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Watergate's Liaison Committee
Two of Wateragte of Alexandria's homeowners, Patricia Lord (933 North Pitt Street) and Patricia DiZebba (1007 North Pitt Street), have volunteered to form and co-chair an ad hoc liaison committee to coordinate and work with Edens, city officials and other stakeholders to minimize the impact of the 500 First Street project on Watergate's residents. Please click or tap here to send an email to The Two Pattys.
Gables Quarterly Construction Updates
On September 20, 2017, Patty Lord asked Eddie Meder about the archeological discovery that Gables recently made at the construction site (see photos at right and below), and here is what he had to say:
"Yes, we did have a minor archeological find. See attached pictures for a “brick culvert” running through our site. It’s basically a brick-lined water pipe that at one point in time led to a spa spring located at the southeast corner of our site (near the Montgomery [Street] and [North] Pitt [Street] intersection). As we excavated, though, we found no evidence of the spa spring, but about 100 [feet] of the brick culvert remained. Our archeologist working in conjunction with the City’s archeologist [has] been studying it as sections have been exposed during our excavation. Once they’ve had a chance to review and document everything, the City is allowing us to remove the culvert and proceed with our excavation. While a noteworthy find, this old water pipe isn’t nearly as interesting to the archeologists as the boat that was found [last year] at the Hotel Indigo site [on South Union Street]."
On May 4, 2017, several members of Watergate's board met with the Gables Construction team at The Royal Restaurant to discuss the project and its impact on neighboring communities. Here are some of the highlights from the meeting:
Pile driving began on May 1, 2017. On April 27-28, Geotechnical Solutions, the project developers' ground engineers are installing ten solar-powered vibration monitors around the perimeter of the construction site, including one monitor (see photo below) in font of 1007 North Pitt Street.
These monitors will measure and record vibrations emanating from the site on a 24/7 basis while pile-driving is underway, a period that is expected to continue for 30 days. The chart below (click to enlarge), created by the developers, shows the placement of the vibration monitors (click here for a PDF version).
The City of Alexandria issued a demolition permit to the developers on March 21, 2017, and demolition of the existing buildings started that week.An onsite groundbreaking ceremony took place on March 8, 2017, with about 100 people in attendance.
In early March 2017, Watergate board member James Blum held an email conversation with Gables development director Eddie Meder, who confirmed that the developers will be conducting pre-construction inspections of the North Pitt Street garage and the homes in the southern part of Watergate whose owners responded to Gables' written offer to perform a baseline survey. Gables identified 22 Watergate units that are situated within 100 feet of the construction site.
Mr. Meder also provided the following information regarding Gables' vibration-monitoring plans once pile driving starts in late March:
"For the seismograph equipment, we plan on providing a device on your property near the closet point to our site. As pile driving work progresses in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, we will move the equipment to follow that work. This location will allow the equipment to detect the strongest level of vibrations, if any at all. Any vibrations behind the seismograph would only be less, not more, as the energy dissipates the further away from the source of impact. The seismograph equipment will be monitored by the geotechnical engineer throughout the day. If he sees readings outside of acceptable levels, he has a direct line of communication with our onsite project management team to stop work."
On February 6, 2017, Eddie Meder, Development Director at Gables Residential, announced that demolition will begin in early March, and pile driving will start in late March. Gables plans to send a pre-construction survey via certified mail to all residents and commercial tenants located directly across the street from the construction site prior to the commencement of pile driving to establish a baseline against which any possible construction-related damage might later be measured.
The Virginia ABC Store has moved to its new location a couple blocks down the street in the Saul Center at Washington Square at 686 North St. Asaph Street for the duration of the construction.
The developers held a city-mandated pre-construction meeting with the community on December 8, 2016 at the Best Western Old Colony Inn. They provided an initial construction schedule which is summarized in the chart below. Onsite demolotion work will begin as early as January 2017. Click here to see a copy of the presentation prepared by the developers for use at the meeting.
