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March 16, 2016 Published in City Hall, Top Stories

Alexandria City Council Approves Redevelopment Of ABC/Giant Site In North Old Town

By Carla Branch
alexandrianews.org

ABC-Giant 1The Alexandria City Council on Saturday approved the redevelopment of the ABC/Giant site in North Old Town by a vote of 6-0-1. Councilman Paul Smedberg abstained.

“I would really like to support this project but I am very concerned about our not dealing with parking issues in a holistic manner,” Smedberg said. “We have been talking about these problems and asking staff for proposed solutions for six or seven years. I am really tired of these one-off solutions.”

Smedberg was referring to Council’s decision to re-instate a condition regarding zone parking permits that the Planning Commission removed but which nearby neighbors of the project wished re-instated. The condition does not allow residents of the 232 proposed rental apartments to obtain zone parking stickers that allow residents to park on the street. The attorney for the developer did not object to the condition as she said there would be sufficient parking for residents in the underground garage on the site. The same parking condition was included in the Robinson Terminal South and Robinson Terminal North projects and included a statement that the condition would apply until such time as the City adopts a comprehensive parking ordinance.

“We just need to get this done to eliminate confusion,” Smedberg said. “Throughout Old Town we have different start and ending times for on street parking and we just need to make these more uniform. Also, if we need to create additional parking zones, let’s do that. It is very frustrating.”  

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

This two-acre site has been slated for redevelopment since the 1992 Master Plan revisions. Until last summer, no developer was able to consolidate the two parcels, which comprise the site. The Giant grocery store closed in the summer of 2015 and the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Commission continues to operate a retail store and also has office space in the building. The remainder of the site is occupied by a surface parking lot.

City Planning staff recommended that the project move forward despite the North Old Town Small Area Plan, which is currently in progress, will not be finished until 2017. When City Council put planning for the Eisenhower West Plan ahead of the North Old Town Small Area Plan, members agreed that some projects could come forward before the NOTSAP is complete. Staff told Council on Saturday that the proposed Edens project (ABC/Giant site) is in keeping with the framework for North Old Town.

According to the staff report, Edens proposes to construct a mixed-use building, ranging from two to six stories in height, with two levels of below-grade parking. The ground level of the building would primarily consist of approximately 51,000 square feet of commercial space along the Montgomery, North Saint Asaph, and First Street frontages of the site, with garage and loading access on First Street, and loading egress on North Pitt Street. Several townhouse-style dwelling units and two public open spaces would be located at the ground level as well. Four and five floors of multi-family dwelling units would be located above the commercial tenant spaces, with the northern portion of the building having four floors and the southern portions having five floors. The approximately 232 rental dwelling units would occupy floors two through five/six and account for roughly 254,000 square feet of the building.

Commercial Space

ABC-Giant 2With the exception of the Virginia ABC store, which would return to the site, specific tenants have not yet been confirmed for the proposed ground-level commercial space. The applicant has expressed interest in a range of uses, including restaurants and a small specialty grocery, furniture or home goods store as the anchor tenant. Outdoor café seating is planned for a public plaza on Montgomery Street and potentially along Montgomery or North Saint Asaph Streets, as space allows.

Residential Units

The majority of the rental apartments would be one-bedroom in size, with studios and two bedroom units also proposed. The residential lobby would be located mid-block on Montgomery Street adjacent to the public plaza. Trash storage and utility rooms, as well as loading spaces, would be centralized and shared with commercial tenants. Outdoor amenity spaces are proposed in four locations, in addition to the ground-level open space (“community green”) located at the northeastern portion of the site. The largest of the four amenity spaces is a landscaped central courtyard area on the second level of the building that would feature a swimming pool, passive green space, and sitting areas. Additional terraces on the second floor and the roof of the building are proposed. Several second-level units facing North Saint Asaph Street would feature individual, private terraces as well.

Building Massing and Design

The building is designed with a ground-level footprint encompassing most of the site, with two notable exceptions: the public plaza on Montgomery Street and the community green at the northeastern corner. However, the massing of the building changes significantly for its upper stories, with three larger portions of the building located at the northern, southeastern, and southwestern portions of the site and two narrower connector sections. The design results in varying building heights of 25 feet for the townhouse-style units at the northeastern corner, 67 feet for the northern portions of the main building, and 77 feet for the southern portion. It also carves out significant courtyard and terrace areas, many of which are located on the second floor of the building, where the applicant proposes several outdoor rooftop amenity spaces for the use of building residents. The design also includes a variety of breaks and subtle indentations to vary the massing of the building.0

ABC-Giant 3Most of the 20-foot high ground-level façade would be occupied by individual commercial tenants with varying yet coordinated signage and window treatments. Exceptions include the visibly distinct residential entrance on Montgomery Street and other building entrances for the residential portion of the building, which have been designed to unify the ground level and upper levels of the building. The upper floors would have high-quality fenestration patterns and material finishes that would allow the different portions of the building to appear distinct from, yet harmonious with, each other. The three major portions of the building (northern, southeastern, and southwestern) would all be clad in different colors of brick. The two connector sections would feature two types of cementitious siding, including one with a wood-grained pattern to be used as an accent color.

