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Mark Center Avenue and Seminary Road, image via Google Maps

A three-car crash has temporarily shut down part of Seminary Road near the intersection with N. Beauregard Street.

Alexandria Police said in a release that the crash has shut down westbound traffic on Seminary Road after Mark Center Avenue, between N. Beauregard Street and I-395.

Injuries from the crash are non-life-threatening, according to police

Image via Google Maps

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4850 Mark Center Drive. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria is moving forward this year with plans to shift more of its services to the city’s west end.

In a recent town hall, Mayor Justin Wilson provided an update on plans to consolidate the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) into the former Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) headquarters (4850 Mark Center Drive) at Mark Center. As part of the shuffle, IDA moved to Potomac Yard and redevelopment plans are in the works for one of the DCHS facilities in Del Ray.

“This is an opportunity to bring these agencies closer to the people they serve,” Wilson said. “Most of the population they serve is in the West End of the city.”

Wilson said the new centralized DCHS office is also an opportunity to set up what Wilson called a “West End Service Center.”

“The majority of our population is west of Quaker Lane, yet all the customer service elements have long been in City Hall in the farthest east of our city,” Wilson said. “Part of this effort is a desire to bring those city services to the West End of our city to make sure folks can access their government without having to get into a car and go to Old Town and find parking.”

The deal has been in the works since at least 2018. According to a city memo, it will cost approximately $1.9 million in annual building operating expenses and the city would need nearly $14 million in “upfront tenant fit-out costs.” As a city-owned building, Wilson said it will also save money long-term in comparison to buildings currently being rented across the city to house DCHS offices.

Wilson said staff should start moving into the building this year with services opening in the building sometime in the next fiscal year. The new 15-year lease on the building is scheduled to go into effect in February 2023.

“We should be moving people in this year,” Wilson said. “The building is in good shape. We have a lot of work to do, but we should have people coming in the next fiscal year. We’re excited to get this service center set up.

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Envision Route 7 BRT concept, photo via NVTC

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) is starting to look at financing for an extensive transportation project connecting Alexandria and Tysons.

The Envision Route 7 BRT project aims to bring a high-capacity transit service running from Tysons to Mark center in Alexandria, with stops at Seven Corners, Falls Church and the East Falls Church Metro station. The project is currently undergoing a mobility study looking over traffic operations and impact, with a particular eye toward the Falls Church segment.

At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 3, the is scheduled to look over next steps for the Envision Route 7 BRT project. A report to the NVTC laid out a timeline ahead for the project. Traffic modeling and simulation is planned to continue through the summer with public meetings and outreach for the project starting this fall.

Envision Route 7 timeline, image via NVTC

NVTC staff are also working on identifying key funding, governance and operational decisions ahead for the project, the report said.

The effort is proposed to be jointly funded by Fairfax County and NVTC and will focus on the following elements:

  • Develop a strategic framework that will serve as a guide for NVTC staff and the
    Commission in the implementation of the BRT project.
  • Identify and prioritize the key funding sources for each stage of the BRT project and the
    applicable timeline for each funding source.
  • Develop an interjurisdictional governance approach to guide the planning,
    implementation, and operation of the BRT project.

The report said that proposals for consulting on the project are likely to come back to the NVTC at the meeting in May.

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Developments in Beauregard, via City of Alexandria

Right after the 100 block of King Street discussion last night, the Planning Commission approved a zoning text amendment that could let some West End developers make better use of the Mark Center site.

At the meeting, land use attorney Kenneth Wire represented the Mark Center Hilton and the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), two property owners at the site who have been pushing to have underutilized land around the Mark Center repurposed. Wire said the hotel owners are hoping sale of some of the property, particularly a parcel near a stormwater retention pond, could help fund a facelift for the very dated Mark Center Hilton.

“This corner site, right across from future [bus-rapid transit] station, this is an underutilized site and frankly could be a higher and better use than a smaller ancillary use for the building,” Wire said. “That could create some value to amenitize and upgrade the hotel. It doesn’t currently meet brand standards, it was constructed in the 80s. This sale will be reinvested into the hotel.”

Along with the Hilton site, a portion of the IDA complex in the Mark Center could also be headed to market. The IDA parcel was originally planned to be an office building but never got off the ground. Both parcels were approved for a rezoning that could see them turned into residential or mixed-use developments.

Wire said there’s currently no plan for what will happen with the land once the properties are rezoned, but the rezoning will help the property owners take the parcels to market fot future development.

During the discussion, Planning Commissioners also questioned whether more could be done to incorporate the Winkler Botanical Preserve into the site, but staff said the West End greenery is privately owned.

“There’s an opportunity for that to more broadly serve the community by being more open and accessible,” staff said, “but it’s a private conservancy group that oversees the area and it has been difficult to oversee discussions.”

