Newsletter
What two additional stories looks like on a 45-foot-tall structure. (Via City of Alexandria)

After public outcry over a rushed plan, the Alexandria Planning Commission deferred a city staff proposal to allow developers to build affordable housing into new apartment buildings up to 70 feet in height in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more.

There were more than 30 speakers at the meeting on Thursday, June 23, mostly residents of Del Ray.

Gayle Reuter has lived in Del Ray for 40 years, and said that the proposal would ruin her neighborhood’s small town feel.

“I understand the city is in need of and has promised increased affordable housing and endorsed the Washington COG Regional Housing Initiative,” Reuter told the Planning Commission. “If this is approved, developers will come to come in and the Avenue with its small town feel of mom-and-pop businesses where Main Street still exists will be gone forever.”

The proposal would allow developers bonus height of 25 feet in any zone or height district where the maximum allowable height is 45 feet.

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek asked city staff to present a refined proposal to the community before reintroducing it to the Commission for review again.

“I think it’s an important tool, and I think I think the actual impact would be very modest in terms of when it would choose to be enacted,” Macek said. “I don’t think you’re gonna end up seeing 70-foot buildings and this and that. That is sort of the extreme if every site were to redevelop, but I don’t think that that’s the reality of what would happen. But rather than speculate about that, I think we have a chance to step back and study it or provide some projections, some best guesses about what we’ll see so that we can inform the decision and possibly take it in steps with a pilot for a phased amount of density and we can revisit.”

Under the proposal, numerous areas of the city would be open for developers to move in and increase the height of 45-foot-tall buildings to a maximum of 70 feet in height — specifically along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, in Arlandria, Alexandria West, the Beauregard area, the Landmark area, Eisenhower West, Old Town North and Carlyle.

The proposal does not apply, however, to single family, two story and town home dwellings.

Areas of the city that would be impacted by the proposed change to height restrictions. (Via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 14,300 (or 78%) affordable housing units between 2000 and 2022. Consequently, the city has pledged to produce or develop thousands of units to meet 2030 regional housing goal set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“While approximately 800 market-rate and affordable units of housing are currently generated per year in Alexandria, meeting the RHI (Regional Housing Initiative) goal involves the production of an estimated additional 300 units per year, of which 75 percent are recommended to be affordable,” staff wrote. “This represents an estimated additional 2,250 affordable units over the 10-year period…”

Save Del Ray founder Nate Hurto said that the community needs time to understand the potential impact of such a move.

“I think we really need to look at the impact that it could have communities have to the existing housing stock, and to the very nature and character of our neighborhood,” Hurton said. “How will it affect the existing stock of apartments, rentals, condos that are affordable? How will it affect businesses, especially along Mount Vernon Avenue and governed by the small area plan?”

Commissioner Stephen Koenig said that he was swayed by the input of residents.

“I’m certainly persuaded by the sort of breadth and depth of the input that we’ve had tonight,” he said.

Commissioner David Brown said that the City needs to reevaluate its approach.

“We we have a process where we figure out what works in particular places,” Brown said. “It’s called planning. We haven’t done any planning here. We need to look at each one of these zones, figure out what the likely impact is going to be in that zone and figure out whether or not that zone should be considered a candidate for affordable housing.”

According to the City:

At the core of the Bonus Density and Height Program of Section 7-700 is the idea that the affordable housing gained through incremental increases in density and height is a positive exchange.

Additionally, by its nature and in alignment with the City’s All Alexandria Resolution, the initiative provides affordable housing opportunities in locations that might otherwise not receive them, and this specific proposal could increase the likelihood of affordable housing in projects that are more mid-scale. Moreover, each project approved through this proposal would be reviewed rigorously and through a public process to ensure that additional density and/or height is designed in a way that respects the neighborhood.

The requirement that a project using this provision obtain a Special Use Permit means that all impacts of the project are thoroughly reviewed and mitigated as a condition of approval.

As for outreach, City staff noted:

The City undertook the following outreach: established a Bonus Height Webpage; developed and posted Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in English, Spanish and Amharic; conducted two virtual community meetings–on April 12 (130 attendees) and May 19 (90 attendees); addressed questions during the meetings and posted Questions/Comments/Responses subsequent to the meetings; and advertised engagement opportunities through eNews and directly to Civic Associations and to those who contacted the City by email or other communication.

99 Comments
Made in ALX pop-up display (photo via Made in ALX/Facebook)

Local handcrafted shop Made in ALX has been a staple of local pop-up markets but it will soon be getting a permanent home in Old Town North.

