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Living room, photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

At Planning Commission and City Council meetings next month, the city is looking to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for more co-living units to be built.

Co-living units are a type of shared living arrangement where individual bedrooms have shared amenities, like communal kitchens or bathrooms. These are usually rental units, for short or long-term stays. It’s the individual bedroom rented out, rather than the unit as a whole, in a co-living arrangement.

The ordinance change is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Jan. 4, Planning Commission meeting and the Saturday, Jan. 22, City Council public hearing.

“Co-living living arrangements are known by many different names and take on a variety of forms, but all generally offer individuals who are unrelated a private living space as well as access to a communal kitchen, bathrooms, and living apartment and are usually rental units, offering flexible short or long-term stays,” the city said in a report.

Co-living units are technically allowed, but currently require the developer to get a special use permit, which the city says most decide isn’t worth the hassle.

The new policy would allow residential developments to have two co-living units, with up to three bedrooms each, to be built in medium-high density, mixed-use developments without needing a public hearing or special use permit.

There were concerns though, expressed at a previous Planning Commission meeting, that this change doesn’t go far enough.

“What is the likelihood that in a commercial, high-medium density, mixed-use multi-family zone there would be a project that has only two co-living units?” Planning Commission member Melissa McMahon asked. “[Those zones] tend to have large buildings.”

According to the report, city staff said they felt this limit was the best way to address site-specific impacts that an increase in the scale of development might pose to surrounding communities.

Overall, staff said the goal of the new ordinance is to expand flexibility for housing options in Alexandria.

If adopted this amendment will reduce the current regulatory barriers which limit who may share a household in all commercial, high/medium density residential, multifamily, mixed-use, and office zones. The proposal also gives more unrelated adults the flexibility to live together. Further, proposed changes streamline the approval process for these types of living arrangements to provide the market with greater predictability. Lastly, co-living dwellings have the potential to incrementally increase housing supply while maintaining the established character of the existing community.

Photo via Patrick Perkins/Unsplash

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After the 2019 decision to maintain one high school, Alexandria City Public Schools is finally getting ready to send its expanded campus concept to the city for review.

Plans specifically for the current Minnie Howard campus are scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 4:

Alexandria City Public Schools is seeking approval of a Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) to construct a new high school campus on the existing Minnie Howard campus site. The existing Minnie Hoard building will remain operational during demolition of the existing recreational facilities and construction of the new school building. Once the new school building is operational, the existing school building will be demolished and the remaining recreational areas, parking areas, and open space will be constructed in its place.

The DSUP notes that the new athletic facilities will have field lighting baked into the permit approval, avoiding the fight that delayed lights at the Parker-Gray Stadium for years.

“[The permit will] allow for congregate recreational facility lighting up to 80 feet in height; to allow for an increase in height of accessory netting for the recreational areas up to 40 feet in height; to allow the building height to exceed 50 feet up to 77 feet,” the docket said.

The plan will add new classroom space to the school, along with community meeting spaces, active recreation areas and more.

Earlier this year, the School Board chose a “pinwheel” design for the school that will shape classrooms and gym space into a nautilus-type curve with the existing school eventually replaced with an open field and other athletic spaces.

If approved, construction on the new school is scheduled to start in June 2022.

Image via ACPS

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Tidelock office park (photo via Google Maps)

Plans to convert a North Old Town office park into a mixed-use space are headed to city review early next year.

TideLock Property Owner, LLC is looking at turning the Tidelock office park at 1033, 1055 and 1111 N. Fairfax Street into mix of residential and retail development. Plans submitted to the city indicate the developer is looking to convert the existing space and add new density rather than demolish and rebuild.

A development special use permit application describes it as a “three building conversion with a mixed use development of 234 multifamily residential units and approximately 6,594 square feet of retail and approx. 5,000 square feet of arts and cultural uses.”

Tidelock redevelopment plans, via City of Alexandria

Initial plans unveiled last year indicated that the developer hoped to connect the property more to the Mount Vernon Trail and offer a music venue that could be a “mini-Wolf Trap” for the area, Alexandria Living Magazine reported.

