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Construction of Inova Alexandria at Landmark is expected to be done in four years, and city staff are in favor of the hospital system’s comprehensive sign plan. Here’s what that looks like.

On Tuesday (Feb. 6), the Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on Inova’s sign plan for the 10.4-acre development on the 52-acre WestEnd property that was formerly home to Landmark Mall.

No electronic signs are allowed in the zoning districts, according to the city’s zoning ordinance.

According to the city:

The Comprehensive Sign Plan proposes to provide clear and consistent guidance on the quality, design, and materials for building, wayfinding, and open space signs in the site. Per §9-103(C), the applicant is requesting the Coordinated Sign SUP to encompass two blocks plus streets within West End Alexandria. Through the SUP, the applicant seeks to increase the number, type, and area of signage to align with the density, scale, and activity expected within the campus.

Inova’s signs at the site must be approved by a special use permit, and include:

  1. Digital text or graphic signs, Parking ID, that would be up to 58.75 square feet, freestanding, and on approach to the garage entrances.
  2. Two types of illuminated signs that may be located higher than 35 feet above the grade… only allowing one such sign per building.
  3. Site identification and landscape signs up to 97.5 square feet and 65.25 square feet, respectively, with heights of 8.67 feet and 7.25 feet, respectively. § 9-202(A)iii.2 restricts these signs to no more than 24 SF and no taller than 6’ in CDD zoning districts.
  4. The applicant requests window signage for a secondary building entrance
  5. Freestanding wayfinding signs that exceed the city’s restriction of a maximum height of six feet, freestanding and parking identification signs that are 8.67-feet-tall, and outdoor recreation signs that are up to four-feet-tall.
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The Vulcan Materials site (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6:20 p.m.) After a few years on backburner, plans to remediate and redevelop Vulcan Materials  — an industrial site near the Van Dorn Metro station — could be reheating.

An application filed by the Lennar Corporation and Potomac Land Group II LLC with the City of Alexandria calls for the remediation of the existing site to create a new mixed-use development. The new project features a hotel facing S. Van Dorn Street, retail, condominiums, townhouses, two-over-two units and a six-acre park along Backlick Run dedicated to the city.

The development would require a rezoning for the site and multiple development special use permits for the various site parcels.

According to the application:

The project will bring several types of housing to the SAP area and will provide many community benefits including the dedication of a 6-acre park, park improvements, and other transportation-related improvements.

A study attached to the application said the hotel would have 256 rooms. The site would have 204 condominiums, 88 back-to-back multifamily units, and 31 townhomes connected on an internal street network.

Permitting for the infrastructure plan and Backlick Park will go to the Planning Commission for review on April 2.

Site map of new Vulcan redevelopment plan (image via Wells and Associates/City of Alexandria)
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A Del Ray restaurant is planning on expanding its footprint with a 750-square foot patio addition.

Noe Landini, owner of Junction Bakery & Bistro (1508 Mount Vernon Avenue), wants to build on the northern end of the restaurant on a repurposed area of the parking lot used for outdoor seating the last several years.

Landini is asking the Planning Commission on March 5 to approve his request to increase the restaurant’s floor area ratio.

“Unlike other locations, the sun impacts that particular side of the building, which is the north side, all day,” Landini wrote in his application. “It is extremely uncomfortable and excruciatingly hot for local customers and neighbors in some parts of the spring, summer and fall. A canopy with fans would provide comfort to our guests.”

Landini wrote that the addition will also provide lighting to guests at night.

“(W)e will actually be able to see in the evening, which will enhance our guests’ dinner experience and safety,” Landini wrote.

via City of Alexandria

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1201 E. Abingdon Drive in Old Town North (via Google Maps)

(Updated 5:25 p.m.) The owner of an aging office building in Old Town North wants it converted into a 136-unit apartment building, and credits the decision to the “ongoing and diminished office market and current high vacancy rate.”

The five-story, 112,000-square-foot office building was built in 1983. It’s owned by Principal Life Insurance Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and managed by PF III Abingdon LLC, an affiliate of the D.C.-based real estate investment firm the Pinkard Group.

“Due to the on-going, diminished office market and current high vacancy rate, the Applicant seeks residential use to repurpose the building,” PF III Abingdon LLC said in its application.

The group wants approval to build a new 43,352-square-foot building wing at the south of the property, which is currently occupied by a surface parking lot. They want to increase the 50-foot height limit to 65 feet to accommodate a mechanical penthouse on top of the building, as well as make lobby, courtyard and other aesthetic improvements. The plan also includes seven on-site affordable housing apartments.

