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Development Around Watergate

Watergate of Alexandria (outlined in blue in the aerial view above) is situated on one and one-half blocks in North Old Town bounded by North Pitt Street to the west, Second Street to the north, and North Royal Street to the east.  This webpage summarizes the major development projects taking place in our neighborhood.  Click or tap most photos or images on this webpage to enlarge.

The Local Planning page of this website provides additional information regarding urban planning in Alexandria and the Old Town North Small Area Plan.

Old Town Development in the News

History meets change in Alexandria’s Braddock Road neighborhood, Washington Post, July 21, 2017 (this neighborhood abuts Old Town North to our immediate west).

Rat City -- Combating the rat population in Alexandria, Alexandria Gazette, July 6, 2017 (this rticle discusses how local construction aggravates the city's underlying rodent problem).

On the Potomac, Change Comes to Alexandria’s Old Town, New York Times, August 23, 2016.

A Community In Flux, Old Town North Has Long-Lasting Appeal, Washington Post, August 5, 2016.

 

 

801 North Fairfax Street Redevelopment

In January 2014, Finmarc Management Inc. purchased two adjacent mixed-use commercial office and retail buildings in the half-block bounded by Montogomery Street to the north, North Fairfax Street to the west, Madison Street to the south and the Mount Vernon Trail to the east.  The purchase price was $31.5 million.  The two buildings, which occupy the western half of the half-block lot, are located on the diagonally opposite corner of Montgomery Park from Watergate of Alexandria.  The eastern half of the half-block lot is taken up by a two-story parking structure.

The older of the two buildings was built in 1971.  It is a four-story brick-and-concrete building that has about 60,000 square feet of gross space (nearly 58,000 leasable).  It is known as Waterfront Center I and its address is 801 North Fairfax Street.  Former ground-floor retail tenants included AAA, Fairfax Deli, and the Royal Thai Restaurant relocated from North Royal Street.  The city's 2017 assessed value of the property is slightly more than $6 million.

The newer of the two buildings was built in 1987.  It is a five-story all-brick building that offers around 95,000 square feet of gross space (more than 90,000 leasable).  It is known as Waterfront Center II and its address is 209 Madison Street.  The building's anchor tenant is Old Town Sport & Health, which occupies the lower three floors of the building.  The city's 2017 assessed value of the property is $21.7 million.

Finmarc is a diversified real estate company based in Bethesda, Maryland that was formed by David Fink and Marc Soloman in 1987.  The firm manages more than 5 million square feet of commercial space in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

In mid-2017, Finmarc announced that it was redeveloping the older building, Waterfront Center I at 801 North Fairfax Street, into 32 residential condomiminiums. 

Details on the redevelopment to come.

 

 

901 North Fairfax Street Redevelopment

In August 2017, the Washington Business Journal reported that Carr Properties, the dominant Washington, D.C.-based real estate development company, having recently finished construction of the new Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria at the foot of Duke Street in early May 2017, was planning to redevelop the Crowne Plaza Old Town Alexandria located at 901 North Fairfax Street on the east side of Montgomery Park a block away from Watergate of Alexandria. 

The hotel that was built in 1973 and has 253 guest rooms and 245,000 square feet of space.  The city's 2017 assessed value of the property is $25.4 million.

In December 2016, the Washington Business Journal reported that Carr's lenders were threatening to foreclose on the property due to a default on a $42.5 million loan that was originated by G.E. Financial and later transferred to a mortgage-backed securities portfolio.

Apparently, Carr now plans to demolish the hotel and build luxury townhomes and some sort of "art space."  Details on the redevelopment to come.

 

Holiday Inn

What is going on across the street that does not involve a big hole in the ground?

Well, in 2017 the Holiday Inn & Suites Alexandria - Old Town is replacing its entire roof, refinishing the exterior brick siding along North Pitt Street, repaving its Second Street garage, and completely refurbishing its 17 suites, 178 guest rooms, 9 conference and meeting rooms spanning 8,300 square feet, and other public spaces.  The work should be completed in mid-summer.

 

 

The satellite image above left shows Second Street as it looks now.  The artist's renderings above right and directly below show how the street might look if the project is fully implemented as planned.

The picture above shows a detail of the widened sidewalk adjacent to Canal Place, a new planted area between the sidewalk and the roadway, and a new bus stop "bump-out."  The illustration below shows the loss of 4 parking spaces (in red), the pick-up of one parking space (in green), and the retention of 12 existing parking spaces for a total of 13 parking spots (a net loss of 3).

The diagram above shows a below-grade cross-section of (R-L) existing Watergate homes and new widened sidewalks, bio-retention planter beds, concrete curbs, street parking, and narrowed roadway on Watergate's side of Second Street.  Illustration below shows proposed locations of 2 new river birches and 4 new red maple trees.

 

Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project Along Second Street

In June 2016, the City of Alexandria launched a Green Infrastructure Initiative designed to divert storm water away from the city's aging and easily overwhelmed combined sewer system, and back into the ground to recharge the area's groundwater. 

This effort complements a capital-intensive project that the city has undertaken to reduce the frequency and volume of untreated storm and waste water that the city releases into area waterways during major storms (the sewer project is discussed in greater detail below).  It is also consistent with community feedback that the Old Town North Small Area Plan Advisory Group has received for more green projects in our neighborhoods in coming years (the Local Planning page of this website provides more information on work now underway to update the Old Town North Small Area Plan).

As part of the Green Infrastructure Initiative, the city's Department of Project Implementation "is planning to construct a Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project along Second Street between North Pitt and North Royal Streets.  The project will reduce the existing paved area and will create green space for trees and a series of bioretention facilities." 

On October 17, 2016, representatives of Watergate of Alexandria and Canal Place, the two communities directly affected by the project, met with city staff at an open public meeting to discuss the demonstration project.  Click here to see the public notice of the meeting, and click here to see the materials (50 pages) presented at the meeting.  Below is what we learned.

The city is pursuing a number of demonstration projects intended to show residents and developers how green initiatives can be successfully implemented with considerable environmental benefits and at reasonable cost.  City staffers considered 50 potential sites in Old Town to conduct its first larger-scale green infrastructure demonstation project, and the block of Second Street between Watergate and Canal Place was their first choice for several reasons: 

  This section of street is unusually wide, and two broad travel lanes will remain even after the street is narrowed (no traffic issues).

  There are no other planned encroachments on the street (no known conflicts).

  The city has an existing right-of-way (no acquisition costs).

  There is a convenient nearby connection point to the existing storm water system at the proper depth below ground (no engineering challenges).

  This section of Second Street is adjacent to North Royal Street, which has been identified as a "Green Street Target Zone" under the draft update to the Old Town North Small Area Plan.  North Royal Street itself is too narrow to accomodate all the improvements contemplated by the demonstration project.

As planned, the project envisions the following changes, among others:

  New concrete sidewalks will be poured on both sides of the street (6 inches wider on the Watergate side, 12 inches wider on the Canal Place side).

•  Several short brick walkways connecting the brick porches at Watergate to the concrete sidewalk will be raised several inches, leveled and relaid.

  Planted areas and new concrete curbs will be placed between the widened sidewalks and the narrowed roadway.  These planted areas will have deep absorption beds designed to catch, retain and recylcle rain water.  They will be filled with landscaped ground cover, smaller trees such as river birches to facilitate water evaporation, and larger canopy trees like red maples for shade and ground cooling.

  As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, new Alexandria DASH bus curb extensions, or bump-outs, will be installed.  Unsheltered benches are planned.