The application is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Alexandria Housing Development Corporation is planning to head to city review by the end of the year for a new project that will add 31 affordable housing units to the Seminary Hill neighborhood at 4547, 4555, and 4575 Seminary Road.

“The Applicant, the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) is seeking to consolidate three lots into one and build a condominium project that includes 31 affordable for-sale townhouse-condo units that target average median incomes (AMI) at or below 80% and 8 rental and for-sale multi-family units,” AHDC said in an application.

Three of the multi-family units will be 4-bedroom housing units operated by Sheltered Homes of Alexandria, which will help expand the number of intellectually disabled adults currently served at the group home at 4547 Seminary Road. The remaining five multi-family units will be for sale at 80% AMI or below.

Each of the townhouse units will have 2 parking spaces in an attached garage, the application said. The multi-family units will have access to 19 surface parking spaces, with 12 spaces for residents and seven for visitors.

“The applicant firmly believes that this project serves many goals of the city, but most importantly, by increasing affordable homeownership opportunities for residents with low and moderate incomes, it serves the goals of the city’s Housing Master Plan,” the AHDC application said. “Particularly, the project furthers the city’s goal of creating economic diversity among city residents resulting in strong, resilient neighborhoods…”

The project is scheduled to be reviewed at the Planning Commission on Dec. 7.

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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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Captain’s Row on Prince Street (photo via Google Maps)

The 100 block of Prince Street is impossible to miss. It’s where the one-way street parallel to King Street suddenly becomes a cobblestone lane called Captain’s Row. But with the 100 block of King Street closure getting a Planning Commission endorsement, one of the few remaining concerns is the potential impact on the historic street to its south.

The Planning Commission endorsed making the closure of the 100 block permanent in a pair of unanimous votes, though with some acknowledgment that there are still issues to be resolved down the road, like the need for a better barricade as originally called out at the Waterfront Commission.

While the change to King Street has been broadly popular, Historic Alexandria Resources Commission chair Danny Smith said he hopes mitigating measures can be put into place to protect Prince Street from the anticipated uptick in traffic and parking on the street. Captain’s Row is the oldest cobblestone block in Alexandria and is named for Captain Jack Harper, who built many of the homes there in the late 1700s.

“We on the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission support the incorporation of mitigating measures to protect Captain’s Row,” Smith said.

In a letter to the Planning Commission, Smith said appropriate measures to protect Captain’s Row could include limiting traffic and parking on the 100 block of Prince Street to residents.

Nathan Macek, chair of the Planning Commission, said the city will likely look more into the issue but that he’d be hesitant to further restrict parking and traffic on Prince Street.

“I appreciate comments about spillover effects on Prince Street [and] preserving cobblestone street,” Macek said. “I’d be hesitant to restrict parking or restrict use of the street to residents only. I have philosophical issues with resident-only facilities to the exclusion of use by others. I wouldn’t support that, but I do think we need to do what we can to manage the impacts on the street itself. I would look to the Traffic and Parking Board and Transportation and Environmental Services… it’s an issue that goes beyond the scope of what we control as a Planning Commission.”

Photo via Google Maps

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After an extensive period of community discussion and development, the new townhouse portion of the Oakville Triangle development (2610 Richmond Highway) is headed to city review later this year.

“The applicant is seeking approval of a development special use permit with site plan to construct 84 fee simple townhomes with the accompanying subdivision,” developer Tri Pointe Homes DC Metro Inc. wrote in the permit application.

The DSUP is required for adding more than eight dwelling units to a single townhouse structure. The project’s transportation management plan special use permit is scheduled for Planning Commission review at the Thursday, Nov. 4, meeting.

The 84-townhouses are one part of broader plans to turn Oakville Triangle into new development. Plans for Oakville Triangle center around the new construction of an Inova HealthPlex as an anchor to the site, much like plans for a new Inova hospital to anchor redevelopment at Landmark Mall.