At this year's annual association meeting, Marie Tavernini, a long-time resident of Watergate and a member of the Urban Design Advisory Committee for Old Town North, reported that the developers of the Giant/ABC property hope to break ground on this project sometime in February 2017.
At the same meeting, Tom Soapes, another long-time resident and President of the North Old Town Independent Citizens' Association (NOTICe), noted that, for the duration of the construction at 500 First Street, the ABC Store will move to a temporary location at the Saul Center at Washington Square, located at 625/675 North Washington Street. The relocation plans reportedly caused community anxiety as the new storefront is adjacent to a children's pre-school.
In September, The Two Pattys -- Patricia Lord and Patricia DiZebba -- conducted an informative Q&A with Nathan Randall, the city's project manager for the Edens redevelopment plan. A transcript of their conversation is reprinted below.
Giant-ABC Redevelopment Project
Edens, a real estate developer, is proposing to build a new mixed-use commercial-residential development directly across the street from Watergate of Alexandria on property now occupied by a former Giant Food grocery store and a Virginia ABC liquor store. The project, referred to by Edens and others as 500 First Street (previously referred to by the developers as 530 First Street), occupies an entire city 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 (see map to the left). Edens' development partner is Gables Construction Group.
This web page aggregates all the public information that we have learned about the project. Click or tap on most any photo, map or diagram on this web page to enlarge.
Archeological Find at the Site
Groundbreaking Ceremony on March 8, 2017
Photo right (L-R): Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg, Edens CEO Jodie McLean and Gables Residential CEO Susan Ansel deliver remarks at groundbreaking ceremony held on International Women's Day. Photo below left: Mondrian-esque shovels used in groundbreaking ceremony. Photo below right: staging props include backhoe, de rigueur American flag and mound o' dirt imported because developers have yet to receive a demolition permit.
Edens, Inc. is a privately held real estate investment and development company headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. It was founded in 1966 as Edens & Avant, Inc., and shortened its name to Edens in 2011. The company maintains regional offices in Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami and Houston, and satellite offices in Dallas, Charlotte and West Hartford.
According to the company's website, "Edens develops, owns and operates community-oriented shopping places in primary markets across the country. Our expertise covers a broad range of areas including pioneering concepts, creating the right merchandise mix, delivering seamless construction projects and maintaining ownership and management."
In its 50 years in business, Edens has built more than 120 large retail centers. The firm's focus is on large urban areas throughout the East Coast. Edens' projects are financed by institutional investors, including public and private pension funds and private equity funds. At the end of 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Edens was "a company valued at roughly $4 billion including debt" and has plans to grow to a $7 billion company.
Annotated Map of the Construction Site
Brooklyn, New York-based West Elm, a modern furniture and home furnishings store launched in 2002 by Williams-Sonoma. Here is an interesting profile on the company published in 2014 by American business magazine Fast Company. West Elm currently operates two other area stores in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and at Tysons Corner Center in Virginia.
Edens Leasing Agent
Gables Construction Group
Eddie Meder, Development Director
John Bedenbaugh, Project Manager
Jerry Brown, Site Superintendent
Hillis-Carnes Engineering Associates
Geotechnical Solutions, Inc.