  On-street parking along Second Street will be reduced from 16 to 13 spaces as a result of ADA-mandated bus bump-outs (this would occur at some point in the future even if the green demonstration project does not take place).

As of early 2017, the project is in the planning, comment and review stage.  Due in part to concerns raised by Watergate's board, the city hired ECS Engineering Consulting Services, a geotechnical engineering firm, to advise it on subsidence and other soils-related issues.  For the past several years, ECS has also served as a geotechnical consultant to Watergate.

On January 19, 2017, the city's lead project engineer informed Watergate that ECS has analyzed the current designs and concluded that the proposed bioretention facilities will be outside of the zone of influence of Watergate’s buildings.  However, out of an abudance of caution, an impermeable liner will be added to all sides of the bioretention basins adjacent to Watergate to prevent an undesired change in moisture content in the ground there. 

As designed, water held in the bioretention facilities adjacent to Watergate will either flow thru an underdrain, be taken up into the vegetation planted above, or evaporate naturally.  In addition, the anticipated construction equipment required to construct the project will be low-impact, and the final build specifications will reinforce this approach. 

Members of Watergate's board met with city staff on February 22, 2017 to discuss the project further.  If you are a Watergate homeowner, click here to download a copy of the city's presentation.  Here is an updated project schedule (as of mid-August 2017)

  •   June 2017, complete 60% design phase
  •   July 2017, review against updated Old Town North Small Area Plan
  •   August 2017, negotiate construction easements with Watergate and Canal Place
  •   Late Summer/Early Fall 2017, 90% design phase and preparation of contractor bid package
  •   Late Fall 2017, relocation of underground utility lines
  •   October 2017 to March 2018, bid review and contract award
  •   March to October 2018, project construction

On March 17, 2017, several representatives of Watergate's board and grounds committee met onsite with city engineers and the city arborist to discuss appropriate plantings on Watergate's side of Second Street.  Two river birches (chosen mainly for water absorbtion and drought tolerance) and four red maple trees (chosen primarily for shade cover, compatability with existing neighborhood trees, and height at maturity) have been chosen for the new planter beds (see illustraion at below left). 

On August 11, 2017, the city's project staff reported that the 60% design submission was finalized in June, that it complied with applicable zoning requirements for Old Town North, and that they were now working on the 90% plan.  The project is on schedule to break ground in early 2018.

Funds for the project have been set aside in the city's FY 2017 and FY 2018 budgets.  During construction, Second Street will largely remain open to traffic.

 

 

New Commuter Concourse and Secure National Hall at National Airport

As described below, the southern end of National Airport was the focus of major road and bridge reconstruction work carried out in 2015 and 2016.  With that work now complete, the start of 2017 brings a new $1 billion building project to the northern end of the airfield.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is demolishing an aircraft maintenance hanger and some of its executive offices to make way for a new Commuter Concourse with 14 gates serviced by jetways, an attached parking garage, and connecting roadways.  The new commuter concourse will replace Gate 35x (formerly Gate 35a), where passengers now wait for departure in a crowded space on the upper level of Terminal C, descend escalators and stairways to the lower level when their flights are called for boarding, hop onto busses to take them out to commuter planes parked on the tarmac away from the terminal, and use portable stairs or ramps to board their aircraft outside.

For those who remember the last major expansion and modernization project at National Airport in the 1990s, the building to be torn down at the start of this project is known as Hanger 11 (see photo at left), which served for eight years as the airport's Interim Terminal for US Airways (now merged into American Airlines) and Delta Air Lines while the airport's current $450 million main concourse and Terminals B and C were built.

As part of the current undertaking, MWAA also plans to build two new Transportation Security Administration screening areas on the lower arrivals and baggage claim level at National Airport that will, upon completion, place the entire main level of the airport -- which includes Terminals B and C and their respective gates, the currently unsecured main concourse known as National Hall that connects the two terminals, the new Commuter Concourse and its 14 planned gates, and all adjacent retaurants, shops, airline clubs and airport services -- beyond the security checkpoints. 

The change addresses a major shortcoming of the currently configured airport, which was designed and built before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and will provide cleared and connecting passengers with unimpeded access to gates 10 through 59 (and to most airport concessions except those located in Terminal A) without having to exit and re-enter security.  This is a big deal in particular for o-dark-thirty road warriors who, for example, fly United Airlines out of Terminal B yet enjoy the superb bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich sold at Five Guys located near Gate 41 in Terminal C (see the Local Food News page of this website for details).  The Commuter Concouse and Secure National Hall projects are scheduled for completion in 2021.

 

500 First Street Project

Edens, a commercial real estate developer and management company, and Gables Residential, which develops and manages residential projects, are building a new mixed-use commercial-residential project for the block bounded by North Saint Asaph Street to the west, First Street to the north, North Pitt Street to the east, and Montgomery Street to the south (outlined in yellow in the aerial view above).  This property is across the street from Watergate.

The development, now referred to as 500 First Street (previously referred to as 530 First Street), will replace the neighborhood Giant grocery store that closed in February 2015 after 64 years in operation (see photo upper left), and the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control store that closed at the start of 2017 (see photo lower left).  When completed in 2019, the five-story project will include 51,272 square feet of street-level comercial space (a small grocery store, sit-down restaurants, take-out eateries, retail stores, and a new ABC store), 232 rental apartments, and 481 below-ground parking spaces.

The Giant/ABC Redevelopment page of this website provides more extensive and detailed information regarding this project, which will directly impact Watergate residents.

 

 

Montgomery Street Rehabilitation

If you are driving from Watergate to any point south or west, it is likely that you will begin your journey on Montgomery Street and think that you are on a roller coaster because the roadway surface is so warped and buckled.  Well, relief is on the way.  The city has announced plans to rebuild the one-block section of Montgomery Street between North Pitt and North St. Asaph Streets.  According to the Alexandria Department of Project Implementation, the work will include full-width reconstruction of the pavement, curbs and gutters.  A new brick sidewalk, tree wells and trees will also be installed along the south side of the street. 

This stretch of Montgomery Street forms the southern edge of the planned 500 First Street development discussed immediately above, and city officials have stated their desire for Edens' contractors, at the city's expense, to complete the Montgomery Street reconstruction at the same that the redevelopment project is underway to save on costs.

 

 

Best Western Old Colony Inn

Update.  On May 9, 2017, the developers held a commuity meeting to announce that they have reassessed the financial prospects of their project to enlarge the hotel, and concluded they would make a lot more money if they raze the hotel, clear the site, and build 20 new garage townhomes.  Since this represents a completetely new land use, the owners have to go through the entire city development review process one more time, which could take another year or more.  "Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200."

Original Proposal.  The owners of the Best Western Old Colony Inn, located at 1101 North Washington Street (where the George Washington Memorial Parkway, East Abingdon Drive and Second Street converge, outlined in orange in the aerial map above), proposed to add two stories on top of the existing two-story above-ground building, increase the number of guest rooms from 49 to 104, build a new 60-seat shared-use restaurant-meeting area, and move the loading dock from the back to the front of the hotel (to be screened by a wooden fence and landscaping).  The project came under sustained community opposition, much of it focusing on the mass and scale of the expanded building, the inadequacy of the street setback, and the public nuissances arising from the proposed restaurant fronting Second Street (increased night-time illumination, noise, truck deliveries, automobile traffic and street parking).  The developers were relying solely on available street parking around their property and ours, and had no plan to increase the hotel's 69 ground-level parking spaces.  In May 2016, the city council unanimously approved the redevelopment project largely as proposed by the owner of the property and over the strong objections of the hotel's neighbors.