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What an interesting week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

World champion sprinter Noah Lyles brought home his bronze medal from the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday. In a frank, TED Talk-like speech at Alexandria City High School, Lyles talked about the importance of mental health as he struggled to perform at the games.

“A lot of people will look at the Olympics this year like something was different with the athletes,” said Lyles. “Well, it was a lot of difference because we had so much weight that we had to hold onto — about two years. I was no different.”

On the COVID-19 front, while the transmission level remains high in Alexandria, this week the city tied with Arlington for the lowest seven-day positivity rate in Virginia. Large outdoor public events are still happening, too, and on Monday, a vast majority of local elected officials and candidates converged for the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s annual Labor Day Picnic, which included an appearance by gubernatorial candidate, former Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  2. COVID-19 Update: Alexandria ties with Arlington for lowest seven-day positivity rate in Virginia
  3. BREAKING: Pedestrian critically injured in Old Town car crash
  4. Mark Center development plans head to Planning Commission this week
  5. Alexandria Police union calls out years of executive mismanagement
  6. JUST IN: Suspects arrested after allegedly firing shots at Alexandria Police
  7. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  8. Mayor outlines upcoming plastic bag tax plans
  9. Village Brauhaus aims for rooftop expansion
  10. No injuries or arrests after shots fired in Old Town Sunday night
  11. Most expensive homes sold in Alexandria in August

Have a safe weekend!

Via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.

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(Updated 9/8) Alexandria has many charming, attractive neighborhoods — the Mark Center isn’t one of them. But while it’s unlikely the highway-adjacent office park will be competing with Del Ray or Old Town anytime soon, a new pair of land-use changes could open the door down the road to the start of something of a transformation for the area.

Two parcels in the Mark Center Coordinated Development District (CDD) are headed to the Planning Commission on Thursday, Sept. 9 — the Hilton Hotel site at 5000 Seminary Road and the IDA site at 4880 Mark Center Drive. The applicants are asking for changes to open up some of the allowable uses on the site for future commercial and residential development.

“The owners of the two parcels… have submitted land-use requests to the City, including a CDD amendment and a Master Plan Amendment, in anticipation of the future development of their properties,” the staff report said. “The amendments to CDD#4 would allow for approximately 520,000 square feet of additional density, additional building height, and new uses as measured across both sites.”

The report said there are new special use permits requested for either site just yet, but those are likely coming in October if the changes are approved.

According to the staff report, the three changes being requested are:

1. Add land use recommendations for those properties in the SAP that do not have explicit land-use recommendations today;

2. Add proposed maximum building height recommendations for those properties in the SAP that do not have explicit maximum building height recommendations today; and

3. Clarify that office is not the only existing allowable use, as described in the SAP, at the property at 4880 Mark Center Drive.

The staff report says the first two changes are largely semantic, bringing the zoning language for the sites into line with existing city regulation. But the third takes a site that had originally intended to be office space and opens that up to commercial or residential development.

The change is significant, as it could be the start of the fulfillment of city plans to break the Mark Center out of the office-mold and adding a more diverse range of uses to the area. That change comes alongside improvements for the broader area, like Landmark development and the West End Transitway.

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What a hot week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

Our top story this week was on the five men arrested after shots were fired in Old Town last month. There were quite a few crime incidents to report on, in fact, including a man who was arrested in the Landmark area after shooting his cat and a man arrested for selling marijuana and illegally possessing a gun.

Weather-wise, temperatures were in the high 90s this week, as the city once again offered cooling centers for residents needing shelter from the elements.

On Friday, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge visited The Spire affordable housing complex in the West End. Fudge briefly met Mayor Justin Wilson and Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) for a tour of the facility, as she later touted the Biden Administration’s Built Back Better agenda.

Have you been getting mite bites? You’re not alone. According to our weekly poll, a vast majority of the 600+ respondents reported getting bitten.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Five arrested after shots fired in Old Town North
  2. Alexandria updates COVID-19 guidance as cases increase
  3. Alexandria Police say drug debt was behind West End murder
  4. Child neglect suspect arrested after evading Alexandria police for six months
  5. Alexandria opens up on details for new guaranteed basic income program
  6. Amy DuVall quit her career as an environmental lawyer in D.C. to bake Italian cookies in Alexandria
  7. Former ACPS administrator Tammy Ignacio says experience matters in School Board bid
  8. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  9. Development on West End lot could signal the start of Mark Center overhaul
  10. Parker-Gray development asks for more density and less parking
  11. ACPS is not requiring staff to get vaccinated before school starts systemwide August 24

Have a safe weekend!

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Mark Center parcel being redeveloped, via Google Maps

A proposal to turn a vacant Mark Center lot into a potential residential or commercial use — rather than office — could signal the start of a planned overhaul to the West End office center.

