Alexandria, VA

The future of Potomac Yard’s building signage may seem overly technical, but the upcoming discussion at the Dec. 1 Planning Commission meeting could shape the future of the neighborhood’s new skyline.

The goal of the signage program, put together by Elkus Manfredi Architects and Roll Barresi & Associates, is to ensure the design of signage throughout Potomac Yard is consistent as new developments are brought forward.

“Phase 1 of the North Potomac Yard redevelopment will establish the Innovation District, a transit-oriented mixed use development characterized by activated streetscapes, a network of open spaces and a vibrant mix of retail, office, residential and academic uses,” a report on the program said. “Consistent with the North Potomac Yard Design Excellence Prerequisites and Criteria, this Coordinated Sign Program views signage from a district-wide perspective, and outlines a cohesive framework for unique and identifiable signage through the use of high quality graphics and a variety of signage styles that are integrated into architectural elements and streetscape throughout the district.”

The program provides a guidelines for the type, size and location of signs throughout Potomac Yard, along with placement and illumination guidelines. Similar sign programs exist in other parts of the city.

“This Coordinated Sign Program establishes a plan for the types, sizes and locations of signage throughout the district and establishes guidelines for sign materials, placement, and method of illumination,” the report said. “This Coordinated Sign Program does not prescribe a formula for the design of individual signs or sign elements, rather, it provides flexibility for individual tenants and users to design creative, unique signs that are integrated with the quality of the buildings and site design, thereby enhancing the visual experience of individuals throughout the district.”

Out, for instance, are the large flat-box style signs, signs with letters mounted above the roof, or signs with internally illuminated backgrounds.

According to the coordinated sign program, the plan is also for pedestrian and vehicle wayfinding signs to be located throughout Potomac Yard. The signs will have maps and other visual guides to help people navigating the new district find their way. Other signs will direct bicycle and pedestrian traffic to North Potomac Yard Park.

Vehicle wayfinding will direct traffic towards parking or to public destinations.

Image via City of Alexandria

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The Victory Center has been an anchor along Eisenhower Avenue for years; a towering, empty complex on a massive, vacant parking lot. But that could change this week as plans move forward to subdivide the lot and prepare for future development.

The first part of plans to reshape the Victory Center will be a subdivision going to the Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 5.

“The applicants propose to subdivide the one existing lot into two lots,” staff said in a report. “Proposed Lot 601 would measure 267,459 square feet (6.1 acres) and have lot frontage/width of 704.2 feet. Proposed Lot 602 would measure 33,055 square feet and have a lot frontage/width of 91.8 feet. The purpose of the subdivision is to ensure continued land ownership over the area (Proposed Lot 602) immediately east of the Victory Center office building, through which that office building is accessed, given the siting of the future Winchester Homes townhouse project on the majority of the existing lot.”

A staff report on the proposed subdivision expressed support for the change, saying the change would allow the Victory Center to continue being marketed to federal tenants while other development can proceed on other parts of the lot.

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Months after it was first announced, a new mixed use development called Braddock West is headed to the Planning Commission later this year.

The proposal includes new plans unveiled earlier this fall, showing the seven-story building planned to be located directly east of the Braddock Metro station.

According to the application, the project will be a 180-unit facility with ground floor retail. Between 8-12 units are slotted to be committed affordable housing in exchange for the added density.

The project is adjacent to the Andrew Adkins housing, which is also slated for eventual redevelopment despite ongoing delays.

The ground floor of the project is planned to be a series of flexible retail spaces. The application includes a note that the project will likely seek ABC license approval, meaning some of the ground floor space could be used as a restaurant.

Image via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved plans for the first phase of the massive North Potomac Yard redevelopment on Saturday.

Those plans include three academic buildings with significant open space dedicated to computer science research and development programs for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, open space and a mix of six residential and office buildings.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

Saturday’s approval was necessary for Virginia Tech to meet its timeline of being operational at Potomac Yard by fall 2024.

