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(Updated 5/4) In case you missed your chance for a tour of Alexandria’s abandoned power plant the first time around, the Urban Design Advisory Committee (UDAC) is hosting a tour around the perimeter of the site next week.

The UDAC is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 11 to tour the perimeter of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) at 1300 N. Royal Street around 8:30 a.m. The tour will be followed by a UDAC meeting at City Hall at 10 a.m. Both the tour and the meeting are open to the public.

The UDAC meeting following the tour is also scheduled to include a review of the standards and guidelines for the PRGS redevelopment and a bigger-picture look at what the city wants to get out of the development.

The site is largely overgrown and faces numerous ecological issues — in addition to a suspicious oversight — prior to redevelopment taking place. The current plan is to replace the power plant with a mixed-use development neighborhood with a heavy emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle transit. Demolition is expected to start by the end of 2022 with shovels in the ground for new development in early 2024.

An agency representing Hilco Redevelopment Partners clarified that there aren’t public tours of the power plant itself, the UDAC tour is of the perimeter of the site, but Hilco will be hosting public tours of the power plant on June 10 and 11.

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GenOn Power Plant (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

As it turns out, the GenOn Power Plant site’s size may have been a little exaggerated on city records, and it’s creating a problem for potential redevelopment.

The former GenOn Power Plant site seemed like a gold mine for potential redevelopment as a large parcel of currently unused land, but a look into some of the constraints on the site there might not be as much usable land as initially thought.

In a request for a Coordinated Development District (CDD) headed to the Planning Commission on June 23, an application from developer HRP Potomac, LLC requests new heights across the site due to unforeseen restrains on the site’s developable land.

“The [Old Town North Small Area Plan] envisioned 2.15 million square feet of development… on the site,” the application said. “The 2.15 million square feet of [gross floor area] was considered the appropriate amount of development necessary to transform [the Potomac River Generating Site] into a vibrant, mixed-use waterfront district delivering substantial public benefit…”

But the application says that ground level restrictions, specifically with utility lines, easements, and more, were not known when those plans were first drawn up.

“The actual size of the Potomac River Generating Site parcel is much smaller than anticipated,” the application said.

The application said that while the tax assessment records list the site as being 852,898 square feet in size, the actual size is 818,944 square feet — a difference of 33,954 square feet.

Furthermore, utility easements on the site prevent development on large portions of the property and there’s a 40-50 foot wide building restriction line along the eastern boundary as a result of previous litigation.

“The cumulative result of these site constraints is that only 11.9 acres of the 18.8 acre [parcel] can be physically developed, including buildings and interior roadways and sidewalks,” the application said. “Factoring in that internal infrastructure plus the open space means that only about 7-8 acres of the 18.8-acre site is actually available for building development.”

The application said additional height is requested alongside bonuses granted by site contributions to affordable housing and arts spaces.

A map of the new proposed heights showed heights up to 140 feet where previous maps had limited height to 50 feet.

The application said the 2.15 million square feet of development on the site originally called for in the Old Town North small area plan won’t fit on the site without some changes.

“Given the realities of the actual site constraints, the 2.15 million square feet of [gross floor area] will not fit on the 11.9 acres of developable site area within the height limits contemplated in the [Old Town North Small Area Plan],” the application said. “This is especially true once square footage is further reduced due to building articulation and setting appropriate building widths efficient for marketable multifamily, office and retail space.”

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Alexandria residents and workers are planning to rally at a City Council meeting tonight (Tuesday) to try and push the city to demand developers of the former GenOn power plant to go beyond current affordability plans.

In a release, local union and tenant organizations said the city should require commitments to higher-wage jobs and more housing.

“Dozens of hotel workers with UNITE HERE and Southern Towers immigrant tenants with African Communities Together will rally in front of Alexandria City Hall,” the release said. “As the Council is scheduled for an update on the Potomac River Generating Station redevelopment, Alexandria residents are saying whatever development replaces the coal plant needs to create good, sustainable jobs.”