In a new master plan amendment for 5000 Seminary Road and 4880 Mark Center Drive filed by CRP Mark Center Hotel LLC and Institute For Defense Analyses, the vacant lots could be turned into a variety of non-office developments. The overhaul of the site is closely tied with plans to install a bus rapid transit (BRT) system called the West End Transitway.

“Given the location of the Property at a major interstate highway, the future BRT improvements, the transit center across Mark Center Avenue, and pedestrian connectivity, the Applicant seeks to allow for future development of a variety of uses,” the application said, “including multifamily, continuing care or senior living, commercial, hotel, and/or office uses by a future developer.”

The applicants are requesting additional uses and an increase in density allowed on the site, bringing it in-line with other nearby Mark Center buildings.

The parcels being considered for development sit in the heart of an area some in the city are hoping to see converted into a more publicly-accessible stretch of development. In meetings of the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee, committee members and city staff expressed hopes that new development could open the traditionally closed-off office park.

The application said public benefits, like improvements to the sidewalk and public amenities, will be discussed in future submissions.

“The proposed MPA will allow for use of the underutilized Mark Center Hilton property & 4 acre Plaza I property with density and uses adjacent to the future West End BRT line,” the application said. “Multifamily use and other uses walkable to a transit environment is consistent with [transit oriented development] principles that the City prioritizes as well as many of the general development goals of the more recent Beauregard SAP.”

The application is scheduled for review at the Oct. 5 meeting of the Planning Commission.

via Google Maps

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Winkler Botanical Preserve, via NOVA Parks/Facebook

In the heart of the West End, nestled between I-395 and an apartment complex, is a 44-acre park described by NOVA Parks as an “oasis of nature and beauty” — but it’s also a spot Alexandrians may not know exists, let alone have visited.

The Winkler Botanical Preserve (5400 Roanoke Avenue) was created in 1981 to preserve a section of green open space in the middle of the Mark Center development. The park features multiple trails, streams, a private lodge and a waterfall.

With sections of the Mark Center undergoing some redevelopment that aims to make them more publicly accessible, Maya Contreras, principal planner for Alexandria, said in a recent meeting of the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee that one of the aims of redevelopment is to make the park more accessible to the public.

Photo via NOVA Parks/Facebook

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Developments in Beauregard, via City of Alexandria

With the city hoping Landmark development and the West End Transitway will help turn the Van Dorn corridor into a new commercial hub, developers near the Mark Center are hoping to cash in.

According to Maya Contreras, principal planner for Alexandria, plans are in the works to add new density to a stormwater pond near the Hilton (5000 Seminary Road) and to a site originally planned to be an office space, but will likely become something else.

“The request is for amendments to [Coordinated Development District] (CDD)#4 that would add density to both the Hilton site (5000 Seminary Road) and [Institute for Defense Analyses] (IDA) site (4880 Mark Center Drive) and add additional uses to the CDD, as the ownership of 4880 Mark Center Drive is interested in uses at their site not currently permitted,” Contreras said. “The applicant also requests a Master Plan Amendment (MPA) in connection with the project and a subdivision to allow creation of a new parcel to be carved out of the Hilton site.”

Contreras said in a meeting of the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee that Hilton is looking to develop the pond into a pad site — a parcel of land suitable for development — though Hilton is planning to sell the location rather than develop it for a hotel use.

Similarly, Contreras said the IDA site next door to the new Alexandria Health Department building could be developed as something other than office space.

“A pad site is a site where a building can be constructed,” Contreras said. “Right now IDA pad site is a legal lot: there could be a building built there. Right now on the Hilton site is where their stormwater pond is. There was no anticipation of a building going there, a lot has to be created for something to go there.”

As part of the new development, Contreras said the city hopes to make the Winkler Botanical Preserve more accessible to the public. The park featuring nature trails and a waterfall is tucked away and somewhat inaccessible at the moment.

The new development comes at the city is working through plans to establish some form of bus-rapid transit as the West End Transitway. The Transitway likely won’t have dedicated lanes throughout the corridor, but Contreras said the city is looking into priority signaling and other options to help increase reliability.

But some on the committee shared concerns that the planned consolidation of bus stops in Alexandria may have hurt the very area the city is trying to make more transit accessible.

“DASH has decreased its service at Seminary and Beauregard,” said Fatimah Mateen, a member of the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee. “There used to be the AT-9, but  that’s been discontinued. And I’ve heard Metrobus is not going to bring back the 16-L. We have a lot of housing coming into that particular area but we’re losing [bus] service, and I think that’s going to be a big problem.”

Contreras said that some of the stops have been consolidated, but city planners are working with the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services to keep them appraised of how much residential is expected to develop in the area down the road.

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