The first phase of the $1 billion campus will see construction of three academic buildings dedicated to computer science research and development programs at Alexandria’s border with Arlington. The permanent campus will take up four acres and will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

“We made a commitment, the city made a commitment to do what he can do to get that campus and academic building open by the fall of 2024,” said land use attorney Cathy Puskar, who represents landowner JBG Smith. “And despite a pandemic and other interruptions, everybody has held to that schedule. So, it really has been a Herculean effort, and we’re really excited to be here today.”

The master plan amendment includes increasing building heights near the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station. Buildings in Block 15 would increase in height from 85 feet to 90 feet, and from 90 feet to 115 feet on Block 18.

Council is expected to approve the design of a pump station in the northern section of the property this winter. The property reserved for the pump station will be a temporary home for outdoor parking lots until the underground lots for the buildings under construction are ready.

Images via City of Alexandria

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The Planning Commission on Tuesday will consider a request to name the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town after Alexandria basketball legend Earl Lloyd, the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball League.

The honorific street name ‘Earl F. Lloyd Way’ would be located in the Parker-Gray neighborhood in the 1000 block of Montgomery Street between N. Patrick Street and N. Henry Street.

The African American Hall of Fame is leading the effort, and is also working to unveil a statue of Lloyd at the at Charles Houston Recreation Center on October 31, which was the day Lloyd played his first official NBA game.

According to the application:

Before the glitz, the glamour, and the glory, before Michael Jordan, before Irvin [Magic] Johnson, before Julius [Doctor] Irvin, before Kareem Abdul Jabbar, before Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain, before basketball as we know it today there was a pioneer, a man who paved the way for all of today’s stars, a man who helped knock down the barriers of racism in the NBA, showing the rest of the world that African Americans know how to play the game of basketball on the highest level.

Lloyd, who was affectionately known as “The Big Cat,” was born in Alexandria in 1928, graduated from Parker-Gray High School, was an All-American basketball player at West Virginia State University and joined the NBA in 1955. He won a national championship five years later with the Syracuse Nationals.

If later approved by City Council, the honorific street name would be added to signage, but “would not change the mailing addresses for lots along the block,” according to a staff report.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria Planning Commission in November will consider a special use permit amendment to increase allowable height for a new continuum of care facility in the West End.

Massachusetts-based Orr-BSL King, LLC filed an application to build Benchmark at West Alex, a 117-unit assisted living facility that would be constructed at 3425 North Beauregard Street.

“At full occupancy, it is anticipated that the continuum of care facility will have approximately 160 full time residents,” according to the SUP application. “The building will be staffed 24/7 with, on-average, approximately 75 full-time equivalent staff members including a variety of full-time and part-time positions.”

The company is requesting that building height restrictions be increased from 100 feet to 125 feet to “allow the construction of an additional floor of assisted living units and to allow for the erection of rooftop amenity structures.”

The building, which is near the Upland Park development, will include seven floors for the general population, with the eighth and ninth floors devoted to residents living with various forms of dementia.

According to the application:

The apartments in the assisted living neighborhood will include a variety of configurations including studio units, companion units, one-bedroom units and two-bedroom units. Common areas will include multiple dining venues (such as a formal dining room, a pub/bistro, family-style kitchen, and a penthouse cafe), living rooms, activity rooms, and a wellness center (salon/spa, fitness center, and a treatment room for resident care such as doctor and dentist visits).

In addition to the use of their private apartment, residents will enjoy restaurant-style dining, daily programming and activities (both personal and group), housekeeping and linen service, scheduled transportation, and personalized care based on the individual needs of each resident.

Images via City of Alexandria

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It’s the end of a busy week in Alexandria!

Our top story was the Del Ray car crash on Mount Vernon Avenue, and there’s some good news to report. The driver, who crashed her car due to a medical emergency, was sent home without any injuries the following day.

The city also experienced flooding after Thursday’s rainstorms, prompting the City Council to get an oral report on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stormwater management improvements. As reported, there have been more than a half dozen flood events in Alexandria this summer.

