces within the garage be reallocated for commercial retail use.

The change will add 44 commercial parking spots to the shopping center.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the change in a 7-0 vote. The item spurred discussion of trying to make these sorts of administrative changes easier for businesses to obtain.

“I hope we can get to a point where this type of change in parking is not only administrative but fast,” said Lyle. “If we’re going to say we’re a business-friendly environment, we need to become business-friendly.”

Photo via Google Maps

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After a series of community meetings, a public hearing is scheduled next week for a plan that could radically reshape how the city’s DASH bus network operates.

The big selling point of the new plan is that it would increase the frequency of buses in the city’s current and planned high-density corridors, like Potomac Yard and the Landmark/Van Dorn Corridor. In many of these locations, buses would be running at least every 15 minutes all day, every day.

More buses in the higher-density corridors would also increase access to the frequent bus service in concentrations of low-income residents, giving nine out of every ten low-income residents in Alexandria access to frequent bus service, according to a press release.

But the other side of that shift towards rapid-service corridors is that the plan will reduce or, in some places, entirely eliminate bus routes through the residential neighborhoods in Alexandria’s core. Routes like AT2, which runs through the heart of Seminary Hill and connects to Old Town, would be removed from DASH service — though the bus service is still attempting to negotiate with the Department of Defense to open up an express line that connects the King Street Metro station to the Mark Center for nearby residents.

The Alexandria Transit Company Board is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 5:30 in the Council workroom inside City Hall (301 King Street). The public is invited to the meeting to express their thoughts on the changes.

An online survey about the changes is also available for interested residents and riders to fill out.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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As part of Alexandria’s program to help first-time homebuyers who live or work in Alexandria, two properties near Landmark Mall are now on the market for around $200,000.

One of the homes is a two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit at 14 Canterbury Square, part of the Canterbury Square Condominiums. The home is being offered through the Alexandria Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which acquires and fully renovates distressed properties then sells them to income-eligible, first-time homebuyers. The unit is priced at $197,877.

To be eligible to purchase the Canterbury Square condo, the purchaser must make below 80% of area median income — $68,000 for a one-person household, $77,680 for a two-person household, or $87,360 for a three-person household.

The second home is at 5831 Quantrell Avenue. The home is being offered through the Resale Restricted Homeownership Program. The condominium is three-bedroom and two-bathroom, priced at $211,959.

To qualify for the Quantrell Avenue home, purchasers must make less than 100% of AMI — up to $85,000 for one-person households, up to $97,100 for two-person households, up to $109,000 for three-person households.

There are a variety of other forms of financial assistance available as well, according to a press release from the City of Alexandria.

“Eligible purchasers may receive a City shared equity loan through the City’s Flexible Homeownership Assistance Program,” the press release said. “The homes are also eligible for reduced mortgage interest rate financing through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Community Homeownership Revitalization Program (CHRP).”

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Mumbai Darbar, the Indian restaurant at the end of a long line of international restaurants in the Van Dorn Station Shopping Center (512 S. Van Dorn Street), is looking to add beer, wine and some new dishes to its menu.

Staff at the restaurant said the restaurant has recently filed an ABC permit and, if approved, the restaurant will hopefully be able to serve beer from India.

One staffer said he particularly hoped to serve Taj Mahal, a lager from India that’s a popular beverage pairing with Indian cuisine.

The restaurant is also planning on adding a variety of new dishes starting in November. Staff said the restaurant is planning on bringing in chicken wings, dumplings, and a new set of around six new foods. The restaurant currently serves an array of traditional Indian offerings, with a sizable selection of vegetarian and vegan options.

The restaurant also delivers, with a $20 minimum order and a three-mile delivery radius.

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Favoring the Planning Commission’s decision over staff’s recommendation, the Alexandria City Council has told the Virginia Paving Company it has seven years to vacate its West End property.

The requirement comes as the city is working to transform the Van Dorn Corridor — today an industrial and car-heavy stretch from the Van Dorn Metro station to Landmark Mall — into a more residential-focused area.

In one form or another, there has been a paving plant operating at the site since 1960. But the site was specifically identified in the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan as being a location prime for redevelopment as a commercial and residential hub. The Vulcan materials site across the street is already primed for redevelopment as a mixed-use residential, commercial, and hotel property.

City staff had recommended Virginia Paving be required to close within three years, citing the 2015 approval of the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan as when the clock should have started ticking for the company to prepare for closure. But Mary Catherine Gibbs, attorney for Virginia Paving, successfully argued to the Planning Commission and then to City Council that there has not always been clear communications from staff over the years about whether that closure was going to happen or when.