Vehicular Loading Access

Passenger vehicle access to and from the below-grade parking is proposed to occur from First Street for customers, visitors and residents. Delivery trucks would also access the building’s interior loading dock from First Street through a separate, but immediately adjacent, entrance. Trucks would travel down a one-way drive aisle, completely enclosed within the building, and then back into one of three truck parking spaces. All three spaces are adequately sized for tractor trailers. Delivery trucks would then exit the building by driving directly forward along another one-way drive aisle to North Pitt Street. In addition to providing an off-street area for loading/unloading activities, delivery trucks would not need to back up on City streets under the proposed configuration.

Parking

Off-street vehicle parking will be provided for commercial and residential tenants in a two-level, below-grade parking garage containing 481 parking spaces in total. Of these spaces, approximately 326 would be standard-sized, 139 would be compact, and 16 spaces would be handicapped accessible. An additional 12 tandem spaces, not technically counting toward offstreet parking requirements or included in the 481-space total, are also proposed. Given that the applicant does not meet its 564-space requirement, it is seeking an 85-space parking reduction for the expected commercial uses at the site. Over 100 bicycle parking spaces are also provided, with locations in the parking garage (for residents) and on-street.

The number of on-street parking spaces around the site is expected to increase in connection with this proposal from approximately 34 (including taxi-cab spaces) to 47. The removal of several existing curb cuts along the North Saint Asaph and North Pitt Street frontages of the site would allow for the new on-street parking spaces. Two replacement curb cuts would be constructed as part of this development: the combined passenger vehicle/loading vehicle entrance on First Street and the loading vehicle exit on North Pitt Street.

Streetscape and Pedestrian Environment

ABC-Giant 4Improvements to the streetscape include entirely new sidewalks and street trees for all four frontages. The applicant proposes to replace the existing four to nine-foot wide concrete sidewalks with new hybrid sidewalks and would be increased in total width (curb to building) to between 12.3 feet and 18.9 feet. The sidewalk widths may increase beyond these measurements at final site plan review, to between 16 and 21 feet (curb to building), by narrowing travel lanes for consistency with the City’s Complete Streets guidelines. Four Three new pedestrian bumpouts would also be provided at street intersections, on the side of each intersection that is adjacent to the subject site. These new bump-outs would offer reduced pedestrian crossing widths, additional sidewalk space, traffic calming, and, at one intersection, an improved crosswalk alignment.

Public Benefits

The project will include a number of public benefits, including public and private open space. Approximately 6,600 square feet of ground-level open space is provided at the site in two locations: the “public plaza” at the southern end of the site adjacent to Montgomery Street (nearly 3,100 square feet) and the “community green” located at the northeastern corner of the site adjacent to the townhouse-style residential units (over 3,500 square feet.) Attractively landscaped rooftop amenity spaces would also be provided for residents at four locations, the largest of which is the second-level courtyard area in the middle of the site. Edens will also contribute $75,000 to the open space fund for use in the North Old Town Small Area Plan.  Edens will provide nine affordable units onsite, which is a $2.4 million contribution. The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee endorsed this plan as it is in keeping with their goal to place affordable housing near transit.

Edens will separate the sewers on their site and on the Holiday Inn site. They will also contribute $75,000 to defray the cost of upgrading the traffic signal at First Street and Washington Street. While reconstruction of Montgomery Street is not the developer’s responsibility, they will coordinate with the City on construction efforts to save money.  Under the applicant’s proposal, the pedestrian experience around the block would be greatly improved compared to the current circumstance of narrow concrete sidewalks that are interrupted by several curb cuts. Dynamic commercial storefronts would be created on the North Saint Asaph and Montgomery Street frontages, some of which would include outdoor dining. All existing overhead utility lines would be placed underground.. new hybrid sidewalks ranging between 12.3 and 18.9 feet in total width would be installed, representing an increase of several feet of sidewalk width.Finally, the developer will install onsite public art. This feature will be designed at a later date.

Council and the Public Speak

Several speakers came to the public hearing on Saturday to talk about what they like and don’t like about the project. “This project will bring 150 jobs and will contribute $50 million in taxes to the City over 20 years,” said Scott Shaw, who represented the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. “It will also offer amenities that are very important to this neighborhood.”

William Jacobs spoke against renters. “If this was being built in Potomac Yard, it would be condos not rental apartments,” Jacobs said. “Renters’ children do not do well in school and we spend about $10,000 per year per student to educate the children in our public schools. Renters are transient and do not participate in the community. Rental units also lower the value of nearby homes.”

Councilman John Chapman responded. “I can’t let those remarks pass because that is not the case,” he said. “People rent for many reasons including the fact that many cannot afford to buy homes and are saving money while they rent. Some people just don’t choose to purchase a home. Also, many renters do participate in the life of this community and make many contributions.”Another speaker objected to the software the City and Edens used to model cueing. He asserted that the software was old and should not have been used. Transportation and Environmental Services staff assured members of Council that the methodology was appropriate and in keeping with Virginia Department of Transportation guidance. 

Mayor Allison Silberberg agreed with Chapman. “I was a renter for some time before I purchased my condo,” she said. “I certainly participated in the community.” Silberberg also spoke about benches and the color of bricks for the building. “I really want to see teak benches in the plaza because they are warmer,” she said. “Also, could you consider using cream instead of the white bricks shown. That just makes the building warmer.”

The staff assured Silberberg that these details would be reviewed prior to final site plan approval.

 

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One Response to “Alexandria City Council Approves Redevelopment Of ABC/Giant Site In North Old Town”

  1. Just Me says:

    Can Mr. Jacobs provide resources to substantiate his comments on renters?