Hilco, the developer overseeing the transformation of the derelict power plant into a mixed-use community, has included plans affordable housing to be incorporated on-site. Along with public art uses, these are requirements for any development going above the allowed density requirements.

UNITE HERE Local 25 said in the release that local workers are struggling with rising rents in Alexandria that leave the city unaffordable. The release said the union hopes the city can push for more units than what are currently required under city law.

“Affordable housing has been a priority for this site for years,” the release said. “Hilco, however, appears to only be proposing on-site affordable housing in exchange for the City’s bonus height and density variances, not in excess of that. Additionally, Hilco is asking for special variances to build higher than what is currently allowed in the Master Plan. Alexandria residents are asking Council to determine what is the maximum amount of on-site affordable housing the City can require in exchange for a master plan amendment.”

In particular, UNITE HERE cited a proposed 225,000 square foot hotel as a potential concern for local wages, and recalled some of the recent debate around wages at a hotel financed by the city.

“Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ first CDD Conceptual Plan submission in August 2021 outlined a 300-room, 225,000 square foot hotel,” the release said. “A 300 room hotel could create 180 low-wage jobs, which would increase pressure on Alexandria’s existing affordable housing crisis.”

New plans are scheduled to be presented at tonight’s City Council meeting, with an approval process scheduled to run over the next few months and demolition potentially starting in 2023.

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The former GenOn power plant is a closed-off stretch of urban decay, but new plans headed to the City Council paint a picture of the area as a new mixed-use community.

The plans have been a long time in the making and still have a ways to go, with deconstruction not scheduled to start until next year. A coordinated development district
conceptual design (CDD) being presented to the City Council at a meeting (docket item 12) on Tuesday, Feb. 22, outlines what the new development could look like when all the pieces come together.

The plans show around 2.1 million square feet of new development at the site with a mix of residential, retails, arts spaces and more. The new development is also positioned as the crown jewel of an Arts and Cultural District in Old Town North approved in 2018.

Key recommendations in the new power plant plans, image via City of Alexandria

The new space is designed to be flexible, but with more of an emphasis on residential development, though that breakdown is still murky this early in the development process. A chart in the presentation to City Council indicates the development will be 4o-80% residential and 20-60% retail.

The development plans also included information about the scale of the new development. The buildings will taper in height slightly towards the edges of the development, but most of the blocks in the new development will be 15 or 16 stories high. That scale requires approval for bonus density, which is where the arts and affordable housing contributions factor in. The presentation says the development will have public art anchors and on-site affordable housing.

Plans also call for greater connectivity to the waterfront, though developers face the unenviable task of working with the National Park Service to try to secure an agreement to cooperate on development along the Mount Vernon Trail.

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It was election week in Alexandria, so congratulations and/or condolences.

Alexandria Democrats managed to hold onto all of the City Council seats. Mayor Justin Wilson won reelection and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was elected to the 45th District House of Delegates seat. But any local Democrat euphoria was dampened by statewide losses that Wilson warned could reverse recent local wins on some issues.

Here were the most-read stories around ALXnow this week:

  1. Developer reopens abandoned Alexandria power plant for tours later this month
  2. Cut-through traffic protections along Duke Street could go into effect early next year
  3. Man arrested for DWI, smashing cars and leaving scene while parking in Old Town
  4. BREAKING: Alexandria School Board election results
  5. Georgetown tearoom relocating to Alexandria waterfront
  6. Retail, residential, and music venue could replace North Old Town office park
  7. City Council to step up fight against Comcast internet monopoly next week
  8. BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District seat in Virginia House of Delegates
  9. Alexandria man arrested for stealing packages outside homes in Old Town
  10. Silver Parrot Jewelry permanently closing at end of year in Old Town
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If you missed the rare tour opportunity for the defunct GenOn plant back in June, Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) has announced a new set of tours for later this month.