The local artist collective announced in a release that a retail store and workshop will open at 533 Montgomery Street next month. The grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, June 11, with preview shopping days on Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Free underground parking for the shop is available at the 530 First Street garage.

“Made in ALX, a collective of more than 40 Alexandria-based makers, creators and artists, is opening a retail store and workshop space in the quickly growing Old Town North neighborhood,” Made in ALX said in a release. “Items in the shop will include candles, pet items, clothing, accessories, books, jewelry, household items, art and other items created by independent makers who live and work in Alexandria.”

The first workshop at the new location will be a candle-making class on June 4. Registration is available through the MadeinALX website.

Made in ALX also noted that the location will support Alexandria-based nonprofits Pawfectly Delicious, which provides jobs to residents with physical or mental challenges, and Rosie Riviters, a stem-focused educational organization.

“In addition to in-store shopping, Made in ALX offers online ordering with curbside pickup, local delivery or nationwide shipping,” the release said. “The website features more than 600 items from a diverse group of Alexandrians.”

Photo via Made in ALX/Facebook

7 Comments

New development plans submitted to the City of Alexandria show a mixed arts-retail district that could be an integral part of designs to reshape Old Town North.

The new 349,000 square-foot Montgomery Center development fills the block from N. Royal Street to N. Fairfax Street and Madison Street to Montgomery Street, sandwiched between the one-acre Alexandria House Park and 2.4-acre Montgomery Park.

Developer Carr Companies submitted the plans for the redevelopment of Montgomery Center, drawn up by Cooper Carry, to the Urban Design Advisory Committee for Old Town North.

The development plans show two mostly-residential mixed-use buildings featuring retail and a 13,460 square foot arts venue. The core of the development will be split with a T-shape courtyard connecting the retail and arts center spaces. The project is planned to include 331 residential units.

The site will also include an event area with renderings of ice skating shown as a potential concept for the space.

The plans also show underground parking at the site.

A presentation of the development plan is available online.

Hat tip to an anonymous tipster

10 Comments

DASH is making some changes to the bus network in Old Town, including one change that has residents concerned.

At a meeting of the Transportation Commission yesterday, DASH Director of Planning & Marketing Martin Barna outlined plans to adjust DASH service in coordination with the opening of the Potomac Yard Metro station. Among those changes is one Barna said has proven contentious to residents along the affected route.

Route 34, which currently runs from the Lee Center to Braddock Road Metro station, will be changed to connect up to the Potomac Yard Metro station instead. As part of that change, DASH is planning to realign the route from N. Fairfax Street to N. Pitt Street.

“This is far and away the most contentious part of our proposal,” said Barna. “We’ve received 30-35 comments from residents along Pitt Street who don’t want to see DASH service along that street for parking and noise concerns.”

Barna said residents along the street have expressed concerns at more congestion caused by the new bus route, while DASH is hoping the shift will provide a more useful route through Old Town North.

“N. Fairfax street is well served by the 30 and 31, which are more frequent,” Barna said. “Nearly all ridership along that stretch are those [lines].”

Without this change, Barna said there will continue to be a four-block gap in DASH coverage between Washington Street and Fairfax Street. With new apartment complexes and grocery stores coming to that area, Barna said DASH saw the change as a good opportunity to potentially provide more service.

One of the other changes for Potomac Yard DASH routes is that the 33 and the 36, which currently go to Potomac Yard, will continue serving the shopping center but will go to the Metro station first.

“We’re trying to make sure the people trying to catch trains can go directly there,” Barna said.

Barna also provided the Transportation Commission with an update on the fare-free and electric bus programs. With DASH ridership going up, Commissioners asked Barna how much money was being taken off the table by the fare-free program.

“Last year council increased budget by $1.5 million to offset lost revenues,” Barna said. “Before the pandemic we were making $3.5-4 million in revenue but we’re not back to that point. It’s hard to say whether riding because fares are free or because they’d normally be riding.”

Barna said that $3.5 million could pay for around three electric buses, which are more expensive than diesel ones, but that DASH doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to support the additional buses anyway. DASH is currently “aggressively pursing grants” to boost the bus system’s electric infrastructure, Barna said, as well as working through the development process for a facilities expansion.

15 Comments

With all the new residential development coming up in Old Town North, new local residents wandering around their home might be surprised to see a sign marking the neighborhood’s very own elusive cryptid: the bizarre goosepigs.