In addition to townhomes, the site is planned to have multi-family buildings and mixed-use development, along with an overhaul of Mount Jefferson Park. Overall plans for the site were approved in 2020, and now the Oakville Triangle developers are working through the specifics of the individual pieces of the development.

“Tri-Pointe has worked in conjunction with the overall guidelines of the Oakville Triangle Route One Corridor Plan and is meeting most of the overall goals of the plan with this proposal,” the developer wrote in the application. “Because of staff’s desire for a north/south vehicular street, the applicant adjusted their initial proposal and now requests the layout as depicted on the attached plans. The layout includes a request for several modifications of the Design Guidelines found in the Oakville Triangle Route One Corridor in an effort to best utilize the site.”

Photos via Tri Pointe Homes DC Metro Inc.

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The 100 block of King Street has been closed to cars for over a year, and now the city is looking to make the change permanent.

At an upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, the Planning Commission is docketed to review a proposal by city staff to permanently turn the 100 block of King Street between Lee Street and Union Street into a pedestrian zone.

The plan had been in the works as a pilot since 2019 and came into effect in early 2020 as a way of helping businesses in the area expand their outdoor dining options.

According to the staff report:

As the City began the re-opening process, staff developed a Temporary Outdoor Business permit for restaurant, retail, and fitness business to use adjacent parking spaces for conducting business outdoors. Given the concentration of restaurants and pedestrians along the 100 block of King Street, as well as the desire to provide expansive space for pedestrians to safely maintain distance, staff worked with the businesses to modify the King Street Place concept and close the 100 block to all car traffic, which took effect on May 29, 2020. The temporary street closure was later approved by the Council and extended several times. The closure is currently approved through April 1, 2022.

The report said the closure has been well-received by the community.

“Over 2,700 responses were provided on a call for feedback about the temporary street closure,” the report said. “Of resident respondents, 89% had a positive experience with the 100 block street closure and 92% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future. Throughout the closure, 100 block of King Street businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. Most recently at an August outreach meeting, a majority of businesses from the block noted their interest in a permanent closure.”

The closure would maintain a 22-foot emergency vehicle easement down the center of the street.

The city proposed adding a 5-foot-wide pedestrian path along both sidewalks between the buildings and the curb, with the remaining area on the sidewalk and in the parking lane available to businesses through a permitting process.

“If approved, staff will use allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for short term improvements for this block, such as new barricades, street furniture, and signage,” the report said. “A more permanent design for the block would be considered through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget and in coordination with other projects in the Waterfront.”

The City Council is scheduled to review the closure at a public hearing next month.

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Apartment kitchen, via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

Alexandria is moving forward with a proposal to make it easier to build housing that allows several unrelated adults to share amenities. While that sounds an awful lot like “having roommates” — which is allowed, in case you’re renting an apartment in Alexandria and started to panic — city staff outlined some of the distinctions in the new policy at a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month.

According to a city report, a co-living unit is defined as:

A portion of a building containing six or fewer housing suites. The total occupancy within each unit is not to exceed a total of eight people. If a proposal includes more than two co-living units on the property it will require a full-hearing Special Use Permit (SUP).

Within the co-living units are individual suites rented out to tenants — one or more bedrooms that may or may not have bathrooms. An important distinction, though, is that these units cannot have kitchens and each bedroom is limited to a maximum of two people. Alexa Powell, an urban planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, said “kitchen” is generally interpreted to mean including oven, stove or range. The various suites share a kitchen and living spaces.

Co-living units aren’t prohibited currently, but building a co-living development requires a special use permit (SUP). Powell said the new ordinance would allow developments with two co-living units — a total of six individual suites with two shared kitchens — to be built without the need for a full hearing. City documents on the change emphasized it would not touch single or two-family residential zoning.

The aim of making co-living development more viable is to increase the stock of market-rate affordable housing in the city. These are units privately owned or leased that are considered affordable without the guarantee of the government or a non-profit. Currently, city figures show that over 10,000 households in the city with incomes of $50,000 or less spend over 30% of their gross income on housing. In some parts of the city, like Arlandria, there are concerns that gentrifying forces like Amazon could snuff out the already insufficient supply of market-rate affordable housing.

