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Three big urban planning efforts that will transform Northern Virginia

As 2016 kicks into gear, big plans are in the works to remake Old Town North in Alexandria, Reston Town Center, and Arlington's Lee Highway. In each jurisdiction, there are equally big questions about where housing will fit into future development.

Photo by Rocky A on Flickr.

All three are happening within the framework of last year's local election campaigns, with lagging economies, rising housing costs, growing poverty in the suburbs, and the question of where our jobs will sleep at night. Will 2015's campaign rhetoric translate into places that are affordable, accessible, and walkable, with amenities that can be enjoyed by all in the community?


Alexandria's Old Town North (OTN) Small Area Plan will be an update to the original, which came out in 1992. The goals of the plan are to create a sense of place with innovative architecture, design, and open space, while respecting existing residential neighborhoods. The plan will maintain views of the river and ensure public access to water activities, and promote walkability and accessibility to open space.

Existing city plans, namely the 1974 master plan and the Plan for the Redevelopment of the Alexandria Waterfront, will inform specific recommendations for the new SAP.

Alexandria's Old Town waterfront. Photo by brownpau on Flickr.

Regarding housing, there are 340 committed, affordable public housing units owned by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) in Old Town North. There are no market-affordable units nor are there any affordable rental set-aside units from market-rate developers located in this study area.

What to look for: How proactive will the city be in promoting more housing that's affordable and accessible? Which tools will it use to achieve the housing goals identified in the city's housing master plan? What role will density play? Will the OTN community support the redevelopment of Hopkins-Tancil Courts and the Administrative Office Building for ARHA into higher density, mixed income developments? What role will the campaign commitment of the new mayor to slow the pace of development play in the plans for OTN?


Summary of what's actually happening in Arlington: Redevelopment is happening along Lee Highway, and the Lee Highway Briefing Book will examine existing conditions and policies that affect the corridor between Rosslyn and East Falls Church.

The purpose of the briefing book is for data collection and research only; no redevelopment is planned at this time, but the hope is to ensure that future growth will be guided by a comprehensive vision for the corridor. The study boundaries will include all land within a quarter mile north and south of Lee Highway.

Lee Highway and Spout Run Parkway. Photo from Arlington County.

Since 2012, a coalition of civic association leaders known as the Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) has been actively engaged in conducting educational forums and walking tours, the ultimate goal being to develop a community-based vision for the corridor. The result has been growing interest and involvement in the work of the LHA.

What to look for: How will the County's need for more housing that's affordable align with the visioning sessions led by the civic associations? As redevelopment occurs, will Arlington be successful in putting housing that's affordable in geographically diverse places? The newly adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan calls for the Lee Highway corridor to be one of those places. What are the challenges to providing additional housing posed by this narrowly defined commercial area abutting established single-family residential neighborhoods?


In Fairfax, Reston Town Center North will redevelop a 49-acre area of irregularly-shaped parcels north of Reston Town Center. The concept plan envisions creating eight block parcels with a grid of streets and a mix of uses "improving the current county services, integrating them into a new mixed-use community with housing, shops, restaurants, and a publicly-accessible central green open space."

This redevelopment takes advantage of a number of large employers and retail and restaurant opportunities located there, as well as proximity to the future Reston Town Center Metro station, creating additional opportunities to live/work/play in this popular and desirable location.

Rendering from Fairfax County.

County leaders are working with the community to refine objectives for the site. In addition to redeveloping the existing county facilities, other possible public uses could include transitional housing for people moving out of the homeless shelter that's there, additional affordable housing, an indoor recreation center or swimming pool, a performing arts center, and community meeting rooms.

Redevelopment plans will move forward in two phases. The first phase calls for the redevelopment of the 6.65 acres just south of Bowman Towne Drive where the library and shelter are currently located. These parcels, known as Blocks 7 and 8 (and which the county owns), are planned for mixed-use development that would include the proposed replacement library and shelter, as well as new affordable housing. The county will be seeking redevelopment partners for these block developments.

The county and Inova will jointly pursue rezoning of the remaining parcels, and then negotiate a full development agreement for swapping land at the conclusion of the rezoning, building the common infrastructure, and establishing easements. Future development of individual blocks would require separate, subsequent rezoning actions.

What to look for: Will the recent collapse of the Lake Anne redevelopment plan inform the county's thinking with regard to selecting a development partner? Will the county use this opportunity to address stated goals in the Housing Blueprint, especially regarding permanent supportive housing and housing for families at lower income levels?

A version of this post is also up on the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance's website.

Michelle Krocker is the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, a broad-based regional organization dedicated to promoting successful communities through affordable housing education and advocacy. 


Add a comment »

Is the Old Town North exercise covering the vacated power plant?

by spookiness on Jan 7, 2016 2:21 pm • linkreport

More affordable housing in North Arlington is only fair but its going to be an...interesting discussion.

by BTA on Jan 7, 2016 3:04 pm • linkreport

Part of the reason the Lake Anne Development collapsed is that the cost of workforce housing makes the prospect of making money a bit challenging for smaller parcels, which it was. The RTC North area is larger, and there's precedent for huge condos. How 'affordable' those will be is questionable.

Another huge challenge with so-called affordable housing here is that many of the affordable residences out here are only affordable because several individuals pool their resources. Usually each one brings a vehicle to the equation. So each unit = 3-4 vehicles. And our traffic nightmares multiply.

by RestonRezident on Jan 7, 2016 8:05 pm • linkreport

It would have been helpful had Fairfax County's map included the TOD distance rings from the new Metrorail station.

The County summarizes Transit Oriented Development as follows: "Focus and concentrate the highest density or land use intensity close to the rail transit station, and where feasible, above the rail transit station.

"This TOD area may be generally defined as a ¼ mile radius from the station platform with density and intensity tapering to within a ½ mile radius from the station platform, or a 5-10 minute walk, subject to site-specific considerations. ..."

by TMTFairfax on Jan 8, 2016 9:06 am • linkreport

RE: Lee Hwy it's already happening between Spout Run and Rosslyn, albeit slower than I had thought it would. Several new condos and 1 new mixed use dev (Verde Pointe) are up and running.

I am still amazed that piece of Lee hasn't taken off more. It's more affordable and just a short walk to Wilson/Clarendon corridor. Lots of young twentysomethings would flock to mid-priced apts/condos if they build then in mixed use type with shopping at the bottom. It's just waiting to be developed. Also the 3Y MetroBus is great for getting into DC quickly during rush.

by LuvDusty on Jan 8, 2016 12:46 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty, lots of existing housing stock there, need to be torn down before you can get new investment.

Agree on the location and the 3Y!

Spout Run shopping itself could use a serious refresh. The rite-aid and arab restaurant across the street also need to go.

by charlie on Jan 8, 2016 1:04 pm • linkreport

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