The photo at upper left shows the view of the hotel from Second Street, and the photo at lower left shows the view from the point where East Abingdon Drive and Second Street split.

 

 

Travelodge Motel Site

If you drove past the northwest corner of Wythe and North Washington Streets on or about Labor Day 2016, you would have seen a giant square hole in the ground where the old two-story Travelodge Motel once reigned as the most affordable guest lodging in Old Town (outlined in purple in the aerial view above).  In its place, the owners of the property are constructing a 41,000-square-foot four-story mixed-use building with 30 residential units, over 6,200 square feet of retail at street level (including a restaurant), and one level of below-ground parking.

A City of Alexandria staff report describes the project at 700 North Washington Street as "one large building that will visually appear to be four separate buildings with a range of architectural styles and three- and four-story tall elements. . . .  On Washington Street, the southernmost building will be a three-story Italianate brick building with a prominent first-floor storefront. The center building, the largest element at four-stories and with prominent projecting bays, is designed to look like a late-19th-century apartment building in the late 19th century Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style.  The northernmost element will appear to be a substantial three-story brick townhouse set back from the sidewalk with a raised terrace."

Two artist's renderings of the project, created by Russ Orling Architecture, are posted to the left.  At upper left is a view from North Washington Street, and lower left is a view from Wythe Street.

 

The Towns at 1333

In spring 2014, The Rubin Group, a real estate development company, acquired an unremarkable one-acre site at 1333 Powhatan Street that had huge potential.  Unremarkable because a 1970s-era warehouse and asphalt parking lot occupied the property.  Huge potential because the parcel was one of the last sizeable lots available for redevelopment in a booming neighborhood transitioning from light industrial to high-end residential and commercial uses.  TRG's purchase price was $4.1 million.

By autumn 2014, the city had approved TRG's plan to build 18 luxury 4-story brick condominium townhomes, each with about 1,900 square feet of living space, 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, and a 2-car garage.  Once the project was green-lit, TRG sold the development rights to M/I Homes in September 2015.  TRG's sales price was nearly $6.5 million.

The new community, originally called The Powhatan Townhouses and now branded The Towns at 1333, is currently under construction.  The condos are being marketed by Comstock Homes at a starting sales price of $920,000.  Collective sales price of the 18 units will be more than $16.5 million.  Site map at left, neighborhood map lower left, and view of a completed section of the project facing Powhattan Street taken on September 5, 2017 at lower right.

 

 

1505 Powhatan Street

In July 2012, the City of Alexandria offered a small corner lot that it owned, known as 1505 Powhatan Street, for sale "as is" to interested developers.  The property, slightly larger than one acre in size, is where Slaters Lane, Powhatan Street and Bernard Street converge in the afternoon shadows of the Monroe Avenue Bridge.  For many years, the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services fabricated and repaired city traffic and street signs in a building on the site.  Dominion Virginia Power holds an easement to run a large high-voltage electric line under the land.  The property is zoned for mixed-use development -- light commercial and medium-density housing.

Pulte Homes submitted a proposal to demolish the existing structure and build 15 four-story brick garage townhouses, and the city selected the proposal in February 2013.  Once the development plans were finalized and approved, the city sold the property to Pulte in July 2016 for $4.4 million and an $85,000 contribution to the city's affordable housing fund.  The homebuilder began clearing the site in September 2016.  The development of now 16 2-4 bedroom townhomes is strangely named Powhatan at Potomac Yard, with prices starting at $750,000.  Click here to see an artist's rendering of the project from Powhatan Street, and here for a view from Bernard Street.  They are oddly quite different.  The photo of the construction site immediately below was taken from the Monroe Avenue Bridge on May 21, 2017, and the photo below that of the nearly completed project was taken on September 6, 2017.

 

 

NRG Potomac River Generating Station

The NRG coal-fired electric power generating plant (formerly owned by GenOn, Mirant and Pepco, and outlined in bright red on the aerial view above) permanently closed on October 1, 2012 after nearly 70 years of operation.  NRG is currently engaged in government-monitored decommissioning, cleanup and remediation work at the 25-acre site.  The site's redevelopment is subject to Alexandria's planning and zoning requirements, which presently calls for mixed commercial-residential uses.

In April 2016, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) posted the following update on its webpage regarding NRG's clean-up of a petroleum release from two 25,000 gallon underground heating oil storage tanks at the decomissioned power plant:  "Since NRG’s Corrective Action Plan was approved by DEQ on March 17, 2015, NRG’s consultants have been working to verify the extent of petroleum contamination, install remediation wells, and construct the remediation equipment. By February 2016, the required wells and the remediation systems had been installed and tested and the system was ready to go into operation once final permits were received for a discharge of treated water to the sanitary system. The remediation system is expected to start up in March 2016.  Work carried out during 2015 broadly confirmed the extent of contamination identified in the corrective action plan."

The photo at upper left shows a view of the generating station from the bend in the road where North Royal Street turns onto Bashford Lane, and the photos at lower left and below provide views of the backside of the generating station from the bicycle and walking trail along the Potomac River.

 

 

New Dominion Virginia Power/Pepco Substation Transmission Line

As part of its ongoing responsibilities as a public utility to provide safe and reliable electric power to its customers, and satisfy its obligations to other utilities and regional transmission organizations, Dominion Virginia Power continuously assesses the robustness -- condition, capacity and reliability -- of its electrical grid to satisfy both present and projected demand.  Dominion's current studies estimate that by the summer of 2020 its "existing transmission facilities in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County will no longer adequately meet demand and mandatory North [American] Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reliability criteria."

In response to this finding, Dominion is proposing to build a new two-mile-long underground 230 kilovolt electric transmission line to connect its own Glebe Substation, located at the intersection of South Glebe Road and South Eads Street close to where Four Mile Run crosses U.S. Route 1, and Potomac Electric Power Company’s Potomac River Substation (also known as Substation C), located at the corner of Slaters Lane and East Abingdon Drive a few blocks north of Watergate (see photos to the left).

Substations are an integral part of the electrical transmission and distribution system -- they interconnect power transmission (long distance) and power distribution (local) systems, serve as switching and routing stations, sometimes collect power directly from generating sources, typically include transformers that adjust the voltage and/or current levels between different lines, often contain circuit breakers designed to prevent system overloads, and have equipment that allows network managers to monitor and control portions of the electric grid remotely and in real time.

Substations range in size from self-contained mobile vehicles to facilities that occupy many acres of land.  The two substations that Dominion wants to connect fall into the latter category.  To a casual observer, Pepco's Potomac River Substation appears to be part of NRG's now-closed Potomac River Generating Station.  That's because Pepco's equipment is virtually indistiguishable from NRG's facility (the combined complex was once owned entirely by Pepco).  When the NRG site is redeveloped in coming years (see item immediately above), the Pepco substation will remain.  This will come as a surprise to most people because they see a single industrial installation instead of two adjacent ones owned by different companies serving different purposes.

The controversy surrounding Dominion's project involves the proposed route of the proposed transmission line.  In recent years, Alexandria and Arlington have, at considerable cost, widened, re-built, re-aligned and re-surfaced U.S. Route 1 from the northern edge of Old Town to the southern edge of Crystal City.  This work included construction of the new Monroe Avenue Bridge, and the insertion of dedicated travel lanes, signal lights and passenger shelters for the new Metroway express bus service.  At one point, Dominion's preferred route for the transmission line was along U.S. Route 1, which would require this newly completed transit corridor to be torn up again.  Under prevailing rules, Dominion need not pay deference to the views of local governments in selecting a transmission route.  For the autocrats running Alexandria's City Hall, who are used to being bullies and not being bullied, this is too much to bear.  However, Dominion now appears willing to consider an alternative route more acceptable to local authorities -- the line would largely follow CSX railroad rights-of-way and then cross under the George Washington Memorial Parkway near the Glebe substation.

