Posts about Arlandria
Rents in Alexandria are skyrocketing. Virginia's state laws don't make it easy to create affordable housing for people earning less than the area median income, so the city has to think outside the box.
True sustainability means that we provide housing options that mirror our workforce. This reduces people's commute times, and cuts down on regional congestion. Forcing people to live farther out consumes farmland, increases food costs, and harms air quality. Jurisdictions closer to DC have an obligation to help address the rental housing shortage.
For Alexandria, this work also strives toward the mixed-income and mixed-culture vision that we have long held on to. But rising rents are making this vision harder and harder to achieve.
Unlike other states, Virginia does not allow its cities to mandate that developers replace every unit of affordable housing lost to redevelopment, or to require a fixed percentage of affordable units. But affordable housing is a priority for Alexandria, so the City Council and Planning Commission are working together with staff, developers, and residents to find innovative ways to provide it.
Over the course of the next year, the City Council should adopt a new Affordable Housing Master plan. We just completed a plan for senior services that specifically called for new, affordable retirement living options. Soon our public housing authority should complete its own master plan. And the city should finish work on the Beauregard small area plan. All of these will have a significant impact on the future of affordability in Alexandria.
The Beauregard planning study demonstrates the limits of our power. Without a new plan, current rentals, which are barely affordable to people earning under $50,000, would become luxury rentals or townhouses. Thousands of currently affordable units would vanish. The city may be able to gain a small number of units out of these conversions, but it would be limited. We can do better.
The proposed Beauregard plan saves about 700 units of affordable housing. The Council has asked that this number be raised and that we find a way to provide housing to a broader range of incomes, especially those earning under $40,000 per year.
To maximize the number of units saved, the city will need to create a more flexible approach to housing. We need to increase the contributions from developers and use those funds to preserve existing units whenever we can because it is often much less expensive to preserve an existing housing unit than to build a new one. This helps us spread the value further.
We need to ensure that the structure of developer contributions makes it easy to combine with private and non-profit money to build new mixed-income projects over the 30 years it will take for the Beauregard plan to get fully built. Over that time, over $90 million in payments could go towards affordable housing. The scale those funds creates an opportunity to attract other investment.
We need better incentives for developers to create and preserve affordable housing and mixed-use development. The city should look at every new development as a chance to add affordable housing.
Alexandria should update its home ownership and rental assistance programs, to bring them up to date with national best practices. The city should revisit its zoning to allow "granny flats," so that families can rent out affordable spaces in their home and give seniors and others living options. The city should also encourage housing on top of retail strips.
The master plan won't solve all of these issues. There isn't a silver bullet, and no one jurisdiction can solve this problem on its own. Alexandria also needs help from regional partners to build more rental housing. The federal government should also step up. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been too silent on our national rental housing problems for too long.
Alexandria's problems are not unique. Rental rates are consuming more of people's monthly income than can be sustained all over the country. But hopefully, Alexandria's work in the coming months can provide a model for our region and state to follow.
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.
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.
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.
After a decade of planning, a proposal for mixed-use development in Arlandria will finally go before the Alexandria City Council this Saturday. The dedicated Arlandria community has spent years fighting the perception that new development there was unfeasible.
Alandria development vision from the 1998 plan.
The Arlandria community has been planning for change longer than any other neighborhood in Alexandria. It is now a decade into the implementation period of the Arlandria Revitalization Plan, which was the result of a long planning effort from 1998 to 2003.
The goal of the plan was to build on the strength of an existing pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use place by redeveloping underutilized sites nearby.
Unfortunately, it hasn't been easy.
In the decade since the plan, shops have closed and turned over at an alarming rate. Others have barely been able to hold on. Absent a large outside investment, the community pursued modest improvements on its own. But without a developer to put buildings in the ground, the opportunities to make significant impacts were limited.
A marketing strategy was adopted to advertise Arlandria businesses, and guidelines for storefront facade improvement were established. Despite these efforts, many businesses were barely breaking even.
A 2008 follow-up feasibility study determined that conditions in Arlandria made development unfeasible. The study pointed to an on-going perception of crime, a poorly built environment, and lack of economic diversity as the three major impediments to economic development.
Study inspires grassroots efforts
The city attributed the stagnation to a lack of community involvement. That comment combined with the negativity of the feasibility study inspired a community led, grassroots economic development effort.
The overarching goal of the new effort was to achieve economic sustainability, while maintaining the ethnic and economic diversity that define Arlandria. Without outside investment, a group of volunteers took on this challenge.
Working hand-in-hand with neighbors and social service providers, residents created the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market, which works as a small business incubator and is the only market in Northern Virginia to accept food stamps.
The community improved streetscapes and parks, and participated in service provider and quality of life meetings.
Working in coordination with the city, Arlandria established relationship with third party organizations to preserve and enhance conditions in the neighborhood. These included Community Oriented Police (COPS), ARHA, Community Lodgings, Wesley Housing, the Community Services Board, the Chirilagua Coop, and most recently Arlington Housing Corporation.
According to Census figures, Arlandria's population is highly transient. It has a 30% turnover annually, and 90% rate for every 5 years. A big reason is the limited diversity of housing in Arlandria, which results in residents leaving the neighborhood whenever they move into a different type of home.
The city and grassroots organizations have aimed to provide a wider range of housing. To do so will require something more than very low rent and very high cost properties. Broad economic diversity and livability are key to a sustainable community.
In part 2, we will look at the realization of the plan.
Kevin Beekman, Melissa Garcia and Nick Partee contributed to this article.
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