Council also received a report on the establishment of a community police review board, and sent it back for some additions. Namely, Council asked staff to include an option that would give the review board independent investigative authority, an action that prompted a police union to call the idea of the review board “superfluous.” Incidentally, crime stories are among the top articles read every week on ALXnow.

This was also the first week of the historic 2020-2021 school year, and with classes starting virtually it will be an altogether different experience than years past.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Driver Suffers Life Threatening Injuries in Del Ray Car Crash
  2. UPDATED: Flooding Reported in Parts of City After Heavy Rain
  3. Planning Commission Approves Density Compromise Despite Outrage from Civic Associations
  4. Video: Protestors Perform ‘Die-In’ Outside Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s Alexandria Home
  5. Arrest Made After Shots Fired in Old Town
  6. Police Investigating Public Indecency Incidents in Del Ray
  7. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  8. Council to Vote on Requiring Face Masks in Alexandria
  9. Just Listed in Alexandria
  10. Hundreds in ‘Trumptilla’ Boat Parade Sail Past Alexandria
  11. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard

Have a safe weekend!

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Not long after approving a new school zoning change, the Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously approved the design for the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Much of the discussion and debate about added density was focused around the density concerns at the start of the meeting, but several neighbors spoke up with concerns raised throughout the process about how the larger school and facilities could impact the surrounding neighborhoods.

Lisa Porter, a nearby resident, pushed for Alexandria to require the installation of a traffic light at a nearby intersection that will turn from sleepy residential crossing to a junction leading towards the redeveloped school. The city agreed to return within six-12 months of classes starting at the school to evaluate the traffic patterns and determine whether a new traffic signal needs to be added.

Other nearby residents said they were concerned about increased recreational use of a nearby field.

Jack Browand, director division chief of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the use should be mostly consistent with current use of the park. The field will be no larger and is designed with use for those 10 and under only.

“Community use there today will continue,” Browand said. “We expect it to be similar to what we saw with improvements at Jefferson-Houston.”

Browand said that could mean some increase in drop and play activity, but there was no lighting on the field for extended evening use.

The main fight among Planning Commissioners was the lack of a net-zero energy policy that had been touted earlier in the building’s development, and the Planning Commission mostly backed Planning Commissioner Stephen Koenig in requiring the net-zero policy be worked back into the project.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project before headed to the City Council later this month.

Image via ACPS

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It’s the end of another work week in Alexandria!

There was a lot of crime this week, as police responded to multiple shots fired incidents in the Parker Gray area on September 2. There was also another carjacking in the West End — the latest in a recent uptick that prompted Mayor Justin Wilson to ask the public for help in reducing the number of vehicle-related thefts.

But there is also some good news to report, as businesses are opening in the city despite the daily pressures of the pandemic. This week we took a look inside The Company Of Books used book store in Del Ray, and we covered the city’s new Wellness District, which is providing a number of free programs and discounts for the recently expanded Wellness Month.

Also this week, Alexandria City Public Schools cut down a 150-year-old tree to make way for a concession stand. The move was criticized by activists and former Mayor Allison Silberberg. With the destruction of the tree, the renovation project for the Parker-Gray Stadium has now officially begun.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Alexandria Woman Uninjured in Tuesday Carjacking at Gunpoint in Potomac Yard
  2. Beatley Central Library Closed Until Further Notice Due to ‘Emergency Conditions’
  3. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  4. Police Investigating Multiple Gunshots Fired in Parker Gray/Braddock
  5. Alexandria’s COVID Positive Testing Rate Lowest in Region
  6. Halal Slaughterhouse Construction Begins, Opening Reset to Mid-November
  7. Update: Chalk Graffiti Decrying Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Sprayed In Front of Wrong House
  8. Braddock ‘Elizabeth’s Counter’ Last of Regional Chain After Bankruptcy Filing
  9. Police: Three Alexandria ABC Stores Broken Into, High-End Liquor Stolen
  10. North Potomac Yard Plans Going to Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review
  11. ACPS Cuts Down 150-Year Old Tree to Make Way for Concession Stand

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria’s civic associations came out in force to speak against a loosening of zoning restrictions at public school properties. While the Planning Commission ultimately pushed forward a modified version of the zoning change, there was widespread agreement that the public outreach could have been handled better.