 

 

For many years, AB&W used fare tokens manufactured by Scovill Fasteners that featured a punched-out "B" at its center.  The token in the photo above is part of the undisplayed permanent collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

To facilitate the property's redevelopment in a manner consistent with the Old Town North Small Area Plan (see the Local Planning page of this website for details), the city rezoned the block from industrial to medium-density residential, and formed a Royal Street Bus Garage Ad Hoc Advisory Committee.  Tom Soapes, a long-time Watergate resident and President of the North Old Town Independent Citizens’ Association (NOTICe), is a member of the advisory committee. 

According to Alexandria property records, the two-acre parcel's current assessed value is $15.1 million.  That will certainly rise once redevelopment is completed.

 

North Royal Street Bus Barn Redevlopment

For more than 50 years, the Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Transit Company operated an independent local bus service in Northern Virginia.  AB&W, as it was known, started out in 1921 with one bus, an REO Speed Wagon, traversing a single route running up and down Columbia Pike from the Barcroft neighborhood near Baileys Crossroads into Washington, D.C. and back.  At the time, Columbia Pike was still a dirt road, and the one-way bus fare was 15 cents.  The Speed Wagon, an early antecedent of the modern-day flat-bed pick-up truck, was manufactured by the Ransom Eli Olds Motor Car Company from 1915 until the early 1950s.  The American rock band of the same name was formed in 1967.

By 1924, AB&W had expanded its bus service to include Alexandria.  In 1943, the company moved its offices to 600 North Royal Street in Old Town.  Two years later, in 1945, AB&W built a bus garage on the block, which is bounded by North Pitt Street to the west, Wythe Street to the north, North Royal Street to the east, and Pendleton Street to the south (outlined in white on the aerial view above).  The site of the new bus garage was previously occupied by two-story row houses and other buildings.

In 1973, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority acquired four privately-owned bus companies to serve as the foundation for its new public bus service intended to augment its budding rail service.  AB&W was one of those bus companies.  From that point onward, the AB&W garage on North Royal Street became known as the WMATA bus barn.  In August 2014, after nearly 70 years of use, WMATA, under pressure from Alexandria officials, closed the bus barn, moved its maintenance operations to a new facility in an industrial park in the Newington area of Fairfax County, and announced that it would offer the North Royal Street site for sale.

In May 2015, WMATA released an initial solicitation of proposals for development of the site, but later canceled the process purportedly because none of the responses met the agency’s criteria.  Others suggested that the project became mired over disputes regarding liability for environmental remediation of the site.  In mid-August 2017, WMATA announced that it was preparing a second solicitation of proposals and holding a pre-bid meeting for interested developers on September 19, 2017.

 

 

Montgomery Park

Montgomery Park (outlined in green in the aerial view above) is the closest park to Watergate.  The two-acre park was last upgraded in March 2014, when the developers of the nearby Harris Teeter project paid for an expanded and improved dog run (with new access gates, fencing, a dog water fountain and benches), as well as new park plantings, irrigation system, signage and park access from North Fairfax Street. 

The City is in the process of updating its Old Town North Small Area Plan, and conducted a series of presentations and meetings the week of November 16-20, 2015 to solicit input from the North Old Town community.  Many area residents view Montgomery Park as a hub for North Old Town, and it is likely that the park will continue to receive considerable attention by city planners.  Of note, city staff met with neighborhood residents during late November 2015 to discuss additional upgrades to the park.  Since May 2016, the North Old Town Farmer's Market is held at the park every Thursday afternoon from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.

 

 

Windmill Hill Park/Shipyard Park Shoreline Rehabilitation

The city has begun preliminary work on a major construction project to replace the existing man-made bulkhead at historic Windmill Hill Park/Shipyard Park (outlined in turquoise in the aerial view at top of page) with a natural shoreline, walking path and small connecting bridge (see diagram to the left).  The park was created in 1945 on marshland that had been reclaimed in the 19th century.  It is named after a wind-powered water mill that occupied the site in the 1840s.

The 3.4-acre park, which split into several disconnected pieces as it evolved over the years, lies between the Harborside and Fords Landing communities at the southernmost end of Union Street.  It offers a basketball court, a volleyball pit, a children's playground, a picnic area, a yacht basin, an unfenced dog-exercise area, and walking paths.

In recent years, ecologists and other scientists have voiced concerns about solid retaining walls that urban development has brought to our waterfronts to protect against erosion and rising sea levels.  These barriers can seriously damage the environment by interfering with the natural development of marshes and by uprooting plants that young fish, crabs and other organisms use for food and shelter.  The shoreline rehabilitation project aims to return the river's edge along the park to a more natural state and reconnect the northeastern and southeastern parts of the park.

In the spring of 2016, the city removed a number of mature trees at the park in preparation for construction, which was scheduled to begin in late summer 2016.  Alas, in the fall of 2016, a contract dispute arose between the city and its putative contractor regarding the cost and scope of the planned work, resulting in the contractor filing a lawsuit against the city.  The parties eventually agreed that the contractor would dismiss its lawsuit and the city would resolicit bids for the project.

The city awarded a new contract in early 2017.  Construction began in May 2017, and should take about 12 months to complete.  Nearby homeowners are unexpectedly enjoying the park and its unobstructed views with the trees removed, and have now requested fewer replacement trees than originally planned.

The panoramic photo above shows a view of the park and the river from the top of the hill along South Lee Street.  The photos assembled below show a view from Fords Landing looking west and north toward the park.  Click here to see a photo of the existing seawall that will be replaced.

 

 

Jones Point Park

Jones Point Park is located at the southern edge of Old Town just north of where Hunting Creek meets the Potomac River (outlined in light green in the aerial view above).  At the southern tip of the park, embedded in the seawall at the base of the Jones Point Lighthouse, is the South Cornerstone of the Original District of Columbia set in 1791, marking the point where Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia converged until retrocession in 1846 when all District lands south and west of the Potomac River were returned to Virginia.  The South Cornerstone was the anchor, the first of 4 cornerstones laid out in a square 10 miles to a side and the first of 40 sandstone boundary markers set down at one-mile intervals moving in a clockwise rotation to delineate the geographic contours of the newly-designated national capital district.  As for the historic white-washed lighthouse built in 1855, the park service says that it is "one of the last riverine lighthouses in the country and the only one still standing in the Chesapeake Bay area."

The 65-acre park is owned and managed by the National Park Service.  It sprawls beneath and beyond the twin spans of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and offers something for everyone -- wetlands and grasses, bike paths, walking trails, a small pier for boats, a launch for canoes and kayaks, paved areas for roller blading, courts and hoops for basketball, two jetties and shady spots along the shoreline for fishing, covered pavilions for aerobics and crafts, separate playgrounds for tots and children, recreation fields, restrooms, benches and tables, water fountains for people and dogs, a recycling drop-off, close-in parking, and direct access to the Mount Vernon Trail and the pedestrian walkway across the bridge into Maryland.  Even new ladder truck drivers with the Alexandria Fire Department practice their moves at the park.