There was concern, though, that the change is not ambitious enough to actually incentivize the building of co-living units.

“What is the likelihood that in a commercial, high-medium density, mixed-use multi-family zone there would be a project that has only two co-living units?” Planning Commission member Melissa McMahon asked. “[Those zones] tend to have large buildings.”

McMahon said the city would be more likely to see co-living units if those units can be mixed in with regular apartment buildings without needing a full hearing SUP.

“There might be a disconnect between what is actually a feasible project and what’s an attractive project in a commercial zone,” McMahon said. “The picture of what could be a co-living unit looks a heck of a lot like a regular apartment. It’s really just a couple apartments sharing a kitchen area… I think that we should be open to having a mixture of those in a residential context that could be higher density without having them require a full hearing SUP for it. I’m not seeing the obvious increase in any kind of community impact that would be shifting us from one to the other.”

Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said he had additional concerns about a requirement that the co-living units be either owner-occupied or have a designated manager on-site.

“I tend to think that’s probably a little over-restrictive on this,” Macek said. “I think that’s the poison pill. If we put that in, we’re never going to see any of these built. I’d be very careful about putting that in. We do this all the time in Alexandria, where we get these proposals and we get these very permissive things, but we put one requirement in that makes it so impossible for anybody to carry it out. I think that’s really what something like this would do. I would caution us about including a requirement like this.”

The proposed co-living changes are scheduled to come back to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 5, and to the City Council on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Via Naomi Hébert/Unsplash

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AHDC’s proposed Arlandria housing development (image via AHDC)

Update 9/21 p.m. — A previous version of the article had a typo in Division Chief Carrie Beach’s quote

Housing preservation is a central pillar of the plan to save Arlandria-Chirilagua from the anticipated gentrification stemming from Amazon’s HQ2. Last week, city staff told the Planning Commission that effort will likely require at least $100 million from public and private sources to preserve or expand affordable options in the area.

“Diversity and culture is a thread that weaves its way through the entire plan,” said Carrie Beach, the division chief for neighborhood planning and community development. “The proposed housing policy at its core strives to preserve the ability of existing residents to stay in their neighborhoods.”

Beach said that the economic analysis of the housing situation in Arlandria gives the city an idea of what they can reasonably expect in terms of community benefits stemming from additional density and private development. Beach said private sources of support, like developer contributions in exchange for added density, will have to be supplemented by non-profits and federal grants.

“In this case, housing affordability is the highest priority, biggest price tag, and largest portion of community benefits,” Beach said. “The maximum we can expect from private sources… will have to be supplemented by many other sources.”

One of the biggest projects currently planned to that end is the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation’s proposed 500-unit affordable housing structure in Arlandria. Beach said the proposed AHDC project represents a significant investment in affordable housing in the area, but it’s still just a start.

Currently, Beach said the city is estimating $100 million dollars in “community benefit dollars” from both public and private sources to help invest in expanding Arlandria’s affordability.

“The housing challenges in the Arlandria community are immense and require nothing less than an all hands on deck approach,” said Tamara Jovovic, a planner with the Office of Housing. “We set an ambitious affordable housing target with the 2020 housing contributions policy update: an expectation of 8% of net new development to be affordable at 60% [of area median income]. Here, it’s 10% of new development at 40-50% area median income (AMI).”

Jovovic said that the realities of trying to finance units make producing anything at 30% AMI nearly impossible.

“We heard loudly importance of 30% AMI units, but to be candid, challenge of producing 30% AMI units is immense,” Jovovic said. “To boil it down to the economics of the building, 30% AMI rents can’t cover costs of operating building, much less cost of building [financing].”

Jovovic said that the city is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for permission to prioritize existing Arlandria residents — something typically not allowed under fair housing law, but Jovovic said the city is applying for an exception.

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