The change had been proposed in 2019 and was docketed for meetings earlier this year, but had disappeared as the pandemic led to those meetings being cancelled until it quietly resurfaced for the Sept. 1 meeting.

The change originally would have allowed Alexandria City Public Schools to build schools up to 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) by right, meaning without needing public approval, or higher without a set restriction. The version approved at the Planning Commission still allows proposed schools to exceed the density restrictions, but only with a Special Use Permit (SUP) and by no greater than 0.75 FAR.

The proposal had been criticized by the North Ridge Citizens’ Association in the lead-up to the meeting, but was joined by others who protested that the city was quietly pushing the change through without public input.

“When we first learned about this proposal, we had to ask ourselves why our city would be contemplating such sweeping changes to our code without more public notice,” said Kay Stimson, representing the North Ridge Citizen’s Association. “This truly threatens to create a trust deficit between this commission and our residents.”

Stimson said she recognized that schools need greater capacity, but also said the city was pursuing an “increased density” agenda on residents throughout the city.

“If approved, this amendment would be a glaring example of arbitrary, capricious, and unsupportive administrative action by this city with detrimental impacts particularly on low density residential neighborhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to support the massive new buildings you’re proposing,” Stimson said. “The existing baseline should remain the prevailing density of the neighborhood. If someone wants to build something larger, the point of our zoning process is that they must talk to the public and gain permission. There is no justification whatsoever to allow for unlimited density in a school building. This actually calls into question why we would have a zoning code at all.”

Other residents similarly expressed frustrations that ACPS would be seemingly shielded from density requirements local homeowners face. Pete Benavage, representing the Federation of Civic Associations, said the federation had unanimously voted to oppose the change.

“We fell anything that is reducing the public input; the meaningful and timely public input, is deleterious to the benefit of the citizens of Alexandria,” Benavage said. “This amendment has not been properly vetted by the public and we would urge it either not be adopted or at least be tabled until such time as public vetting can be obtained. ” Read More

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(Updated 10:50 p.m.) When the City of Alexandria builds new schools, a new ordinance change (Item 9) could mean they’re a little larger than they used to be.

A new ordinance proposed for the Tuesday (September 1) Planning Commission meeting would “streamline and modernize the zoning regulations,” according to a staff report.

“School enrollment has been growing significantly over the last couple of years and is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future,” staff said in the report. “Since 2007, ACPS has faced rapid increases in enrollment and projects continued growth in its student population through FY 2029 — reaching over 18,000 students by that time.”

The update coincides with ACPS’ modernization plan to address capacity issues and aging facilities, including potential rebuilds like the Douglas MacArthur Elementary redevelopment up for review at the same meeting. The proposed MacArthur redevelopment is planned for 0.6 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The new ordinance allows that level of density by-right — meaning no special permits are required — and an increase above 0.6 FAR with a special use permit (SUP). Building height remains unchanged, however, at a 60 foot limit. Read More

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A new convenience shop called Old Town Mini Mart is working through the city’s approval process to open in the heart of Old Town.

According to documents filed with the city, Old Town Mini Mart is planned to open at 822 King Street, once home to Old Town Pack & Ship. That store is still open, staff there said, it just moved around the corner. One of the co-owners of the new Old Town Mini Mart is Rodrigo Restrepo, who is listed as the owner of Old Town Shoe & Luggage Repair next door to the proposed market.

According to the application, Old Town Mini Mart will be:

Small convenience store offering coffee/tea, water, sodas, beer & wine, sandwiches and snacks, chips, candy and few household sundries. There will be a small sections where one can pull food/drinks from refrigerated displays and or serve coffee/tea. to take with. Will also offer Virginia Lottery

The application notes that the market will also serve alcohol.

If approved, location will be open Monday-Friday from 5 a.m. to midnight, and from 6 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.

The proposed market is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission for a hearing on Oct. 6.

Photo via Google Maps

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