The vine-overgrown plant’s days are numbered: HRP is hoping to spearhead redevelopment of the site starting with demolition in 2023.

While the building isn’t safe to go inside, earlier tours guided visitors around the grounds while outlining plans for future mixed-use development. The one part of the site still in active use is a Pepco substation, which will remain in operation throughout redevelopment.

HRP said tours will be hosted on Saturday, Nov 13, and guests can register for the tour online.

“On November 13th, Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) will host guided tours of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) site in Old Town North,” HRP said. “The tours will offer members of the public an opportunity to visit the site, which has been closed off from Old Town North and the waterfront for decades and hear about HRP’s plans for redevelopment.”

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Morning Notes

Contaminated Legacy: From slave plantation to industrial pollution, a hidden history of North Old Town — “The land where the power plant is now located was once a slave plantation owned by the first rector of Christ Church, Townshend Dade. In the 1920s, the area experienced rapid industrialization. The American Chlorophyll Company set up operation on the spot where the power plant would later locate the coal pile. And the Potomac River Clay Works had an operation on what is now the parking lot of the power plant. Neighbors in North Old Town say they want all that contaminated soil cleaned up rather than capped in place and left where it is, a common way to deal with these kinds of heavily polluted sites.” [Gazette]

Alexandria Symphony Orchestra opens fall season — “So thrilled the @Alex_Symphony is back, live and in-person at the Schlesinger Center! Live music is back, masked and vaccinated and better than ever!” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Cloudy early. Scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High 81F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%… Scattered thunderstorms in the evening. Partly cloudy skies overnight. Low around 65F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Alexandria haunted pub tour guide — “We specialize in performing haunted pub tours. Think ghost tour combined with Pub Crawl and there you have it. Our website is www.NightlySpirits.com and we are currently looking for tour guides to work 2-3 days per week, but possibly more depending on the season. Our pub tours operate Wednesday-Sunday evenings, so you must have evening and weekend availability. Tours run roughly 3 hours. We are looking for exciting, life-of-the-party tour guides. If people find you boring, don’t bother applying. You also must be able to learn quickly, memorize a script and ACT IT OUT, as well as be able to interact with the group. Typically our tour guides have worked in a bar/restaurant or have some acting skills as well as the ability to herd cats.” [jobshq.com]

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What a week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story was on President Joe Biden stopping by the Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria last Friday with First Lady Jill Biden and Governor Ralph Northam.

Seeing the president around town is getting to be a regular thing. The president, who also visited in April, discussed “the state’s progress against the coronavirus pandemic” and the celebration of “summer as Virginia lifts all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions.”

This week, we also followed up on a New York Times report about the Virginia Theological Seminary making reparations payments to slavery descendants. The program was launched in 2019, and the school issued $2,100 in annual payments to 15 families in February.

On Wednesday, the Fire Department released its restructuring plan, which goes into effect June 12, and is intended to help emergency response times by shifting resources. AFD will conduct community conversations on the restructuring on Saturday, June 5, at 10 a.m.; Monday, June 7, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m.

Closing the short workweek, on Friday Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown announced that his retirement. Brown’s last day is June 25, and the City Manager is soon expected to name an acting chief to lead the department while the city’s undergoes a national search for a permanent replacement.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. UPDATED: President Biden and Gov. Northam visited Alexandria this morning
  2. JUST IN: Virginia State Police chase U-Haul pickup truck through Alexandria
  3. Bennett-Parker says Levine mailer on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead is ethics breach
  4. Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats opens in Old Town
  5. Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen closes for the foreseeable future in Old Town North
  6. Volunteers needed this weekend to help clear dangerous stretch of Mount Vernon Trail
  7. Wilson and Silberberg mayoral debate finale opens possibility of ‘tweaking’ Seminary Road Diet
  8. Homegrown Restaurant Group gives employees raise to $15 an hour, will ease COVID restrictions at 6 restaurants
  9. ‘Rock It Grill’ eyeing karaoke expansion, bringing back Halloween party
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Ownership of Landmark’s streets could make a big difference down the road

Photo via White House/Twitter

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Nine years after closing, the GenOn plant is an otherworldly scene reminiscent more of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” than the dense city-scape surrounding it.