The original 6-lane Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge was built in 1961.  Construction of the new 12-lane draw bridge started in 2000.  The outer loop span was completed in 2006, and the inner loop span was finished in 2008.  In coordination with the bridge work, the park service unveiled its original plan for a revamped under-bridge park on September 10, 2001, the day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In response to those attacks, the park service developed a revised plan in 2007 that imposed access and use restrictions on park visitors designed to protect the bridge from security threats.

In July 2016, the park service published a draft plan to reconfigure and update the park.  A month later, park rangers held an open house at the park to discuss their plan with the public.  Possible changes include separating or rerouting bicycle traffic away from other park users, increasing the variety of recreational facilities that are available to visitors, and making greater and more efficient use of all the available space.

On December 10, 2016, volunteers from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and staff from the park service removed 75 concrete "bumpers" from one of the parking lots beneath the overhead spans of the bridge, swept and removed the dirt and debris that had accumilated around the bumpers, and patched holes in the pavement.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security prohibits the park service from using the parking lots except by special permit, and WABA and the park service sought to repurpose one of them to be used from time to time for safe bicycling education.

The photo at upper left captures a newly shorn tree stump looking like a mighty hand thrust up out of the ground.  The Jones Point Lighthouse appears in the photos at center left.  And as seen in the photos directly above and below, the bridge looms above the park regardless of where you may be.

 

 

Roadway and Trail Rehabilitation Work at National Airport South

Starting in the fall of 2015 and continuing for a year, the Office of Federal Lands Highway, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, undertook a much-needed project to improve the means by which vehicles, bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians enter and move about the southernmost edge of Reagan National Airport.  The following took place:

Rehabilitation of the Virginia Route 233 Bridge that connects U.S. Route 1 (Jefferson Davis Highway) and Crystal City to the immediate west of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the airport to the immediate east.  Work included sidewalk widening, new concrete deck overlay, asphalt repavement and regrooving of approaches and ramps, pavement restriping, new railings, and repainting.

Rehabilitation of the South Exit Bridge that carries vehicular traffic leaving the airport southbound onto the GW Parkway toward Old Town (all the same work descirbed above).  A photo of the resurfaced roadway above the bridge is at upper left.

Upgrade of the Mount Vernon Trail  (trail realignment and widening, new curbs and stone masonry guardwall, new metal railings, asphalt repavement, and new dual water fountain for people and pets).  The upgraded section of the trail is shown in the photo at lower left.

 

 

Mount Vernon Trail Improvements Along East Abingdon Drive

The city has announced plans to improve a short stretch of the Mount Vernon Trail adjacent to East Abingdon Drive just north of Slaters Lane (near the offices of the Salvation Army, and outlined in purple in the aerial view at top). 

According to the Alexandria Department of Project Implementation, the work will include new curb cut-outs, improved bicycle connectivity, widened trail and sidewalk, reduced road width, improved pedestrian access and new signage.  According to the city's Project Implementation website, construction is anticipated to begin in early 2019.  Meanwhile, in July 2017, the city erected a new bus shelter. The photo to the left provides a south-facing view of site.  Click or tap here to see an east-facing view of the site.

 

 

Robinson Terminal North

Update:  The developers informed the city on August 4, 2017 that it was abandoning the project and putting the site on the market for sale in one or two parcels.

Plans to recast the Robinson Terminal North waterfront property at 500 and 501 North Union Street (outlined in light brown in the aerial view above), wedged between Oronoco Bay Park and Founders Park, have been put on hold by the developer, Rooney Properties, so that it can re-evaluate "design and economic alternatives."  Rough translation, the high construction costs don't make sense in light of weak commercial interest in the project (they couldn't find a hotel anchor tenant). 

From the early 1940s until 2013, the site was home for a Washington Post newsprint warehouse, a deep-water berth, and a rail spur off the main east coast freight line between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.  The shoreline adjacent to the property is currently inaccessible to the public, and large tour buses often park and idle on Union Street next to the warehouse. 

The existing buildings, which flank North Union Street (see photo to the left), are unsightly reminders of North Old Town's industrial past (see the Local Planning page of this website for more details on the ongoing long-range transition to mixed commercial-residential uses).

The now-abandoned plans for the site (see artist's rendering at left) included a 132-room hotel, 66 multi-family housing units, 25,000 square feet of commercial space, 4 restaurants with a total of 500 indoor and outdoor seats, a public pier, and other open spaces.  The city council approved the project in October 2015.

On January 17, 2017, the developer provided the Alexandria Waterfront Commission with an informal update on its plans.  As the search for interested commercial tenants continues, the developer would like to demolish and clear the entire site.  Then, on the west side of North Union Street, they would begin construction of the originally planned condominium building (the taller structure in the upper right corner of the artist's rendering to the left).  On the east or river side, the deveoper would leave an open grassy area accessible to the public pending further development.

 

 

Robinson Terminal South and Robinson Landing

Work on the Robinson Terminal South redevelopment project at the water's edge of Duke and Wolfe Streets, a site once known as Point Lumley and now being marketed as Robinson Landing, began in August 2016 and was originally scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2017 (outlined in black in the aerial view above).  However, the city-mandated archeological work that the developers were requied to perform at the site has uncovered numerous items of historical significance, including buried human remains, reducing the forward momentum of the project to a slow crawl.

The developer plans to build 26 elevator townhomes, 70 luxury condominiums, shops and restaurants.  When the project is completed, there will also be an upgraded pier with a café, seating areas, a 20-foot-wide promenade, a lawn, a water feature, and other public amenities.  According to published reports, developer support for city redevelopment efforts totals $600,000.  Neighbors are breathless with anticipation.  The photo to the left was taken in September 2016 when the site was still in the early phases of demolition and clearing.  If you click or tap the photo to enlarge it, you will see a glimpse of the new MGM National Harbor through the now-open framework of the Robinson Terminal South building.  Click or tap here to see another view of the site.

 

TransPotomac Canal Center Plaza

Located two blocks east of Watergate, TransPotomac Canal Center, its cornerstone laid in 1987, is refurbishing its main plaza, which overlooks the Potomac River at the western terminus of First Street (outlined in pink in the aerial view above).  The year-long project should be completed in June 2017.

According to the Washington Business Journal and Virginia Business, this four-building waterfront office complex, with nearly 540,000 square feet of prime office space, was sold in October 2014 for nearly $180 million to a joint venture that includes American Real Estate Partners, which, according to its website, is a "privately held real estate investment company focusing on commercial real estate assets and real estate financial instruments in the major markets along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States."  The company also owns the Carlyle Center in Alexandria and at least 10 other buildings in Northern Virginia alone. 

Photos above show river and plaza views of the elaborate centerpiece fountain at Canal Center named the Promenade Classique Sculpture Garden.  Photo at left shows a portion of the newly renovated plaza.  Photos below show "during construction" and "after landscaping" shots of the main plaza.

 

Old Dominion Boat Club and New Fitzgerald Square Park

Founded in 1880, the Old Dominion Boat Club is an aspirational social club reportedly limited to about 400 members, not all of whom are boaters or actively engaged in aquatic activities.  The club has been located at the foot of King Street since 1923, where it maintains a clubhouse, a marina with 53 boat slips, docks, and a boat ramp (see photo at left).

In January 2012, Alexandria adopted an ambitious Waterfront Plan that envisioned uninterrupted public access along the entire Potomac River shoreline abutting Old Town, from Tide Lock Park in the north (which is part of Canal Center located two blocks from Watergate) to Windmill Hill Park/Shipyard Park in the south (near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge).  While the entire plan is designed to be implemented over the next 20 to 30 years, the city council, in full-on obsessive-compulsive bully mode, wanted some changes to take place immediately. 