The City Council unanimously picked 2027 for Virginia Paving’s closure, giving the company more time to phase out operations and find a new buyer for the site. But the City Council also required Virginia Paving and city staff to have regularly scheduled meetings to ensure that progress is being made.

“At the end of seven years, I don’t want you coming back and saying ‘whoops, we need more time,'” said Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper. “I want to button it down so that in seven years they’re out. It did not come as a surprise to them that they were going to be asked to leave because they knew that we had this in our mind as we passed it the first go-around… I want it chiseled in stone so we don’t have to go through this a second time.”

Images via City of Alexandria

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A man was shot overnight in the Landmark/Van Dorn area, Alexandria police say.

The shooting happened around midnight on the 300 block of South Reynolds Street.

Police arriving on scene found a man suffering gunshot wounds; he was rushed to a local hospital and is currently in critical condition, Alexandria police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow.

Police are continuing to investigate the shooting. At last check, no suspects were in custody.

Video from the scene, sent by ALXnow reader Matthew Young, shows numerous emergency vehicles and crime scene tape following the shooting.

File photo

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As the city works to make the Van Dorn Corridor a more residential-focused area, the Alexandria Planning Commission agreed with staff’s assessment that Virginia Paving Company will have to close shop.

The Planning Commission voted at their Thursday (Oct. 3) meeting to recommend requiring asphalt company Virginia Paving Company to cease operations at its West End facility near the Van Dorn Metro station at 5601 Courtney Avenue.

The original staff recommendation was for the company to vacate within three years, but Planning Commissioners recommended extended that date to seven years in a unanimous vote.

In 2015, the City Council adopted the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan — which called for the transformation of the area around the Van Dorn Metro station into a new commercial and residential hub. New developments are planned for the surrounding area, including a new residential development at the Vulcan materials site, but urban planner Nathan Randall with the Department of Planning and Zoning said that momentum to redevelop the area is fragile.

“While the existence of these projects since 2010 suggests that some momentum exists regarding redevelopment in the area, staff believes this momentum is delicate and could be damaged by continued operation of the asphalt plant,” Randall said. “Developers are likely aware of the goal [and] continued operation of the plant could stymie future development.”

In one form of another, the paving plant has operated at that location since 1960, though ownership of the plant has changed hands a couple of times since then. The Eisenhower West Small Area Plan includes plans for a new park at the nearby Backlick Run creek and a multimodal bridge crossing through the property, but the status of what would happen to the plant remained unclear at the time.

Closure of the plant will have some downsides for Alexandria. There are 110 jobs at the site currently, which will be either lost or relocated out of Alexandria once the plant closes, according to Randall. And while the city is expecting approximately $1 million in new revenue from future development at the site, the plant currently provides Alexandria with all of its asphalt, so the city would incur costs as it switches to another source.

“We typically don’t act to sunset the right of businesses to operate in the city, so I take the gravity of the planning choice before us tonight with that in mind, but I think that’s the right decision,” said Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek.

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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) The driver of a minivan rammed a storefront at the Van Dorn Station Shopping Center this morning.

The crash happened shortly after 10:30 a.m. at the strip mall-style shopping center at 510 S. Van Dorn Street. Damage to the storefront — of the Weyone International Foods grocery store — was reported to be relatively minor, but enough to prompt a building inspector being dispatched to the scene.

The driver was evaluated for minor injuries, according to scanner traffic. No one else was reported to be injured.

A city official told an ALXnow photographer on the scene that the driver likely mistook the gas pedal for the brake. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor.

We’re told this is the fifth vehicle-into-storefront crash in Alexandria this year, and the second or third in this particular shopping center.

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Alexandria’s City Council approved an ambitious master plan for Landmark Mall in April, but it’s city staff that’s been doing the delicate behind-the-scenes work of making that a reality.

After a long decline, Landmark Mall in Alexandria’s West End finally shut its doors for good in 2017 — though its corpse was briefly gussied up to play a 1980s shopping mall for Wonder Woman 2 in 2018.

The new long-term plan imagines 5.6 million square feet of development on the site, with building heights sloping up towards I-395. Tenants being sought range from movie theaters to supermarkets to fitness centers, with a smattering of retail and restaurants.

“The redevelopment of Landmark will involve a fair amount of demolition,” Karl Moritz, Alexandria’s Director of Planning and Zoning, told ALXnow. “Not just of the mall itself, but other things. A lot of those are fairly expensive investments, so there’s also a financial element to it.”