Old railroad carts are rusted and mummified in vines. Trees burst through old offices. It’s an abandoned, contaminated wilderness that Hilco Redevelopment Partners is hoping to turn into a sprawling mixed-use development.

At a tour today, Hilco staff outlined some of the challenges — and opportunities — of redeveloping the former power plant.

The first obstacle lies in clearing away environmental issues. As a former industrial site, the soil will require significant remediation efforts from leaky storage tanks that have bled pollutants into the soil.

In terms of development, the primary x-factor is how much leeway Hilco will be able to get from its neighbors.

To the west, the site is bordered by a Norfolk Southern rail line that’s been out of use for years, but is still owned by the rail company.

Melissa Schrock, senior vice president of mixed-use development for Hilco, said Norfolk Southern has expressed an openness in the past to divest from the rail line. The company selectively participates in the “Rails-to-Trails” program, and Schrock said the city’s current envisioning for the rail line is as a linear park.

On the eastern side of the site, the GenOn plant is separated from the Potomac River by the Mount Vernon Trail, which is overseen by the National Park Service. While ultimately the developer hopes to do more to integrate the Trail into the site, Schrock said it’s too early to say if that will be possible.

“We’re very early in discussions with the Park Service,” Schrock said.

Lastly, there is a Pepco substation at the center of the property. The substation provides power to D.C. and is still active, meaning that it won’t be going anywhere despite development coming up around it. Schrock said the goal is to build something that will screen the facility from the surrounding development.

Schrock said that the substation can be utilized as a community asset in some way, although Pepco will have some say on the design.

“We’ve been working on a collaboration with Pepco and it’s been a great partnership,” Schrock said. “It’s too early to say what the screen will look like. We haven’t designed the screening but we want to turn it into an asset.”

Schrock said Hilco is planning to submit preliminary designs to the City of Alexandria in July with the first round of public comment to occur around in September.

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It’s Memorial Day weekend in Alexandria, and it’s also a short work week for ALXnow.

Yes, we’re taking a quick breather by taking off most of tomorrow (Friday, May 28).

Not to worry. We’re still covering tonight’s mayoral debate between Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg at 7 p.m. This will be the fourth and final candidate conversation hosted by the Seminary Ridge Civic Association, and our story will be published on Friday morning.

Our top post this week is about Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which is planning to host guided tours of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) site in Old Town North. The tours will be held on June 4 and 5, and the property is being planned for a mixed-use development.

On a sad note, former Virginia Senator John Warner passed away this week at his home in Old Town. He was 94, and is being recognized around the country as a conservative icon from a bygone age of political cordiality. Also, on Sunday, former Alexandria Delegate Richard R.G. Hobson died.

And local businesses are adapting to this Friday’s easing of COVID restrictions throughout Virginia. In Alexandria, the Health Department is launching the new ALX Promise Gold accreditation program for businesses to complete in the days ahead.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Developer offers tours of abandoned Alexandria power plant before demolition
  2. Amazon Fresh supermarket planned for former Shopper’s Food Warehouse in Potomac Yard
  3. Photos: More than half of the Potomac Yard Metro Station is complete
  4. School Board says swimming pool colocation a form of ‘reparations’ for Alexandria
  5. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  6. Here’s a list of restaurants and other businesses for sale in Alexandria
  7. Here’s a preview of what’s ahead for Alexandria’s post-pandemic economic development
  8. Catholic Charities hopes to turn vacant Carlyle restaurant into workforce training kitchen
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. Former Alexandria Delegate Richard R.G. Hobson dies
  11. Alexandria Police investigating knife fight, prostitution and drugs at West End hotel

Have a safe weekend!

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