High up on the city council's wish list is seizing control of ODBC's property by any available means, because the club's facilities and nearby parking lot prevented the city from linking the Alexandria Marina and city-owned Torpedo Factory to the club's immediate north, with King Street Park and Waterfront Park to the club's immediate south.  The city council also believed that the club's activities interfered with flourishing commercial development along and in the vicinity of Strand Street, which runs parallel to both South Union Street and the river for three blocks between lower Prince and King Streets.

To achieve its ends, the city first attempted to terminate an easement that has been in force since 1789 that presently allows ODBC's members and guests to use Wales Alley to move boats between the club's parking lot, where smaller boats are sometimes stored, and its boat ramp (the brick-paved alley, a portion of which is used for outdoor seating by Virtue Feed and Grain Tavern, is shown in the photo below left).  The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Old Dominion Boat Club v. Alexandria City Council, Record No. 130062 (2013), that the city could not unilaterally revoke ODBC's long-held easement even though it had acquired ownership of the alley.  Then the city ham-handedly tried to seize ODBC's parking lot through eminent domain.  Meanwhile, some of the club's supporters and others waged an unsuccessful challenge against the city's Waterfront Plan that was also decided by the Virginia Supreme Court in Burke v. City Council for the City of Alexandria, Record No. 140666 (2015) and other related cases.

Eventually, the city and the club tired of trench warfare and reached an amicable deal in March 2014.  The ODBC agreed to exchange its property at One King Street for city-owned waterfront property located a city block away at Zero Prince Street (both parcels are outlined in dark red in the aerial view above) plus $5 million from the city to pay for the construction of a new clubhouse.  The city acquired the Zero Prince Street property -- the land and a two-story cinder-block building with a wrap-around wooden deck atop concrete pilings over water that was originally occupied by Beachcombers Restaurant and later Potomac Arms -- for $1,130,000 in 2006.

The new three-story ODBC clubhouse will have a lobby displaying historic artifacts, locker rooms and showers for members and their guests, a meeting hall, offices, a tap room, an outdoor patio with a kitchen, a ballroom, a boardroom with a kitchen, a covered rooftop terrace, and 45 parking spaces.  An artist's renderings of the new clubhouse are at left.  Once ODBC moves into its new facility, the city plans to demolish its current building and reclaim the land for an interim Fitzgerald Square Park (see park layout directly below).  However, the city cautions that "it may be a decade or more before the planned flood mitigation infrastructure is in place and the permanent park can be constructed."

Update:  This project is moving very quickly and will likely be completed by the end of 2017.

 

 

 

The Thornton

Commercial real estate development firm Foulger-Pratt is building a $133 million 439-unit luxury apartment complex on a 6.8-acre waterfront site at 1199 South Washington Street, where South Washington Street crosses over the beltway at the southernmost end of Old Town and becomes the George Washington Memorial Parkway once more.  Both the new community and the 1940s-era low-rise garden apartments it replaces are called The Thornton.  One touted amenity for residents is an infinity pool overlooking Cameron Run.

Construction is expected to continue through the spring of 2018.

 

For filmgoers, AMC now offers validated parking in the multi-level carport immediately behind the theater building.  Parking is totally free even if you stay for a double feature; hot dogs and buttered popcorn are not.  If you haven't been there recently, be advisded that the Ruby Tuesday and San Antonio Bar & Grill that flanked the theater have closed.  Go to Ted's Montana Grill across the way.

 

Hoffman Town Center

Hoffman Town Center is a sprawling real estate development located across the street from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station at the southern end of the Yellow Line in the so-called Eisenhower East area of Alexandria.  The complex, which has been under deliberate development for decades, is best known as the home of the AMC Hoffman Center 22 cineplex.

In the fading days of 2016, Bethesda, Maryland-based developer Stonebridge Carras began investigatory site work at the northernmost strip of the 56-acre property -- an area that ordinary folks called the AMC Parking Lot but what The Hoffman Company has designated as Blocks 4 and 5.  Stonebridge plans to build a $400 million addition (see artist's renderdings at left and below) that will provide 750,000 square feet of residential space atop a 1,600-space underground parking garage and a two-level retail "arcade" that spans 200,000 square feet.  The builder is considering a blend of 120 condominiums, 410 apartments, and 150 to 200 senior living units for the residential space, a major grocery store at street level, and a restaurant, health club and day care facility for the retail area's second floor.  Architects at Cooper Carry, with a regional office in Old Town, are designing the structure.  Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021.

 

 

Landmark Mall

On January 4, 2017, Macy's announced that it was closing 68 stores and cutting more than 10,000 jobs as national sales continue to decline.  The retailer's 201,000-square-foot outpost next to Alexandria's Landmark Mall -- which opened in 1965 and has 119 employees -- is the region's only store affected by the chain's cost-saving decision.

Several days later, on January 9th, The Howard Hughes Corporation, a publicly traded real estate development company based in Dallas, Texas, announced that it was purchasing the Macy's store and parking lot as part of its comprehensive plan, first approved by the Alexandria city council in 2013, to redevelop Landmark Mall from a three-story enclosed shopping center into an open-air, mixed-use "urban village" with retail, residential and entertainment options, open public spaces, and a new transit hub (see photos at left and below).  Landmark Mall has been in decay for at least the past decade, and was purchased by Howard Hughes in 2009 with a view toward revitalization.

Meanwhile, Sears announced on January 5th that it was closing an additional 41 Sears and 109 K-Mart stores, selling its iconic Craftsman tools brand to Stanley Black & Decker for a reported $900 million, and hoping to spin off more of its nearly 50 separate product lines in an ongoing but mostly futile attempt to stave off further financial hemorrhaging.  After the Macy's deal is completed, Sears will own the last remaining parcel at Landmark Mall not owned by Howard Hughes.

Landmark Mall and its 20 or so remaining small retailers shut down for good on January 31, 2017.  The Macy's store will close at an as-yet-unannounced later date.  Sears' end approaches.

 

 

MGM National Harbor

In November 2008, Maryland voters approved the Maryland Slot Machines Amendment to the state constitution, which authorized five slot machine casinos (the vote was 59% in favor and 41% against). Fees paid by these facilities are intended to support public educational programs and school construction throughout the state. The Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission (now defunct) issued casino licenses to:

Horseshoe Casino Baltimore (operated by Caesars Entertainment) in Baltimore City, adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium (NFL Ravens) and Camden Yards (MLB Orioles).

Maryland Live! Casino (operated by The Cordish Companies) at Arundel Mills Mall in Anne Arundel County between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Rocky Gap Casino Resort (operated by Golden Entertainment) in Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County in Western Maryland.

Hollywood Casino Perryville (operated by Gaming and Leisure Properties) in Cecil County near Havre De Grace and Aberdeen between Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware.

Casino at Ocean Downs (owned by William Rickman of Rockville, Maryland) in Berlin in Worcester County near Ocean City at the Eastern Shore.

In a November 2012 referendum, Maryland voters approved a sixth casino, as well as the addition of table gaming at all six casino sites. The vote was 52% in favor and 48% against. In December 2013, the Commission issued a casino license to MGM Resorts International, which plans to operate a casino and resort at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Under the license, MGM must open the casino by August 2016, but may request a six-month extension, which request has been made and granted.

MGM At-A-Glance

What.   $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor.  The photos to the left show cross-river views of the MGM National Harbor from Old Town.  Estimated 20,000 daily visitors.  Traffic congestion not shown.

