Demolition and construction have become the order of the day in Parker Gray, the city’s historically African-American neighborhood that is undergoing massive changes. Two large construction projects are currently in progress, and another significant one will start soon. It’s a massive amount of change for the neighborhood.
"Residents on the whole are happy to see these projects finally get underway," said Leslie Zupan, president of West Old Town Civic Association. "But where is the retail we were promised?"
Zupan pointed out that half of the retail space in the recently constructed Monarch building
remain empty, and she pointed out that the developer for a new building known as the Madison recently reduced the amount of retail space
on the ground floor. Many neighborhood residents are still upset they were unable to land a Harris Teeter in their neighborhood, and the news that the grocer is now moving forward with a new store on North St. Asaph Street has rekindled fears among some that the city is not doing enough to attract retail to Parker Gray.
"The promises the city made during the Braddock Road small area plan are now ringing hollow," said Zupan. "There was a lot of talk about retail and vibrancy, but there hasn’t been any follow through."THE LARGEST PROJECT
now underway in the neighborhood is the the James Bland redevelopment, which will demolish five blocks of public housing in favor of townhouses that mix market-rate units with public-housing units. Redevelopment plans call for construction to take place over the course of a decade. New townhouses are already occupied on one block, and a second block is currently under construction. The development is a joint project of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority and Eakin Youngentob for a "mixed-income community" on an 8.49-acre site. The plan calls for removal of 194 old units, replacing them with 379 new units. That includes 134 public-housing units and 159 market-rate townhouses and 86 market-rate multi-family units.
"The economic viability of this project depends principally on two sources of financing: the land value of the market-rate units which in turn is dependent upon their marketability and tax credit financing," wrote EYA Terry Eakin and ARHA chief executive officer Roy Priest in a letter in support of the development special-use permit.
Alexandria has a rule known as Resolution 830 that requires the city to replace all public-housing units that are demolished. That means 60 units must be replaced somewhere else in the city. Although the original plan was to move all 60 units to Glebe Park, that number was later reduced to 44 units to provide workforce and market-rate units on the Old Dominion portion of Glebe Park. This week, City Council authorized $3 million to purchase condominium units for the remaining 16 units.
"We can get the condos at the bottom of the market," said Councilman Frank Fannon, who persuaded ARHA board members to start looking at condominiums instead of townhouses several months ago.
City officials say the redevelopment of James Bland presents a rare opportunity to reclaim five blocks within the urban fabric that were lost with the introduction of public housing in the 1940s. Though the new structures will be larger than the old garden-apartment style buildings, planning officials say the approved site plan follows the principles of traditional Parker Gray townhouses. Residences face the streets with small front yards and doors that open directly onto the streets to create an active streetscape, although almost all of the existing trees will be eliminated.
"Unfortunately, the proposed redevelopment requires significant underground work for the infrastructure and will necessitate the removal of all the trees," according to a report on the redevelopment by planning officials. "One large 36-inch oak tree located at the rear of St. John Baptist Church will be protected and saved."ANOTHER MAJOR CONSTRUCTION
project currently reshaping the neighborhood is happening west of the Post Office in the block bounded by Payne, Wythe, Fayette and Pendleton. Located about two blocks from the Braddock Road Metro Station, the apartment building is currently being constructed on a site formerly occupied by Security Storage, a warehouse facility leased by the federal government.
"The project is clearly a benefit to the neighborhood," wrote developer William Cromley in a letter supporting the project, "removing an obsolete warehouse and replacing it with a quality mixed-use project."
The project originally approved by City Council in 2007 called for a 142-unit condominium building. In 2007, developer Erkiletian changed course and applied for an amended development special use permit allowing 206 rental units, a modification accomplished by decreasing the average unit size from 1,330 square feet to 900 square feet. The building will have 3,225 square feet of retail space and a 1,100-square-foot restaurant. An underground garage will accommodate 256 parking spaces, and the building will range in height from 38 to 73 feet.
"The unit mix is forward looking and accurately reflects the urban nature of the neighborhood," wrote Braddock Place Townhomes resident Vallerey Vandergrift in a 2008 letter supporting the amended development proposal. "I believe the design and proposed unit mix will attract young people with good jobs who want to commute by Metro."A THIRD MAJOR
development will soon begin at the intersection Montgomery and Henry. Known as the Madison, the project will have about 10,000 square feet of retail. That’s a dramatic departure from the original plan, which was to have included 23,000 square feet of retail space. Earlier this month, Alexandria City Council members approved an amendment that reduced the expectation for retail in the Madison.
"What we are seeing is more small pods of more neighborhood retail as opposed to destination retail," said development division chief Gwen Wright. "I think that’s more realistic."
After the original plan was approved in 2008, the developer didn’t pursue the project and never filed for a building permit. Since that time, the site sat vacant until it was acquired by Equity Residential Development, which applied for a number of changes to the plan. Earlier this month, members of the Alexandria City Council approved a reduction in retail. Construction is expected to begin this summer.
"Now that the developers are moving forward, we sincerely hope they will not be met with further delays imposed by the city," wrote Michelle Saylor, president of the Braddock Lofts Homeowner’s Association. "We are very excited to see the area finally changing for the better after all of these years of volunteers work and we do not want the process to delay this project any longer."