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Arlandria development one approval away from reality

Alexandria is poised this Saturday to give the nod to a major redevelopment proposal in the Arlandria neighborhood. The proposal has been over a decade in the making, and is the result of a long and difficult process by a dedicated community.

Proposed redevelopment.

Part 1 of this series discussed the vision plan adopted a decade ago. Now, with many of the players still in place, that vision is ready to become a reality.

The plan to redevelop Arlandria's Mount Vernon Village Center addresses many of the goals of the original vision, and overcomes the challenges presented in the feasibility study from 3 years ago that suggested redevelopment was not possible.

Redevelopment proposal compared to the original Arlandria vision plan.

Details of the proposal

The proposal, by Arlandria Center, LLC, is for a mixed-use development consisting of 450 multifamily residential units and 50,000 square feet of retail. The retail will face Mount Vernon Avenue and will replace the existing strip mall retail.

The plan includes streetscape improvements to Mt. Vernon Avenue and Bruce Street, including street trees, new bus shelters, and widening of the sidewalk.

The high-quality, contemporary architecture is in compliance with new green building standards and incorporates affordable housing units for households earning less than 60% of the area's median income.

The property also improves access and visibility to Four Mile Run Park, and will add eyes and activity to the street, thus deterring and reducing the perception of crime.

Parking is proposed to be underground. According to city code, 940 spaces were required and will be built. If the parking turns out to be in surplus, subsequent developments may have the opportunity to use some of these spaces rather than build their own.

If approved, the development will be built using a phased approach that retains as much existing retail as possible. Stores on the northern portion of the site could choose to remain in operation while the southern portion is under construction.

Community Benefits

The plan fulfills the Arlandria plan requirement for 10-15% open space: 10% of the property would be reserved for public open space and another 5% would be for resident use. The building would be set back back 40 feet from Mt. Vernon Avenue. The building will be pulled back 5 additional feet on Bruce Street to create better access to Four Mile Run Park and better vehicular access to stores and residences.

The project would also fund up to $200,000 for new tennis/basketball courts, which would be relocated per the Four Mile Run Park master plan. Another 7,000 square feet of the property along the park would be reserved for a pedestrian promenade with the potential for a future road. The development would also improve the site's facilities for stormwater runoff.

The development conforms to all of the standards set out in terms of bulk, setback and open space, but extends 7 feet above the height limit at the property's center in order to accommodate 28 units of affordable housing.

Both the residential and commercial portions of the property would be built to LEED green building standards.

The project also includes more than $51,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars annually for Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measures to keep single occupant vehicle trips from the development to less than 40% of total trips. Additionally, the project will provide new bus shelters with real-time bus arrival data, on-site bicycle amenities, and a Capital Bikeshare station. The developer would also provide a 20% employee transit subsidy.

As other redevelopments come online, this property will also be required to partner with others to create a Transportation Management District charged with further improvements to transit.

The proposal also meets the design guidelines from the Four Mile Run Restoration Plan, which calls for buildings to activate the stream and be visually interesting.

Challenges and Opportunities

Right now, the area is awash in a sea of empty parking lots and people-second design. The vision and proposed redevelopment will change all that.

Mt. Vernon Avenue in Arlandria is not a highway, nor even a high capacity road. At its best, it could be an urban boulevard with wide sidewalks, easy pedestrian crossings, and slow moving traffic.

The Arlandria vision of pedestrian-and-transit-oriented development is the antidote to the problems created by sprawl-induced cut-through traffic. This development proposal will help achieve that vision. It will help the neighborhood achieve its long-time goals of becoming and sustaining a safe, walkable, and inclusive community.

We feel this is a great opportunity to make Arlandria one of Alexandria's greatest success stories. We strongly support the proposed development, and encourage the city to approve it.

Kevin Beekman, Melissa Garcia and Nick Partee contributed to this article.

Kevin Beekman is an economist living in Alexandria, Virginia whose work focuses on travel and transportation forecasting. Long of advocate of environmental issues, smart growth, and social justice, Kevin had been involved in community building projects for a decade, in Arlandria, standing up for the neighborhood that Alexandria almost forgot. A member of the Four Mile Run Restoration Task Force and co-founder of the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market, he is also the editor of the Arlandrian a blog about the long neglected cluster of neighborhoods between Del Ray, Arlington Ridge, Shirlington and Crystal City. Bounded by Glebe & Glebe, Rt 1 & Four Mile Run, Arlandria is where Arlington and Alexandria meet (and try to get acquainted).  


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I frequent this area frequently and my only comments would be that I don't consider this area a failure, in fact it is quite vibrant, like Mt. Pleasant. It needs to remain a retail centric area, too many condos would be a mistake. However, with the value of land it is a no-brainer to have the parking go underground, the lots are a waste of space.

by info81 on Dec 16, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

Was this cross-posted anywhere? I'm surprised by the lack of comments.

by Joey on Dec 16, 2011 6:58 pm • linkreport

In a perfect world this part of the Mt. Vernon Ave. would have the same layout as Del Ray as everyone likes that retail area there. But this area has far too many parking lots right now, so this type of development is needed and wanted. However, if they redevelop the Birchmere in the future, which is the adjoining parcel of land, that would be a loss for the area.

by info81 on Dec 16, 2011 8:39 pm • linkreport

"Alexandria is poised this Saturday to give the nod to a major redevelopment proposal in the Arlandria neighborhood."