When.   The grand opening of the casino and resort has been scheduled for December 8, 2016.  The hotel will be open to guests starting December 10, 2016.

Where. 23-acres atop Oxon Hill overlooking the Potomac River with views of Old Town, Alexandria.

Casino.   125,000-square-foot casino floor with 140 gaming tables, 3,600 slot machines.

Resort.   8-story resort, configurable theater with 7 luxury boxes and flexible seating for up to 3,000 people, 27,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, 18,000 square feet of branded high-end retail stores and boutiques, spa and salon, two-story glass-covered atrium conservatory with 70,000 flowers arranged into living art pieces, restaurants by 3 celebrity chefs (Fish by José Andrés, Marcus by Marcus Samuelsson, and Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse by Bryan and Michael Voltaggio), pan-asian restaurant, sports bar, casual food court (Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches, Japanese bento boxes, tacos, pizza and vintage-style ice cream shop), 5,000-space parking garage, open-air plaza and fountain, 70-piece permanent art collection including outdoor sculptures.

Hotel.   24-story hotel tower, 74 luxury suites ($599/night), 234 regular guest rooms ($399/night).

Public Transportation. The Potomac Riverboat Company operates year-round frequently-scheduled water taxi service between the Alexandria Pier and National Harbor's North Dock (The Awakening Plaza and Capital Wheel) and South Dock (Gaylord National Hotel).  And starting October 23, 2016 for a 9-month trial basis, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transist Authority is commencing new NH2 bus service every half-hour between the Eisenhower Avenue and King Street Metro stations on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, and the Oxon Hill Park and Ride lot, National Harbor and MGM on the Maryland side.

 

 

New Potomac Yards Metrorail Station

The city council is championing the construction of a new Metro station at the north end of Potomac Yard with a planned opening in 2020 after 30-36 months of construction  The site of the proposed station is referred to in planning documents as Alternative B.  There are three proposed pedestrian entryways to the station -- the "main" entrance would be located at the T-intersection of East Glebe Road and Potomac Avenue, a "north" entrance would be located directly behind the Target and Staples stores at the southernmost edge of Regal Cinema's parking lot, and a "back" entrance would lead to Potomac Greens Drive.  The first two access points would be to the west of the CSX and realigned Metro tracks, and the third one would be located to the east of the tracks (see diagram to the left).  The estimated cost of this project is more than $268 million to be funded from the sources itemized in the chart at bottom left and by you and me and the other taxpayers of Alexandria.

On June 1, 2016, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Park Service and the City of Alexandria released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public comment (comments are due by July 11, 2016).  The Federal Transit Administration is the lead federal agency on the project because of the substantial funding that the U.S. Department of Transportation will be providing under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

The National Park Service is involved because the new station will encroach upon a federal easement that protects scenic views along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  To address this problem, Alexandria agreed to transfer to the federal government 13.56 acres of city-owned parkland near the GW Parkway and make $12 million in park improvements in exchange for the NPS releasing its scenic easement on 1.71 acres of city-owned property where the new station will be located.  When completed, the new station will be visible from the GW Parkway.  The EIS compares Alternative B (three other sites were considered) to the alternative of not building a new station.

On June 16, 2016, the Alexandria city council approved all required zoning changes for the project to move ahead.  A press release issued by the city on June 21, 2016 states:  "Later this summer, the Federal Transit Administration and the National Park Service are expected to issue Records of Decision, which would allow the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to advertise for a design-build contract and select a vendor. Construction is expected to begin in late 2017, with the station opening in 2020."

The diagram at upper left shows the proposed Potomac Yard Metrorail Station site known as Alternative B.  The photo at center left is an artist's rendering of the new station's main entrance, referred to as the Western Pavilion, as seen from East Glebe Road looking eastward toward Potomac Avenue.  The photo at lower left is an artist's rendering of a side view of the proposed Potomac Yards Metro Station looking southward.

 

A Note on Public Financing

In July 2016, the City of Alexandria sold $73.7 million in new general obligation bonds with a 20-year maturity to pay for much of the development and infrastructure projects detailed on this page, at an all-in financing cost of about 2.12 percent (this includes interest, fees and expenses).  The city maintains the best available credit ratings -- AAA by Standard & Poors, and Aaa by Moody's.  Demand for the top-quality bonds was very high, and investors paid a $10.5 million premium over the face value of the bonds, providing the city with $84.2 million in total funds from the debt offering.

 

 

Pay to Play

Pay to Play is a pernicious concept found in many contexts that supposes one must put up funds in order to participate in a desirable activity that should theoretically be open to all but in practice is closed to most.  In sports, it's called paying to get into the game.  In politics, it's making a campaign contribution to secure access and influence.  And for the City of Alexandria, it's offering matching funds to speed park improvements.  Literally, pay to play.

With legal authority tucked into the FY 2017 municipal budget, the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities has established a $50,000 Community Matching Fund to encourage neighborhood groups to raise half the funds needed to upgrade their local parks or recreation centers.  If they do so, the city could match the funds dollar-for-dollar, and allow the projects to move to the front of the queue for government approval.

The city defends this practice because it "fosters public/private partnerships and cultivates innovative ways for residents to have a greater stake in improving the park and recreation facilities that they use. These partnerships will also provide opportunities for developing positive relationships between the city and the community."  Just like taxes and user fees.  I can think of much better ways to facilitate positive relationships between the city and its residents, but our city government thinks little of asking everyone else to pony up to play -- developers, local businesses, visitors and now citizens.

 

 

Another Type of Development

The word development has two distinct dictionary meanings.  One definition refers to the deliberate process of creating something, as in "the city authorized a new waterfront development."  Another definition recognizes that some things occur or change as a consequence of other things, as in "the skin rash is an unexpected development of the new medicine."  This web page focuses on planned projects in our neighborhood -- developments meeting the first definition above.  But from time to time, the other kind of development arises.

For example, the photo at left of the Potomac River shoreline, taken in late September 2016 at Tide Lock Park near Watergate, shows that the water seems to have receded away from the sea wall by quite a bit, unveiling a "carpet" of hydrilla (an invasive species of water weed), stargrasses and algae.  If you walk south from this point along the river, the same can be seen through much of Old Town, regardless of tide.  Those who are knowledgeable about such things say that the river's present condition is the result of groundwater runoff containing heightened levels of phosphorus, combined with low rainfall and record-setting heat that our region experienced through most of the latter half of summer 2016.  These folks also believe that the river will return to "normal" as we cycle into colder weather.  Whatever the cause and extent, this is very much a new development and one that is not entirely welcome.  About a month after this item was originally posted on this web page, the Washington Post ran a column arguing that the green grunge wasn't necessarily a bad development.

 

The photos above show a panoramic view of Oronoco Bay, and satellite views of the Alexandria Renew complex and Oronoco Bay where outflow 1 releases excess storm water during heavy rains (Pendleton Street runs along the bottom of the lower photo, and Watergate is located just off the top left edge of the photo).

 

Alexandria Sewer System

The City of Alexandria operates two separate sewer systems – an older legacy system and a newer more efficient system.

The older system, dating back to the early 1800s, is a combined sewer that carries both waste water from homes and businesses as well as storm water runoff from streets, sidewalks, roofs and parking lots in a single pipe system to Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ water treatment facility, which is located between Eisenhower Avenue and the Capital Beltway to the immediate west of Four Mile Run (near the Whole Foods on Duke Street).  The combined sewer predominantly serves the historic neighborhoods of Old Town, including Old Town North.

