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

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

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

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

Important stories

Top stories

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

Have a safe weekend!

Via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alexandria was spared from significant flooding this week after remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the East Coast. The only flooding found was on lower King Street in Old Town, where businesses laid sandbags at windows and doorways.

“We’re open inside, but if you want to eat you’re probably going to have to come barefoot,” a hostess at Mai Thai told ALXnow on Wednesday.

Our top story this week was, for the second week in a row, on the recent brawl inside Alexandria City High School.

It’s a three-day weekend, and on Sunday the annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style will bring crowds to marvel at classic and beautiful rides along King Street. Monday is Labor Day, and the city will operate on a holiday schedule.

In this week’s poll we asked how satisfied readers are with Alexandria City Public Schools since reopening on August 24. A majority (31%) reported being extremely unsatisfied with the school system, while 29% said ACPS has done a good job, 25% are extremely satisfied and 14% are unhappy overall.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  2. 13-year-old hit by car while walking home from school in Del Ray
  3. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  4. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  5. No injuries or arrests after shots fired on Duke Street
  6. ACPS Superintendent Hutchings asks community to hit the brakes on email campaigns
  7. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  8. Alexandria sees cases rise in August and warns of COVID-19 in schools
  9. Alexandria man convicted for possessing child porn and violating parole
  10. Historic Black cemetery under threat of being washed away in Old Town
  11. Man swallows two bags of drugs and runs from police in Old Town

Have a safe weekend!

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At a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9, the Planning Commission is scheduled to review a proposal to extend certain boons to local businesses set up during the pandemic into next year with the possibility of some changes being made permanent.

The list includes an array of changes aimed at making life a little easier for businesses that took a hit during the pandemic. The changes are currently scheduled to expire on January 1, 2022, but staff is looking to extend that to April next year.

According to a staff report, the changes include:

  • Allowing all restaurants to provide delivery service and pick-up service. Delivery vehicles and customer pick-ups may use on-street parking subject to posted parking requirements.
  • Hours-of-operation regulations have been suspended for restaurants, convenience stores, catering operations and automobile service stations (gasoline stations).
  • Allowing restaurants and retail establishments to vend on adjacent sidewalks or parking lots.
  • Suspension of local restrictions on alcohol sales, including off-premises alcohol sales and delivery restrictions.
  • In addition to the current program, which allows participants in the King Street Outdoor Dining program to have outdoor dining on sidewalks under certain guidelines, participants will also be permitted to set up outdoor dining in parking spaces outside of their businesses.
  • In all other areas of the City, outdoor dining is permitted on restaurant property and in the public right-of-way (sidewalks, parking spaces, parking lots) where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses.
  • Restaurant operators may use off-street spaces located on the same property for outdoor dining where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses.
  • Retail businesses may request the use of sidewalks, on-street parking spaces, and privately-owned parking lots and spaces to display their products and conduct sales, where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses.
  • Health and fitness business operators may use sidewalks, privately-owned parking lots and spaces and on-street parking spaces to offer classes and provide access to fitness equipment, where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses.

The staff report noted that many of the changes to local business regulation have proved popular. Some changes, converting a section of King Street to pedestrian-only, could become permanent.

“City staff has been reviewing the business recovery program, with the assistance of affected businesses and members of the public, with the intent to bring forward in October the recommended elements of a permanent program,” the staff report said. “Many elements have proven popular with the public, have provided welcome vitality and enjoyment, and have benefited our small businesses.”

The report said staff will be meeting with the Planning Commission and City Council in October to further review how some regulations could be improved more permanently. The report noted that an online poll for feedback on the relaxed ordinances has overwhelmingly positive feedback.

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