Goosepigs, as the name suggests, are a rumored fusion of pigs and goose, an impossible biological feat said to be accomplished when the pair of species were driven into the fringes of the city by local ordinance.

The source listed on the sign is the 1972 book Pets in Old Alexandria by Dickman and Nicholson, but City Historian Daniel Lee said the story has older roots.

The only known source for the goosepig story is Mary Powell’s The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia, published in 1928. Lee said Powell was codifying older stories she’d heard.

Given that it’s a book from 1928, much of the language in the excerpts, including the section about goosepigs, has its share of racist language.

In Powell’s history, geese and pigs running amok in the street was a lingering issue even years after an Act of General Assembly prohibiting their presence.

A legend preserved by some [Black immigrants] not many generations from their native Africa, and who were full of folk tales, stated that after the manner of the “Pied Piper of Hammelin” they were tolled off to the arch under the canal basin, where they took up their abode. They cross-bred, retaining the legs of the pig and the webbed feet and bill of the goose.

They were said to be very good natured, and if approached diplomaticaly, would assist people in recovering lost property. Occationally youth of the town south to verify this story but were never successful. So after many years the legend of the Goosepigs at Spa Spring died out. It is worth re-counting, however, as an interesting bit of folklore.

Lee said the prohibitions on swine and geese started as early as 1811 in Alexandria, though some bans of pigs in the streets may have started earlier. However, there’s no evidence in the 1811 laws of Alexandria’s miraculous creatures being specifically targeted.

0 Comments

(Updated 7:15 p.m.) For a while now, there’s been a fairly straightforward trade between the City of Alexandria and developers: if you want more density, you need to build affordable residential units.

New development in Old Town North, however, has thrown a wrinkle into that system by opening up a second option. Now, developers can also get bonus density by opening up sections of new development to arts use — part of the city’s efforts to establish Old Town North as an arts district.

In theory, the two bonuses stack, trading greater levels of density for both arts and affordable housing. Housing advocates raised eyebrows when two of the initial developments only pursued the arts district bonus density, though newer developments have since pursued both types of density.

Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria, told ALXnow the goal is to balance the two density trade-offs.

“There are multiple goals and objectives in every small area plan,” said Moritz. “[We’re] trying to balance objectives, and sometimes they aren’t competing, but sometimes they’re more competitive in the sense that everything takes money.”

Moritz said that if the standpoint is that housing should be a sole priority of new development, it would follow that density traded for anything else is space and funding taken away from housing.

“Are these conflicting goals? I think there are people with legitimate points of view on both sides of that question and I want to honor both perspectives,” Moritz said. “We are seeing both being maximized. That is at least a little bit of evidence that they are not competing so much as the market in Old Town North is strong enough that both are being maximized. But for anyone that feels affordable housing is a more urgent problem: that’s density that could have gone to affordable housing because they’re maximizing the affordable housing bonus.”

Moritz said the goal is to create a neighborhood that includes a variety of attributes, including both arts space and affordable housing. Part of that balance is ensuring that there’s not a significant cost difference between the two trade-offs.

“Our goal is, among other things, to make sure they are balanced so it’s not significantly cheaper over the long run to provide arts density bonus over affordable housing bonus,” Moritz said. “It is more expensive to provide affordable housing than an arts shell, but an affordable housing project gets up to 60% of rent whereas arts use is zero, so it costs more in the long term. We’re still looking at that issue.” Read More

7 Comments
Rendering of 901 North Pitt Street development from N Montgomery Street, image via City of Alexandria

Just caddy corner to where an office building is getting a new restaurant space, another developer is coming forward with plans to redevelop 901 N Pitt Street into an eight-story mixed-use building.

At an April 7 meeting (Item 9), the Planning Commission is scheduled to review the development’s development special use permit. The 901 N Pitt Street development is proposed by the somewhat unimaginatively named 901 N. Pitt Street, LLC, which the application says is a mix of The Oliver Carr Company and Carr Holdings II LLC.

“The applicant, 901 N. Pitt Street, LLC, requests approval for an eight-story mixed-use building with 250 multifamily units with a restaurant and an arts and cultural anchor on the ground floor,” a staff report said. “The main portion of the building (eight stories) will front Montgomery, N. Pitt, and N. Royal streets with the primary residential entrance on Montgomery Street. Retail storefronts will be located at the corner of Montgomery and N. Pitt streets as well as Montgomery and N. Royal streets.”

