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New Development

Overview
Giant/ABC Site
2nd Street Green Project
Power Plant Site
Old Colony Inn Site
National Airport North
Metro Bus Barn Site
Travel Lodge Motel Site
The Towns at 1333
Powhatan Potomac Yard
Mount Vernon Trail
Robinson Terminal North
Robinson Terminal South
Old Dominion Boat Club
The Thornton
Hoffman Town Center
Landmark Mall
Potomac Yard Metro
Alexandria Sewer
Craddock/Smoot Lumber
Potomac Yard

Redevelopment

Montgomery Street
Crowne Plaza
Waterfront Center
Holiday Inn
Beach Drive

Park Development

Montgomery Park
Windmill Hill Park
Jones Point Park
Potomac Yard Park
King Street Waterfront Park

Completed Projects

National Airport South
Canal Center Plaza

2551 Main Line Boulevard at Potomac Yard

   

Overview

The project described on this web page has nothing to do with Watergate of Alexandria, our immediate neighborhood, Old Town North or Old Town.  However, it is a case study for how development is currently conducted in the City of Alexandria, how the city council approaches material disputes between current residents (who pay city taxes) on the one side, and developers (who place significant pressures on costly city services) on the other side.  What is taking place at 2551 Main Line Boulevard is fundamentally identical to what took place when the owners of the Best Western Old Colony Inn, which is located in our backyard, wanted to double the size of the hotel against widespread, consistent and vocal opposition of most neighbors.  The prime difference is that Old Town residents are a tad better organized and fiercer.

Development Background

As discussed in greater detail on the City Planning page of this website, all development in Alexandria is governed by a city-wide master plan that was first drafted in 1974.  The master plan addresses overall development in the city in its broadest strokes.  The master plan also serves as an umbrella for 18 small area plans that provide considerable detail on what type of development is expected and will be allowed in the city's neighborhoods.  Development near Watergate is governed by the Old Town North Small Area Plan, which was formally updated in September 2017.  Development in the Potomac Yard neighborhood (largely bounded by U.S. Route 1 to the west, the Monroe Avenue Bridge to the South, Potomac Avenue to the east and Four Mile Run to the North) is controlled by the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens Small Area Plan, which was last updated in June 1992.

 

Project Background

Pulte Homes, one of the principal developers of Potomac Yards, is proposing to erect a pair of condominium buildings at 2551 Main Line Boulevard (at Swann Avenue a few blocks south of the new Giant grocery store on Route 1).  The project presents two serious and overwhelming problems, one substantive and the other procedural.

The substantive problem is that the long-standing Potomac Yard Small Area Plan and Pulte's own 2010 development plan for the parcel envisions 36 condominium units not exceed 55 feet in height.  Pulte now wants to build 142 condominiums spanning nearly 190,000 square feet that would be 70 feet in height (see artist's renderings of one of the two buildings above and to the right).  This represents a 383 percent increase in the size of the project.  The new condominiums would dwarf the nearby townhomes.

Pulte's new plan would result in much better returns on its investment and higher tax receipts for the city.  The project is also consistent with every modern and well-conceived urban design goal of encouraging the densest development closest to mass transit (the city is planning to build a new Potomac Yard Metro Station about 5-6 blocks away that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2021). 

 

The problem here is that all those folks who recently bought Pulte townhouses across the street from the parcel now being developed had anticipated much smaller and less dense construction across the street from their new homes.  These are smart people and they looked at the overall development plan for the cleared land across the street before buying their homes.  They had reasonable expectations.

The procedural problem is that the newly settled homeowners, who are directly affected by Pulte's change in plans, claim that they were given no notice of the considerably expanded development across the street.  Pulte, which retains control of the Potomac Yard Homeowners Association that manages those owners' units, claims that it provided regular updates regarding its proposed changes at PYHOA meetings.  Those meetings were held on Tuesday mornings while most folks were at work, and at a location in Fairfax County about 45 minutes away from Potomac Yard.  Current residents also assert that the PYHOA website has not been updated in well over a year and makes no mention of the changes.  The neighbors say that they only recently learned of the expanded development when signs went up at the site.

 

Alexandria City Council

To move forward with its expanded development project, Pulte needed the Alexandria city council's approval to move away from the original proposal for the site as contemplated by the existing small area plan and its prior develpment plan.  To secure the required variances, Pulte followed a proven playbook -- offer to scale back the number of units from 142 to 138, set-aside 9 of those units as affordable housing, increase the set-backs from the street, tier the height of the buildings as you move further away from the street, provide a bit of open space fronting the complainers, agree to install some public art, toss in a Capital Bikeshare station, promise new sidewalks and lovely trees, move the garage entrance around the corner, pay a $315,000 vountary bribe contribution to the city's housing fund which the city would eventually return to Pulte in the form of closing costs and fees paid on the affordable housing units, and commit to hold all future PYHOA meetings in Alexandria instead of in Fairfax.  Works every time.

On October 14, 2017, the city approved Pulte's latest plans.  As is often the case, the vote was 6 in favor and 1 opposed, with the lone dissent being Mayor Allison Silberberg.  The councilors have big dreams for the city, those dreams come at great cost, and those costs need to be paid for with ever-higher tax revenues and loans.  The math is simple.  Development = good, big development = better, over-the-top development = best.  And, developers = campaign contributions > residents = whiners.

While this project has no direct impact on us today, our local government's build now/care later philosophy will eventually catch up to us in ways that eventually do matter.  You don't honestly believe that the Holiday Inn will remain there for long?  So look again at the pictures above.  Then multiply by two.  Do you want to see massive 6-story buildings like that across North Pitt Street from Watergate?

 

 

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