Beyond just demolition, the plan calls for extensive upgrades to streets, open space, stormwater and sewer infrastructure and community facilities, according to the revised Landmark Van Dorn Corridor Plan. Without specific plans put forward, there’s no exact cost estimate, but Moritz says when those numbers come in they will likely be high.

“As you can imagine, those numbers can be large,” Moritz told the Eisenhower West/Landmark Van Dorn Advisory Group on Sept. 11. “So the issues need to be investigated and discussed.”

What’s more, Moritz said city staff is working to balance the desire to expedite the redevelopment of the large site and the need to carefully examine each financial decision.

“We are very conscious that time is important, not just to the community that has been waiting for a very long time for this, but also to economic conditions going on and attraction of tenants going on the site,” Moritz said. “But these are numbers large enough that we need to be as careful as humanly possible, so we’re trying to balance those competing desires.”

Moritz told ALXnow that there will likely be some form of public funding that goes into the costs of redeveloping the area.

“In the various studies done for the project over the last fifteen years, it’s been assumed there would be some level of public financial participation in recognition of all the public infrastructure that would need to be built,” Moritz said. “The level of public participation though is subject to discussion and negotiation.”

Landmark’s small area plan, approved in 2009, also included a Tax Increment Financing option that could come into play with this redevelopment, according to Moritz. A TIF could help subsidize infrastructure costs by capturing a portion of the added tax revenue the development brings to the city and earmarking it to help pay for certain projects.

“Generally speaking, because there’s a lot of upfront infrastructure costs, we had thought there was a likelihood that it might be necessary in the Landmark case to get over the initial hump,” Moritz said.

There’s no timeline set for when the redevelopment plans come back to the city government for special use permits, but Moritz said as the project nears certain milestones there will be additional public discussions and other opportunities for community feedback.

Currently, Moritz said his staffers are meeting with Landmark owners the Howard Hughes Corporation and Sears on a biweekly basis to iron out details like street and sidewalk sizes and how much of that infrastructure will be publicly owned.

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After a rocky start, new plans are coming forward to redevelop an industrial site near the Van Dorn Metro

Two years ago, plans to redevelop an industrial property belonging to Vulcan Materials — a company that creates gravel, asphalt, concrete and other construction materials — near the Van Dorn Metro went cold. But Potomac Land Group II, LLC and developer Lennar are taking another crack at the property to develop townhomes, condo units and a commercial building.

“I’ve stood here with six different developers who have tried to make this work,” said Ken Wire, an attorney for the developers, at a Sept. 11 meeting of the Eisenhower West/Landmark Van Dorn Implementation Group. “Vulcan has done the dance with three or four purchasers over the years.”

The new plans call for townhomes on two blocks on the north side of the property along Courtney Avenue, with residential condominiums backing up against a railroad on the south side of the property. A hotel would sit at the corner of Courtney Avenue and S. Van Dorn Street.

Wire said the residences at the site would be considered “middle-market housing,” affordable to a broader array of potential residents than pricier projects elsewhere in the city.

“We don’t have a lot of middle-market housing,” Wire said. “What we’re thinking about here is delivering a variety of product types so that we can serve many different residents.”

The property at 701 S. Van Dorn Street is paradoxically a prime location for development and a challenge. The property is very close to the Van Dorn Metro station and along the Van Dorn Street corridor eyed for redevelopment over the next few years. But Wire said the property itself has some steep slopes and backs up close to the train tracks.

“It’s close to the Metro, but it’s a million miles away,” Wire noted near end of the meeting. “How do we make Backlick Run more than a trash heap?”

As part of the development proposal, the applicants are also offering 6.9 acres of the property as open space.

“It’s not [acres] of ball fields, though,” Wire cautioned. “It’s challenging open space on a grade.”

The site is currently used by Vulcan as a storage space for construction materials, mulch and trucks. Without a sufficient amount of density that will make a profit at that location, Wire said it will continue to operate as storage space.

“Without a certain amount of development rights, it’s highest and best use is what it is today,” Wire said. “If you put two townhomes there, guess what, it stays industrial. You need just enough development to make the new development worthwhile. Two townhouses here is not going to make it worth a sale.”

Wire said the fastest the development could come back for city approval would be next spring or summer.

“It’s a 2020 end of first quarter, second quarter-ish [item],” Wire said. “It will be after the new year that we come back with designs.”

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