Montgomery Street will also host the entrance to a performance space, part of the burgeoning arts district in Old Town North. While affordable housing has been the traditional trade-off for bonus density, the report notes that this is only the second project to take advantage of both the affordable housing option and the new art space tools for bonus density. The new project has a total of 250 total residential units proposed, with 16 affordable units to households at or below 60% of the area median income (AMI) — which the report notes is the equivalent to $54,180-$77,400 in 2021 for a household with one to four members, respectively.

“The proposed redevelopment at 901 N. Pitt Street is utilizing a height and density bonus for an arts and cultural anchor as well as a density bonus for the provision of affordable housing,” the report said, “similar to the recently approved Tidelock project located nearby.”

The staff report indicated that, while nothing is set in stone, City Dance could be the new arts occupant.

“Staff supports the bonus density and height finding that the proposal will bring an established regional arts and cultural anchor to Alexandria,” the report said. “Additionally, the design of the space accommodates a range of arts uses that may have needs for both indoor classroom space and outdoor performance space in the outdoor dining area, should the arts and cultural anchor change in the future. Although not yet officially announced, the applicant has indicated that City Dance is the most likely tenant for the arts and cultural space.”

Much of the building’s massing is shifted towards the other nearby developments of a similar height, with a 40-foot courtyard providing a setback from the adjacent Watergate Condominium Complex.

“The mid-rise red brick massing portion of the building occupies most of the site that fronts along both Montgomery and N. Royal streets,” the report said. “The proposed restaurant, retail, and arts anchor at the ground floor is primarily located within this building form comprised of large storefront windows, with large warehouse-style windows included on the residential floors.”

14 Comments

Alexandria restaurant owners Larry and Kristine Ponzi plan on opening their newest St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Fairlington in mid-May. The couple, who own Cafe Pizzaiolo (1623 Fern Street) and two other St. Elmo’s shops, also just bought a family restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina.

The Ponzis shuttered their Cafe Pizzaiolo location in Shirlington in May 2020, and then entered 2022 strong with the opening of a second St. Elmo’s in Old Town North in January. The newest St. Elmo’s will open at 1536 Kenwood Avenue in mid-May — across the street from Cafe Pizzaiono, Ponzi said.

“Let’s just say this will keep us busy this year,” said Larry Ponzi. “We have an addiction. You know, we’re trying to control our growth, but it’s hard to not grow. There’s that old saying — if you’re not growing, you’re dying. We’re making sure that we keep growing.”

In February, the couple bought the Red Drum Grill & Taphouse in Nags Head, North Carolina, and now plan to reopen it by the beginning of April.

“We’re not we’re not planning on retiring,” Ponzi said. “This is our way to have a place to go to in the latter part of our lives. We get keep keep our businesses in Alexandria, and then go to the beach the rest of the week.”

Ponzi said that the Red Barn will mostly be the same, with subtle tweaks to the menu, and some painting and remodeling.

“This business has been a very successful business for more than two decades, and we want to keep that momentum going and put our own touch on it as we go,” Ponzi said.

4 Comments
Madison Place office building in Old Town North, image via Google Maps

An office building in Old Town North could be getting a refit to open up a restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.

A Special Use Permit application filed by Asana Partners for 500 Montgomery Street indicates that the owners of the Madison Place office building are looking to make changes to the ground floor to bring in restaurant and retail space.

“The Property is developed with an 8-story office building that was constructed in the late 1980’s,” the application said. “The Applicant intends to renovate the existing office building, and its plans include the conversion of existing ground floor office space into activated retail and restaurant uses. As illustrated on the submitted materials, the Applicant proposes to establish a restaurant on the ground floor in the northwest portion of the building proximate to the intersection of Montgomery Street and N. St. Asaph Street.”

The change would bring the building’s streetscape more in line with neighbors to the north, like Sisters Thai. The proposed changes also include a 1,300-square-foot conversion inside for a dining space, as well as an outdoor dining space.

There’s no word in the application of what restaurant or retail could move in, and an attorney representing Asana Partners could not be reached for comment.

The building is part of the new Old Town North Arts and Cultural District and the applicant has identified a 1,300 square foot space on the eastern side of the building that will house an arts and cultural tenant for at least 15 years.

“The Applicant’s proposed building renovations and site improvements will activate the Property and the surrounding area by establishing community-serving retail, restaurant and arts
and cultural uses,” the application said. “Approval of the requested SUPs will contribute to the vibrancy of the neighborhood consistent with the City’s vision for Old Town North.”

The application is scheduled for review at the May 3 Planning Commission meeting.

Image via Google Maps

3 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list