The GenOn Power Plant redevelopment plans are headed to the City Council with the backing of staff and the Planning Commission but lingering concerns from local workers.
Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ plan is to replace the power plant on the 18.8-acre site with six blocks of new, mixed-use buildings of varying densities and heights and coordinated open space. The city is also planning to expand the boundaries of the Old Town North Arts and Cultural District to include the site.
Both city staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval. The staff report noted the plan not only remediates the defunct power plant site along the river, but extends the Old Town street grid and offers arts and affordable housing opportunities.
The development’s hit a few bumps in the road so far. Hilco said the site’s developable land is smaller than initially anticipated.
A letter sent to the City Council from various tenant and worker groups, however, said the groups take issue with the jobs and housing types provided with the development, along with environmental concerns. The letter was signed by African Communities Together, Baltimore-D.C. Metro Building Trades Council, Build Our Future, CASA, UNITE HERE Local 23 and UNITE HERE Local 25.
“We urge Council to delay voting on Hilco’s Consolidated Development District (CDD) application until the project meets higher standards on the issues of good jobs, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability,” the groups said in the letter. “While each of our organizations is concerned primarily with only one of these areas, we are joining together in recognition of their deep
interconnections, and in our collective interest in creating a just and equitable community and a livable climate for all Alexandrians. Development in Alexandria must begin meeting higher levels of performance if we are to achieve this goal.”
The groups raised concerns similar to those brought up with the Hotel Heron project in January. The letter said without additional guarantees from the developer, the project would likely bring in 180 jobs with wages so low the workers could not live in Alexandria.
“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2021 Annual Report ‘Out of Reach,’ the hourly wage needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment without paying more than 30% of income on housing in Alexandria is $33.94,” the letter said, “more than twice the median wage for housekeepers in the local hotel industry.”
Benjy Cannon, Director of Communications for UNITE HERE Local 25, said there’s not a specific number the groups have in mind for what the workers should be paid, but said it should be significantly higher than the median wage.
“We don’t have a specific ask in terms of the figure, we just know that it has to be significantly higher than the median wage for housekeepers cited in the letter,” Cannon said. “Unionized hotel workers in DC and National Harbor make between $24-$26 an hour, which some of the workers who’ve testified before the Council and Planning Commission on these issues have cited as a point of comparison.” Read More
(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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Developer reopens abandoned Alexandria power plant for tours later this month
- Cut-through traffic protections along Duke Street could go into effect early next year
- Man arrested for DWI, smashing cars and leaving scene while parking in Old Town
- BREAKING: Alexandria School Board election results
- Georgetown tearoom relocating to Alexandria waterfront
- Retail, residential, and music venue could replace North Old Town office park
- City Council to step up fight against Comcast internet monopoly next week
- BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District seat in Virginia House of Delegates
- Alexandria man arrested for stealing packages outside homes in Old Town
- Silver Parrot Jewelry permanently closing at end of year in Old Town
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.”
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]
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.
- Bennett-Parker says Levine mailer on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead is ethics breach
- Wilson keeps fundraising lead over Silberberg in mayoral primary, McPike leads City Council candidates
- City Council candidate thinks divisive local issues are Republican comeback opportunity
- Former City Council member Willie Bailey announces bid for School Board
- A rare glimpse inside Alexandria’s abandoned and overgrown GenOn power plant
- Virginia Theological Seminary is making reparation payments to slavery descendants
- Alexandria military veterans honored on Memorial Day
- Alexandria brings back summer cooling and senior care program
- Police investigate Old Town hit and run
- Woman arrested in Braddock for attacking father of her child with pepper spray and a knife
- Driver in stolen U-Haul pickup truck successfully eludes Virginia State Police
- Alexandria Jail slowly lifting COVID restrictions, in-person attorney visitation for inmates resumes
- Mayor releases figures for ongoing eviction crisis in Alexandria
- ‘Rock It Grill’ eyeing karaoke expansion, bringing back Halloween party
- UPDATED: President Biden and Gov. Northam visited Alexandria this morning
- JUST IN: Virginia State Police chase U-Haul pickup truck through Alexandria
- Bennett-Parker says Levine mailer on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead is ethics breach
- Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats opens in Old Town
- Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen closes for the foreseeable future in Old Town North
- Volunteers needed this weekend to help clear dangerous stretch of Mount Vernon Trail
- Wilson and Silberberg mayoral debate finale opens possibility of ‘tweaking’ Seminary Road Diet
- Homegrown Restaurant Group gives employees raise to $15 an hour, will ease COVID restrictions at 6 restaurants
- ‘Rock It Grill’ eyeing karaoke expansion, bringing back Halloween party
- Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
- Ownership of Landmark’s streets could make a big difference down the road
Photo via White House/Twitter
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.