General Construction Hours
Combined Parcel Size: 2 acres or 81,173 sq. feet
Material Zoning Waivers and Variances:
Developer Concessions and Proffers:
View of Northeast Corner (Closest to Watergate)
View of Northwest Corner
View of Southwest Corner (Farthest from Watergate)
View Along Montgomery Street
Site Plan -- Street Level
Site Plan -- Second Level
Recent News Stories and Press Releases
The following is a collection of news stories relating to development in Old Town North generally, the Edens project specifically, or issues arising therefrom (click or tap on links to view articles):
Death by dry ice: How cities are using a chilling killer to zap rats, USA Today, September 16, 2016
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
Giant revamp in North Old Town approved by council, Alexandria Times, March 17, 2016
Alexandria City Council Approves Redevelopment Of ABC/Giant Site In North Old Town, Alexandria News, March 16, 2016
Alexandria: Building on Giant’s Bones, Connection Newspapers, March 3, 2016
Mixed-Use Development at Old Giant Store Site Goes Before Planning Commission March 1, Patch, February 20, 2016
Edens lands residential partner for Old Town North project, Washington Business Journal, February 8, 2016
New Apartments Coming Soon to Old Town North, Red Brick Town, February 7, 2016
EDENS Announces Residential Partner For Alexandria's 500 First Street, PR Newswire, February 2, 2016
Edens details planned mixed-use overhaul for a square block of North Old Town, Washington Business Journal, July 10, 2015
More Upgrades Coming for North Old Town? First Street Giant Likely to See Changes, Patch, February 26, 2014
Developer Edens plots mixed-use project for Giant store north of Old Town, Washington Post, February 24, 2014
The Edens project site encompases two adjacent but separate parcels on two acres of land. One parcel (56,319 sq. feet) is occupied by a vacated Giant Food store that closed permanently in February 2015 after 64 years of continuous operations. The Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control operates a retail store and maintains office space on the other parcel (30,854 sq. feet). Edens obtained the necessary property rights to develop both parcels together for the first time.
Giant opened a new and much larger store less than two miles away at the intersection of North Patrick Street (U.S. Route 1) and East Glebe Road, and will not be re-opening a store at the redeveloped site. In contrast, a new Virginia ABC store will be part of the Edens development.
View of the existing Giant store from First Street and the Holiday Inn:
View of the existing Giant store from North St. Asaph Street:
View of the existing Virginia ABC store from North St. Asaph Street:
View of the existing ABC store and ofices from Montgomery Street:
View of the existing site from North Pitt Street and Watergate of Alexandria:
Development Process and Government Approvals
March 31, 2017. The city issued a sheeting and shoring permit for the project.
March 21, 2017. The city issued a demolition permit for the project.
March 12, 2016. The Alexandria City Council approved (6 votes in favor, 0 against, 1 abstention) Edens' plans for the redevelopment of the Giant/ABC property. The City Council reinstated the condition that tenants be denied zoned on-street parking permits, which is good for Watergate residents. Case No. 2015-00019.
March 1, 2016. The Alexandria Planning Commission recommended that the Alexandria City Council approve Edens' revised proposal for the site. As reviewed (see documents posted at bottom left), the plan contemplates 51,272 square feet of commercial space at street level, 232 rental apartments on upper levels up to five stories high, 481 underground parking spaces accessible from First Street, and a below-ground loading dock with an entrance on First Street and an exit on North Pitt Street. The Planning Commission removed the condition that tenants be denied zoned on-street parking permits.
February 10, 2016. The Old Town North Urban Design Advisory Committee conditionally endorsed the project design.
June 2015. Edens submitted its first concept plan, and informed city officials that it had acquired options to purchase both parcels of land comprising the project site and that the options would expire the following month, July 2015. Edens requested expedited consideration of its plans in advance of the city's planned update of the Old Town North Small Area Plan, a process that started in September 2015 and is expected to conclude in January 2017 (see Local Planning page of this website for more details). Edens' request was granted by the city. The Small Area Plan for Old Town North was first adopted in 1992, and it anticipated the redevelopment of the Edens project site.
The week before Labor Day 2016, The Two Pattys – Patricia Lord and Patricia DiZebba, who serve as co-chairs of Watergate’s ad hoc liaison committee with Edens, city staff, and other stakeholders on this project – conducted an email Q&A discussion with Nathan Randall, an urban planner with the Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning and the person who is managing this project for the city. Their conversation is reprinted below (it has been lightly edited for style, consistency and formatting, and supplemented with annotations and hyperlinks).