The newer system is a dual pipe system in which one pipe carries waste water to the Alexandria Renew facility for treatment, and another pipe carries storm water runoff to local waterways with little or no treatment.  This sewer serves recently redeveloped areas of Old Town (say the last 20 years or so) and areas of Alexandria that lie well outside of the historic district.

Watergate of Alexandria is on the older combined sewer.  The more recent developments around us are all on the newer dedicated sewer, as they are not allowed on the older system.

Alexandria Renew (see photo to the left) operates a state-of-the-art facility that uses filters and bacterial agents rather than chemicals to treat the waste water.  Processing removes trash, grit, sediment, oils, grease, nitrogen, phosphorus and pathogens from the water.  After treatment, the reclaimed clean water is released into Hunting Creek, which flows into the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

When heavy rain falls on our city (about 60-70 times in an average year), the combined sewer is easily overwhelmed by the increased water volume (90 percent storm water and 10 percent raw sewage) flowing through the pipes to the water treatment facility.  Because the water treatment facility is unable to process large amounts of storm water, much of it is diverted untreated into local waterways through four sewer outfalls.  One outfall sends effluent directly into Oronoco Bay near the foot of Pendleton Street (this is referred to as outfall 1), and the other three outfalls dump the overflow into Hunting Creek or its tributary Hooff’s Run (referred to as outfalls 2-4).  Untreated nitrogen and phosphorus can produce algae blooms in local watersheds, which create “dead zones” that starve aquatic life of oxygen.  Untreated pathogens can lead to infections, disease and undesirable mutations.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) strictly limits the amount of untreated water that can be released into state-controlled waterways and their tributaries, and requires local governments like Alexandria to develop a long-term plan for limiting and mitigating such releases. (A discussion of this regulatory pas de deux is regrettably beyond the scope of this summary.)

VDEQ is requiring the city to reduce the amount of untreated effluent that it releases during heavy rain storms from outfalls 2-4 (into small waterways), but not outfall 1 (into a large river).  In response, the city is proposing to construct a 3-million gallon storage tank and 10-foot diameter tunnels which would temporarily hold the excess effluent (that is today discharged into Hunting Creek and Hooff’s Run) until the treatment plant is able to process it in the ordinary course.  The obvious alternative, moving older buildings to the newer sewer system, is not practical as the cost would be exorbitant for both the city and individual homeowners, and such a project would entail tearing up the streets and sidewalks of Old Town to lay new pipes and connectors.  The city believes that its plan will reduce the number of outflows to a few per year.

At a North Old Town Independent Citizens' Association (NOTICe) meeting held on October 1, 2016, Mark Levine, our state delegate to the Virginia General Assembly, told neighborhood residents that Alexandria officials reluctantly informed him that the estimated cost to build the planned storage tanks and the related diversion pipes for outfalls 2-4 is roughly $100 million.  Double that cost if the city opts to deal with outfall 1 as well.  In late November 2016, the City Council announced that the projected cost to address outfalls 2-4 would be $188 million, and the cost to address outfall 1 would be $150 million.  In the city's proposed FY 2018 budget, the expected cost to fix all four outfalls rises to $400 million.  In ordinary years, the city's annual capital budget is $120-$150 million.

The new storage tanks and tunnels will not eliminate all releases of untreated effluent during heavy rainstorms, but it should reduce the frequency of these events and the volume of discharged water.  The city is taking complementary measures to divert storm water runoff away from the combined sewer system altogether.  One such project is being considered for Second Street next to Watergate (see above).  These initiatives, developed under a new-for-2016 Green Infrastructure Strategy, seek to reduce "stormwater runoff volumes, peak flows, and/or pollutant loads" at the source, utilizing "infiltration, evapotranspiration, and capture" in combination with steps to reduce overflows from the combined sewer system.  The simplest of these measures would create new or expanded planted areas -- biogardens -- to increase the retention and absorption of rain water.

To accomplish these steps, Alexandria has established an Ad Hoc Combined Sewer System Plan Stakeholder Group to assist city staff in drafting an update to its Long Term Control Plan for the combined sewer system.  Click here for details.

On February 25, 2017, the final day of its 2017 regular legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly required Alexandria to start construction to upgrade all four of its sewer outfalls by 2023, and complete those upgrades by 2025 (SB 898).  The legislature previously threatened to cut-off all state funding to the city if it did not complete the repairs by 2020.  In late March 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe attempted unsuccessfully to get the General Assembly to push the deadline back to 2027, but the legislature rejected the Governor's recommended modification in early April 2017 and the Governor eventually signed the bill into law on April 26, 2017.

The city hopes the state will pay for some of the $400 million cost, but many of the Republican legislators who control the General Assembly have publicly stated that Democrat-dominated Alexandria is rich enough to pay for the work on its own.  Alexandria is proposing to raise the city sanitary sewer fee dramatically in the years ahead, starting with a 30 percent increase this year, to pay for the mandated sewer upgrades. 

 

Beach Drive Rehabilitation

Update:  As of Labor Day 2017, work on Phase I has ended and work on Phase 2 has started.

This is a "neighborhood" development page, and by any faithful definition Rock Creek Park really isn't part of our immediate area.

However, on September 22, 2016, the National Park Service began a major 3-year project to rebuild the entire 6.5-mile stretch of Beach Drive as it makes its way from Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in the south (near where it crosses Connecticut Avenue) towards the Maryland/D.C. stateline in the north.  Beach Drive is not only a heavily-used rush-hour thoroughfare, it is often the best route for those traveling from places like Old Town to destinations in Northwest Washington or the close-in Maryland suburbs of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and Takoma.  Unless you are a shut-in homebody, this road work will affect you at some point over the next few years.  So, as a community service and for convenience of reference, this massively-impactful project is listed here.

Beach Drive was orginally laid down in 1897-1900 to provide a north-south transitway through Rock Creek Park.  Lansing Hoskins Beach, at the time Commissioner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the District of Columbia, managed the project.  The roadway was last rebuilt 25 years ago.  Even well-constructed, moderately traveled roads don't last much longer than that, and this road is relentlessly pounded upon by 26,000 daily commuters and 40,000 weekend drivers.

According to the National Park Service, the $33 million project "includes full depth pavement reconstruction, which requires excavating the entire area and placing a new gravel base before new asphalt paving; improvements to pedestrian and bicycle trails in collaboration with the DDOT; DC Water storm drain rehabilitation and improvement projects; installation and upgrades of raised pavement markers, centerline rumble strips, guardrails and road signs to provide safer road conditions for drivers; parking area reconstruction and rehabilitation; traffic signal and streetlight replacement; and the rehabilitation of six bridges."

The reconstruction will take place in four segments or phases (the first segment is further divided into two sub-segments), each of which is expected to take 6-8 months to complete.  While work is underway, the stretch of roadway that is being rebuilt will be closed to all users at all times, and the adjacent paved trail will be closed to bikers and walkers during non-daylight hours.  Congestion on side streets and other alternative routes is expected to be terrible.  The project started in the south and will gradually make its way northwards.

To the left is a map of the construction zone printed by the Washington Post, which has been reproduced here solely for limited incidental non-commercial fair-use purposes involving commentary, comparative criticism and light satire -- to wit, the Post's map, while it relies on tiresome and unimaginative color choices evocative of traditional non-postmodern graphic design, is much clearer and better presented than the one provided by the Park Service on its website, which is strangely rotated 90° clockwise and has difficult-to-follow labels.  In any event, please drive safely.

 

 

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