The plan will go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Despite having a high vacancy rate, the applicant said that traffic in the area will diminish.

“The surrounding streets will operate at a less congested state with residential use as compared to office use,” the applicant said.No new parking will be constructed as the existing parking is sufficient for the proposed number of residential units.”

The proposal joins a trend of local developers converting outdated offices to residential properties, as roughly a quarter of workers in the D.C. Metro area continue working remotely.

Image via Google Maps

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301 North Fairfax Street (image via City of Alexandria)

A new residential development that created a stir among some Old Town residents is heading to Alexandria’s Planning Commission next week.

The new development at 301 N. Fairfax Street — around two blocks west of Founders Park and two blocks north of City Hall — would create 48 new residential units, along with underground parking with 67 spaces and 10,065 square feet of private open space. Two of those units will be set aside as affordable housing.

The new development has a gross floor area of 97,556 square feet and is four stories tall, replacing a three-story office building constructed in 1977.

The staff report notes that the building went through some modifications to reduce the overall massing of the building and look more similar to other nearby townhouses.

A rendering for 301 N. Fairfax Street in Old Town (via City of Alexandria)

“Some members of the community also expressed concern about the amount of parking,” the staff report said. “It is noted that this project is providing more parking than is required, and residents of the building will not be eligible for Residential Parking Permits (RPPs).”

The project went through community meetings earlier this year and three rounds at the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). The project has a staff recommendation of “approval with conditions” — though the BAR was less enthusiastic.

“[It’s] an improvement, but given this elevation and the scale of the nearby buildings, I think it’s too massive,” said BAR Member Theresa Del Ninno. “I would not be able to support this proposal with the current massing.”

The project is scheduled for review at a Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, followed by a City Council vote on Saturday, Dec. 16.

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Proposed massing for the Ladrey High-Rise (via ARHA)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority is asking the city to approve new height limits for its proposed redevelopment of Ladrey High Rise in Old Town North.

ARHA has plans to demolish the existing 11-story, 170-unit affordable apartment building at 300 Wythe Street, which houses seniors and residents with disabilities, as well as its former headquarters at 600 N. Fairfax Street.

In their place, the developer intends to build an L-shaped, 270-unit complex that will range in height from seven stories along Wythe Street to six stories along N. Fairfax Street to five stories at the corner of Fairfax and Pendleton streets.

While the new building will not exceed the current height of the aging 11-story building, it will occupy streets with lower height limits. ARHA is asking the Planning Commission to approve taller height limits on these streets.

The developer intends to construct buildings up to 85 feet tall by take advantage of the city’s bonus density and height allowance for properties under development that offer affordable housing.

“The proposed building height includes several heights achieved through height transitions and setbacks, ranging between 55’ and 80,’” per the developer’s application to the city. “The Applicant proposes to make use of Section 7-700 bonus density and height for the provision of affordable housing on the Property.”

The bonus density and height provision is separate from a recently scrapped plan that would allow developers to increase height on their properties in areas with height limits that are 45 feet.

ARHA previously said this summer that it and its partners, Winn Companies and IBF Development, intend to submit plans and relocate residents in the second quarter of 2024, with construction starting by the second quarter of 2025.

If all goes as planned, the project would wrap by the first quarter of 2028, according to a June presentation.

The matter will go before the Planning Commission on Jan. 4.

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A packed house in Alexandria Council Chambers for the Planning Commission’s vote on the controversial Zoning for Housing proposal, Nov. 1, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously endorsed a sweeping overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances on Wednesday night, giving City Council the green light to vote on it later this month.

There were more than 100 attendees and 51 speakers at the Planning Commission’s five hour public hearing, which ran after midnight. The speakers were a mixed bunch, with about half supporting the legislation and the other half opposing it.

The Zoning for Housing overhaul is intended to expand new affordable housing opportunities and would reshape a host of ordinances, including changes to single-family zoning, expansion of transit-oriented development, reducing parking requirements for single-family homes and analyzing office-to-residential conversions.

“I think we’re going to have to be nimble with this,” said Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek. “I do think, though, we want to be careful with this particular market, and given the challenges that this distressed office space has already, we just have to be sensitive of the fact that we not douse the potential for the development because we’re trying to put too many constraints on it.”

City staff tabled one initiative — a bonus height amendment that incentivizes developers to add affordable housing to projects in exchange for two additional stories of construction in areas where height limits are 45 feet or more. Del Ray residents protested the move, with many saying that its approval would destroy the neighborhood.