Poised how? What's happening Saturday?

by John on Dec 17, 2011 8:47 am • linkreport

No, wait; I found my answer in an Alexandria newsletter:

The city council is meeting today to vote on this project. It is highly controversial among those who live in the area. Many oppose it. Read the article at the link.

by John on Dec 17, 2011 8:53 am • linkreport

I'm not sure that it's really "highly controversial." Local newspapers thrive on these kinds of stories, so they gin up controversy because it sells, and their aged readership buys into it. An open process incorporating numerous community stakeholders was carried out for this area years ago. Those plans are now coming to fruition. The story reflects the kind of typical response to most any development proposal. Certain affected or concerned citizen groups claim that the process is steamrolling over them, and there hasn't been sufficient community input, so they try to stall it late in the game. This opposition is completely predictable. I'm surprised that there hasn't been more grumblings about somehow protecting the "historic" 40's strip shopping center.

by spookiness on Dec 17, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

Spookiness (Are you the author of this piece?),

I don't believe you read the article carefully. It was not sensationalistic, but reported on meetings and what citizens and group representatives were saying. Besides, this "paper" has nothing to gain from sensationalism; it's an online-only publication, like GGW, and is non-profit (.org).

The thrust of the article was fear by local people of "gentrification" resulting in their rents being raised by the "rising tide lifts all boats" effect once this new project opens. A member of the Alexandria Planning Commission said, "What is smart growth if we are taking our most disadvantaged residents and forcing them into the far outer suburbs and putting them in cars for un-Godly amounts of time?”

The population of Arlandria is very heavily Latino, and from what I've observed, most make their living as house painters or landscape workers (men), or as maids (women). They may be unable to absorb higher rent.

Finally, I was surprised by the tone of your response: arrogant, insensitive, dismissive and patronizing, not just to me but to the Arlandria citizenry. Don't do that again. Let's keep this discussion on a higher plane.

by John on Dec 17, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

I got the website you cited confused with an article in Alexandria Times, which I had already read. Upon reading the posting, they're slightly different. The quotes in the piece are still as one would expect from any development issue in Alexandria, and TWU's position regarding Arlandria redevelopment is anticipated. As a nearby resident within walking distance of Arlandria for nearly 20 years, and who participated in neighborhood forums and meetings concerning the Arlandria plan, I'm looking forward to the area living up to its potential to be a more attractive place, with better pedestrian orientation, better connectivity to Four Mile Run and the park, and an adjacent population of residents that will be able to help support a variety of businesses that all Alexandrians can patronize and enjoy close to home. As far as gentrification goes, neighborhoods change and evolve over time. There is a lot about Arlandria as it exists that is good, some things will inevitably change, and some things won't change fast enough for some people. But several decades have past since the problems of flooding, crime, and disinvestment overtook the area. I am glad to see the area attracting redevelopment and reinvestment.

by spookiness on Dec 17, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

Stupid grandiose central planning.

The pedestrian signals still don't work properly. I complained about the one near my residence. After two months, the city replaced the buttons on one corner. The buttons on the other three corners still don't work. And the buttons on several other nearby pedestrian crosswalk signals are also broken.

Why not repair what you have in the first place. And cut taxes on everyone trying to live, work, or shop here. I pay a sales tax on groceries at MOM's, when I could drive to Whole Foods in Georgetown and buy groceries tax free. I pay a stupid decal tax for my car, and it took three months to fill a pothole near my driveway entrance, and it was done wrong and redeveloped as a pothole and it took another two months to fix the pothole properly.

And why not install flashing yellow lights at the uncontrolled pedestrian crosswalks? Like in London. I still see more than half the cars not stopping for pedestrians at uncontrolled crosswalks, here. [phrase removed for violating the comment policy] fail to stop for pedestrians obviously in crosswalka. You would never see that in California or London or any other civilized place.

by Tee on Dec 20, 2011 10:42 pm • linkreport

Ok, I read

I don't understand why PG residents would care. No gentrified person would want to live there; PG has very limited appeal to anyone wanting any amenities to basic shelter.

And I don't understand the issues about the park. The walkway is okay, (although one path for pedestrians and a parallel path for bicyclists-common in Amsterdam--would be a cheap simple improvement) but the tennis court converted into basketball and soccer courts is pathetic and looks like it's from some Philly ghetto. The park could do with some basic and inexpensive maintenance issues. Or let it all return to Luna Park Amusement. Or back to a swamp, for that matter. It is really a sadly underdeveloped park for expensive Alexandria.

by Tee on Dec 20, 2011 11:05 pm • linkreport

And bike lanes. The bike lanes that come up from Old Town continue on Commonwealth (to Four Mile Run) but not on Mt Vernon Ave.

btw, was there any comment on this board regarding the opening of Potomac Ave from Alexandria to Arlington?

by Jack Love on Dec 26, 2011 10:05 pm • linkreport

Okay, enough with the bikes. Mount Vernon Avenue is a narrow enough street without putting in more bike lanes. People keep advocating bikes and pedestrian traffic, this is calling for more injuries. And, parking under ground, I don't want my car hidden where anyone could break into it. There is so much new housing being built in Alexandria, I am not sure who is going to move into it. Can't we just keep some of this open space? 450 more units in Del Ray, is that really necessary?

by Bea Porter on Dec 27, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

As a resident of Arlandria for the last 10 years, I have never really encountered much crime. Yes, there is grafitti behind some buildings, the neighborhood does look run down, and there are vacant lots (the Pizza Hut delivery and the dry cleaners were torn down) and empty store fronts. I can consistently rely on police sirens many nights, especially Friday and Saturday nights when the weather turns warmer. But, so what? All these things give the neighborhood it's gritty character, which I love. I am a white male, clearly in the overwhelming minority in this area. I look forward to Four Mile Run being cleaned up and not such a freaking eye sore overrun with vegetation. I welcome new development, but at the same time, I am 100% against forcing out long-time residents due to high rent costs. Yes, the undeveloped land sits on very valuable property, but the heart and soul of the community must stay intact.

by Robert Chase on Apr 14, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

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