Many questions remain on redevelopment of Landmark Mall

Landmark Mall entrance

Dozens of Alexandria residents crammed into part of the second floor of Brandywine Senior Living in Alexandria’s West End on Wednesday night for an open house and informational session about Landmark Mall.

Despite groundbreaking being at least two years away, Alexandria residents had no shortage of questions, concerns and opinions about site accessibility, traffic and transit, affordable housing and what will become of the 51-acre site bordered by Duke Street, Van Dorn Street and I-395.

The vision for the site is to create a mixed-use, fully accessible destination neighborhood with retail, housing, community gathering spaces and more.

Landmark Mall itself is entirely closed with the exception of Sears and its related businesses on the west side of the property, and Carpenter’s Shelter, which is temporarily operating out of the former Macy’s department store on the east side. Both of those operations will close within the next two years, allowing redevelopment of the entire property.

Complete redevelopment could take anywhere from 5 to 20 years, Howard Hughes Corp. representatives said.

The redevelopment has been a long time coming — it was part of a 2009 Landmark/Van Dorn Corridor Plan, but a variety of obstacles stood in the way of redevelopment.

“Although the City approved development plans for the site, a variety of market, ownership coordination, and financial reasons prevented the site’s various owners and developers from progressing with their plans,” according to a handout provided at Wednesday’s open house. “Today, the entire mall site, including parking lots, is under coordinated ownership, and the current owners [Howard Hughes Corp.] are now ready to move forward with planning for the entire mall site.”

Next Steps

The community engagement process facilitated by City of Alexandria officials and site owner Howard Hughes Corp. will continue on Jan. 26 with an advisory group and community workshop at Francis Hammond Middle School. The event will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with childcare available for residents.

More information about that event will be available at www.alexandriava.gov/Landmark.

By early next week, City officials will post online the detailed information that was provided to attendees at Wednesday night’s open house, including the posters and videos. Go to www.alexandriava.gov/Landmark to access that information the week of Dec. 17.

Traffic and Transit Study Underway

The Jan. 26 meeting will include the results of a transportation study currently in progress. The study is taking into consideration current transportation policies (including Complete Streets Guidelines and Vision Zero), site accessibility from main roads around the site and more.

The Complete Streets Guidelines call for designs that “improve the efficiency and capacity of roads by moving people in the same amount of space and getting more productivity out of the existing road and public transportation systems, which is vital to reducing congestion,” according to City of Alexandria information. (Learn more at www.alexandriava.gov/CompleteStreets.) Vision Zero is “a multidisciplinary, multi-national traffic safety concept that aims to achieve a transportation system with no deaths and serious injuries.” (Learn more at www.alexandriava.gov/VisionZero.)

The study will also take into account regional annual growth rates as Alexandria’s population continues to increase, and site access via a variety of transportation options from cars to bikes, transit and walking.

The study results will help inform planners, developers and city officials about needed future roadway improvements, signal timings, travel lanes and more.

Officials at the meeting noted that the area’s topography creates challenges — the mall sits atop a hill with Duke Street, Van Dorn Street and the interstate all below it. The hills surrounding the mall and its extensive parking lots, including overgrown woods along Van Dorn Street and current retaining walls and parking garages along Duke Street, will need to be dealt with, somehow, to increase accessibility to the site.

City officials will also learn in 2019 whether the city has secured grants for the West End Transitway project. The Transitway with rapid bus lanes would connect a number of major transit facilities and the neighborhoods in between them, including Van Dorn Metro Station, the Mark Center Transit Center, Shirlington Transit Center and the Pentagon Transit Center. Whether the Transitway can be developed will affect Landmark site planning. Learn more at www.alexandriava.gov/WestEndTransitway.

Affordable Housing

Officials don’t know yet whether affordable housing will be included as part of the site plan or elsewhere nearby as part of the developer agreement.

Affordable housing is being considered using existing “tools” to create housing units. The tools include bonus density allowances, voluntary developer contributions to the housing trust fund, partnerships with non-profit developers, co-location with city facilities (such as affordable housing built above a fire station), or grants and other financing programs.

One person at the meeting said that Alexandria officials would prefer that affordable housing be included as part of the 51-acre redevelopment itself.

What officials do know is that affordable housing is a serious problem in Alexandria, with many residents being priced out of housing in the city. This year, the average annual salary needed to rent an average one-bedroom apartment in the city is $68,320. A two-bedroom apartment requires a salary of $84,240 to be considered affordable.

Affordability is defined as a household paying no more than 30 percent of its income before taxes on rent and related housing costs (insurance, utilities, etc.). An increasing number of people who work in Alexandria, including many school teachers, police officers and other first responders, auto mechanics, dental assistants and daycare providers, cannot afford to live here.

In 2018, more than 22,500 households in Alexandria were considered “housing cost burdened,” paying more than 30 percent of their income before taxes on housing and related costs. At least 7,000 of those 22,500 households were spending more than 50 percent of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

Civic Uses and Open Space

Preliminary plans for the Landmark Mall site call for several acres of park space. A central plaza could welcome farmers markets and community gatherings, and other areas could include playgrounds and dog parks.

City officials are also looking at how to incorporate civic uses into the Landmark Mall redevelopment site or somewhere nearby in the larger Landmark/Van Dorn Corridor Plan. Civic needs could include a school, recreation center, police and fire stations and other city facilities.

The next community event related to the Landmark Mall redevelopment is a workshop Jan. 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Francis Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Rd. Childcare will be provided for parents who wish to attend.

More information is available at www.alexandriava.gov/Landmark.

This article originally ran inAlexandria Living Magazine, a regional magazine covering the businesses, events and issues affecting the dynamic and growing Alexandria area.