“Staff’s recommendation is to table this proposal as several existing zoning provisions, that are not proposed to change under this package of reforms, would severely curtail this provision’s regulatory and financial viability,” according to a staff report.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Justin Wilson said on social media that the city’s zoning laws are outdated. Wilson said that the proposed policies will desegregate the city, and that a number of zoning ordinances in the 20th century divided the city by race.

Alexandria’s affordable housing crisis

Alexandria is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and lost 90% of its affordable housing stock between 2000 and 2017. 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.

According to the city:

According to U.S. Census figures, nearly twenty percent of Alexandria’s 80,000 households with incomes up to $75,000 are cost burdened. Approximately 19,000 households are paying more than the federal government indicates they should for housing, leaving little in their households budgets for necessities. The City projects that the number of households in Alexandria will rise to about 100,000 households by 2035. The longstanding imbalance between housing supply and demand, exacerbated by stagnating wage growth particularly in low to moderate-wage sectors, is a key factor underlying the high cost of housing, imperiling our ability to grow an economy that depends on a diversity of skillsets.

Alexandria middle school teacher David Paladin Fernandez said that many of his fellow teachers can’t afford to live in the city.

“I know multiple educators that live outside of Alexandria, some as far away as Fredericksburg,” he said. “They don’t live in these places because it’s convenient. They live in these places because that is where they can afford to live, meaning they will not be able to connect to the community in the same way a resident can. They will not have the benefit of the students and parents seeing them as fellow citizens of Alexandria, despite the fact that they’ve chosen to give their lives to serve the city.”

The city conducted dozens of public meetings for more than a year on the Zoning for Housing proposals, but only released a draft plan in September.

“The sessions have focused on general issues and goals, not specific proposals,” said North Ridge resident Sonny Yoder, who asked for a deferral. “Full disclosure came only 30 days ago.”

Luca Gattoni-Celli, founder of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, said that the city can solve its affordable housing crisis and shouldn’t fear the solution. Gattoni-Celli lives in the West End, surrounded by thousands of city residents living in apartments, he said.

“Living near thousands of other human beings is nothing but a blessing for me and my family,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”

West End resident Kursten Phelps said that she got lucky eight years ago when she got a $5,000 raise and that she and her family were then able to afford to buy their home.

“We got very, very lucky,” Phelps said. “Many of our kids friends are being squeezed out of Alexandria because their rents are rising and there’s no available homes in their budget.”

Ian Smith, 24, has been living in an Alexandria duplex for the last three years, and said that young residents find it nearly impossible to afford to live in the city.

“Even though we get college degrees and work hard for our competitive jobs in the DMV area, basic aspirations like owning a home and starting our own families seem completely out of reach due to the cost of living,” Smith said. “We desperately need housing. This initiative is a great first step.”

Many city residents pleaded with the Planning Commission to defer the proposals, and said that the public has not had enough time to discuss the draft plans.

Roy Byrd, a 25-year city resident, is chair of The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria, a group founded this year largely in opposition of these rezoning issues. He said that there are several unknown variables that the public needs to understand.

“Will the median cost of a single-family home decline or increase by how much year-over-year over the next 10 years?” Byrd asked. “Will the proposed zoning changes result in an increase in revenue for the city, and if so, by how much during the 10 year period, and will it also result in lower property taxes and reduced fees for residents?”

City Council will conduct a public hearing on the Zoning for Housing package on Tuesday, Nov. 14, followed by a public hearing on Nov. 18 and a vote on Nov. 28.

More details on the draft initiative are below the jump.

Read More

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720 N. Fairfax Street in Old Town North (via Google Maps)

A makeover has been proposed for a 53-year-old office building in Old Town North.

The owners of the former home of the Alexandria Community Services Board at 720 North St. Asaph Street want the building converted into a 12-unit multifamily apartment building with ground floor commercial space.

The owners, Joseph “Teddy” Kim and Phil Kang want to convert the three-story, 31,515-square foot commercial office building into 12 two-bedroom residential units with ground floor commercial space.

“With the proposed conversion of the existing 31,515-square foot commercial office building, the building will contain approximately 19,610 square feet of residential floor area at a 1.25 FAR (floor area ratio), with 5,889 square feet, or a 0.38 FAR, of existing commercial use to remain,” according to the special use permit application. “In summary, the proposed requests will facilitate the adaptive re-use of an aging office building to a multifamily residential building that will enhance the existing site and bring quality residential units to an active and vibrant neighborhood.”