The Two Pattys: What is the potential timetable for demolition of the existing structure?
Mr. Nathan: The applicant [Edens] is currently pursuing, but has not yet received, approval of the Final Site Plan for the project. After the Final Site Plan has been approved, and prior to any demolition at the site, the applicant will host a required pre-construction meeting (open to the public) at which time several of the answers to your questions would be discussed, including the demolition schedule.
The Two Pattys: What pre-demolition/pre-construction notices are required to be provided by Edens?
Mr. Nathan: As mentioned above, the applicant is required to host a community pre-construction meeting prior to any demolition occurring at the site. Given that the Final Site Plan has not yet been approved, no meeting date/time has been selected yet. With your permission, I can forward your email addresses to the applicant’s attorney [Cathy Puskar] to directly include you in the meeting notice. In addition, once demolition/construction starts, the applicant intends to provide a monthly construction update to affected neighbors. A community liaison will also be identified and his/her contact information will be shared.
The Two Pattys: What actions must be undertaken by Edens prior to any demolition or construction related to the Watergate residences directly across the street on North Pitt Street. Our particular concerns relate to possible foundation and structural damage within the townhomes as a result of digging a two-story garage/foundation structure at the Edens site. Further, directly beneath these townhomes is the garage facility for Watergate residents. Protecting against damage to the garage wall and to heating/cooling units along the wall beneath North Pitt Street are significant concerns.
Mr. Nathan: You may wish to raise [this question and the next question] in the pre-construction meeting. We will also forward these two questions directly to the applicant for their consideration.
The Two Pattys: We note that when the Abingdon Row condominium was constructed on the North Royal Street border of Watergate, prior to construction, the developer took interior/exterior photographs of potentially impacted units to later determine whether construction activities caused structural issues. They also placed crack monitors in several locations. We are unaware of any similar undertaking that Edens may be planning.
Mr. Nathan: See above.
The Two Pattys: When the Harris Teeter building was being constructed, the city experienced significant rodent migration in the North End. In fact, I reported to then Mayor [William] Euille sightings of rodents along North St. Asaph Street during the day, which was very unsettling (although quite unsettling at any time). What plans are underway by the city and Edens to address rodent migration during demolition and construction in order to avoid rodent migrations to nearby residential structures and to protect against public health risks?
Mr. Nathan: The applicants are required through a condition of their approval to draft and implement a Rodent Abatement Plan to address rodents. The Plan requires the setting and the regular monitoring and baiting of rodent traps.
The Two Pattys: Will street parking along North Pitt Street, First Street and North St. Asaph Street be prohibited during the demolition and construction phases?
Mr. Nathan: We expect that parking will be prohibited on these streets on the side of the street immediately next to the site. Although possible for short periods of time based on specific construction needs, we do not expect that on-street parking on the opposite sides of each street will be closed for significant periods of time.
The Two Pattys: Where will trucks be permitted to park for purposes of loading and then hauling demolished structural material?
Mr. Nathan: Construction vehicles will need to park on-site for loading and hauling of demolished materials.
The Two Pattys: What is the route that such trucks will be permitted to take in order to haul these materials out of the North End?
Mr. Nathan: The applicant will be required to identify and follow a set truck haul route. However, that route will not be determined until later in the process. It will be shared at the pre-construction meeting.
The Two Pattys: What arrangements are being made for construction crew parking?
Mr. Nathan: Construction crews are not permitted to park on-street. The applicant is arranging for off-street parking, at no charge to the crews, at the Sheraton [Suites Old Town Alexandria] garage. Public transportation is also encouraged for members of the construction crew.
+ + + + +
The Two Pattys: Who approves the Final Site Plan?
Mr. Nathan: City staff approves the Final Site Plan for consistency with the City Council-approved preliminary plan.
The Two Pattys: How and who will Edens notify regarding the requied pre-construction meeting? Will there be City oversight of this process? Will City staff attend these meetings and address the affected community?