The value of the property has gone down since it was bought for $5.8 million in 2005. It was last assessed at $5.2 million in January — $1.8 million for the land and $3.4 million for the building, according to land use records.

The proposal will go to the Planning Commission on Dec. 5.

Image via Google Maps

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Shaved ice at Fort Belvoir (photo via Le Petit Ananas Shaved Ice/Facebook)

(Updated 10/6) A Hawaiian shave ice trailer at Fort Belvoir is looking to open a new location in Del Ray.

Owner Jaafar Ouardi filed a special use permit to open the new location for Le Petit Ananas Shaved Ice outside Bagel Uprising (2307 Mount Vernon Avenue).

“I am presently the proprietor of Le Petit Ananas Hawaiian Shaved Ice trailer located in Fairfax City, and I have been doing business operations inside Fairfax County as well as the City of Alexandria,” Ouardi wrote. “At present, we offer genuine Hawaiian shaved ice infused with natural flavors, procured exclusively from Hawaii. Our offerings are complemented by fresh toppings such as condensed milk, fruit purees, and mochi.”

Ouardi said the trailer currently operates at Fort Belvoir but he hopes to open an additional trailer at Del Ray. The special use permit indicated the trailer would cooperate with a nearby business for storage, electricity and water as needed.

The permit is heading to the Planning Commission for review on Dec. 5.

Image via Le Petit Ananas Shaved Ice/Facebook

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Single-family homes in Alexandria’s Seminary Hill neighborhood (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria staff returned to the Planning Commission one month after Zoning for Housing/Housing for All’s debut, but city leaders remained tepid in their support for the project.

Of note during the work session, however, was a concise breakdown of how Zoning for Housing/Housing for All might affect the city’s housing stock.

The report, delivered by Director of Planning Karl Moritz, said the City of Alexandria currently has around 80,000 units of housing. Moritz said the changes brought about by the zoning changes would create an estimated 2,838 units.

“I regret the precision of a number like that implies,” Moritz said, “because of course these are estimates and based on a number of assumptions.”

Moritz said there are around 50,000 new housing units allowed across the city under approved small area plans, with an anticipated 11,000 that would have been built prior to the approval of Zoning for Housing/Housing for All.

“So that 2,800 is in addition to the 11,000,” Moritz said, “a 25% increase.”

Net new housing units allowed under Zoning for Housing/Housing for All changes (image via City of Alexandria)

Experts previously told Alexandrians in a panel discussion that the city’s increase in housing supply hasn’t been keeping pace with the demand, leading housing prices to continue to increase.

Planning Commissioners said they’re still “underwhelmed” by the number of units created in the proposal, particularly with only 178 units of additional housing added with the elimination of single-family-only zoning.

“I’m still underwhelmed by the number of units generated in this first phase and I wonder if there’s a way we can add to that as this moves forward,” Commissioner Mindy Lyle said.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Melissa McMahon said, in the future, the city should consider more radical steps like eliminating floor-area ratios (FAR) or parking considerations when it comes to building approval.

“As we talk about more ways to make it cheaper, easier and faster to do housing development, it seems to me that taking us out of the process of deciding how much parking is necessary is a really good idea, if only because it makes it less annoying for everyone developing it,” McMahon said. “That doesn’t mean a single family home won’t have a parking space off-street, it doesn’t mean a townhouse will be built with zero parking instead of a one-car garage, it means there will be options and people developing that unit at that location can decide what’s best for them.”

Moritz said city staff set limits for themselves before Zoning for Housing/Housing for All started, but that those limitations had an unexpectedly large impact on the recommendations.

“Staff did create some parameters around our work: that we would not change FAR, heights or setbacks as part of going into this with the anticipation that creating that boundary would also give us room to make important policy changes without changing what people would see on the ground,” Moritz said. “We learned that things like setbacks and FAR, in particular, is an extraordinary limit and it’s a big factor on why that overall number is low, but changing FAR is a more complicated analysis.”

Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek said his hope is that moving forward, Zoning for Housing/Housing for All is a first step in the discussion about zoning changes, rather than the end.

“We’re all a little underwhelmed by the numbers we’re seeing… but I do think it’s healthy to look at this not only as one and two phases, but a continual process going forward we revisit continually, not a one-and-done thing in a great to-do now,” Macek said. “It has to be part of our regular routine and something we think about that way.”

Image via Google Maps

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