Mr. Nathan: The developers and their attorney, Cathy Puskar, will likely send an email invitation to area civic associations and other interested individuals. I will forward your email addresses for inclusion in that invitation. I’m sure they already have a considerable list of email addresses given earlier outreach efforts that occurred prior to the March public hearings and will use it again, but we do double-check to make sure they advertise the meeting. In almost all, if not all, cases City Planning & Zoning staff attends the pre-construction meeting.
The Two Pattys: Who chooses the community liaison -- just one individual?
Mr. Nathan: The applicant chooses either one or a few individuals to be the construction liaison.
Tom Soapes, a Watergate of Alexandria resident and former board member, wrote the following update in the April/May 2016 edition of Take Notice, the bi-monthly newsletter of the North Old Town Independent Citizens Association (NOTICe), a not-for-profit community organization that he currently leads. With appreciation, he has consented to its reproduction here:
"The Alexandria City Council and the Planning Commission have approved the proposed redevelopment of the Giant/ABC site as outlined by the property owner, Edens Corporation. The approved plan includes a zoning change from CG (Commercial General) to CDD#25 (Coordinated Development District #25), which allows both commercial and residential use. Edens plans to construct 51,000 square feet of gound floor commercial space and up to 232 residential units. Building heights will range from two stories on the northeast corner to six stories on the southwest corner with two levels of below grade parking. Building heights vary from 25 feet on the northeast corner to 67 feet on the north to 77 feet on the southeast. The design includes a variety of breaks and indentations to vary the massing of the building. Varieties of building materials and fenestration patterns will also break up the massing. Utility rooms, trash storage, and loading and garage access will be near the middle of the structure and off the street. Access to the loading and parking levels will be from First Street with egress onto Pitt Street.
"The Virginia ABC store will return to the site, but other specific tenants have not been identified. The developer says they are seeking a variety of uses for the ground floor commercial areas, including specialty grocery, furniture or home goods stores, service businesses, and restaurants. Outdoor dining is planned along Montgomery and St. Asaph Streets.
"The residential units, approved as rental, will be mostly one-bedroom units with some studios and two-bedroom units. The residential lobby will be mid-block on Montgomery Street adjacent to a public plaza. There will be four outdoor amenity spaces, including a ground level community green on the northeast portion of the site. Roof-top amenities and, on St. Asaph Street, some second level terraces will be included for residents. The residential plan includes nine units of affordable housing.
"Some residents of North Old Town expressed concern about the impact of the project on traffic. Backups at First and North Washington received special attention. Edens will provide $50,000 to the city to retime the lights at that intersection. The overwhelming sentiment of the Council and Planning Commission was that this project will revitalize an under-used block and bring needed retail and new residents to the area. The proposal is consistent with the existing small area plan and with thinking about the revised small area plan now in progress that designates St. Asaph Street as a commercial focus area. The design for Montgomery Street begins development of a link between that block and blocks to the east ending at the Potomac River.
"Other steps remain. The developer must submit a site plan and receive the necessary demolition and construction permits. The City will also schedule community meetings prior to construction regarding construction processes."
Related Development Project
The city has previously announced that it plans to rebuild the one-block section of Montgomery Street between North Pitt Street and North St. Asaph Street, which the city believes is "necessary to correct a significant soil settlement issue existing beneath the roadbed." 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 redevelopment project. Construction on this project is anticipated to begin in late 2017.
However, city staff have noted that they are "currently in discussions with the applicant [Edens] to determine if a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached that would allow the city to hire the developer’s contractor to perform the required construction services within Montgomery Street. If the applicant’s contractor, rather than the city’s contractor, were to perform the reconstruction work (pursuant to City of Alexandria contract documents), the city may realize cost savings in certain elements of the project such as construction staging. The applicant may also benefit by having the street project constructed in tandem with their project, thereby minimizing potential disruption to their project both during and after construction."
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