Alexandria's Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities is (RCPA) discovering that interesting things can happen when commercial property owners willingly part with their land because the city wants to use it and architects create a plan for said land, pro bono. The result of these two unusual occurrences is just now coming to fruition as RCPA seeks approval for a new community building and open space at 4109-4125 Mount Vernon Avenue near the entrance to Four Mile Run.
The City obtained the four lots through Alexandria's Open Space Program in 2007. The City had previously identified the spaces for their proximity to Four Mile Run and when the property owner approached the City, they agreed on a price ($4.8 million, including an escrow set aside for required environmental remediation), securing the space for future public use, according to Laura Durham, Open Space Coordinator for Alexandria. Once home to a Duron paint store, a dry cleaners, a check cashing business and a Pizza Hut, the spaces may in the not-so-distant-future become a temporary farmer's market and a community center. The Duron building is the only extant structure, the other three were razed between January 2007 and January 2009. Demolition of the three buildings on site cost approximately $150,000.
Durham explains that normally a public team would go through a public planning process and eventually hire a private consultant to do the site plan and engineering for a project. But the Mount Vernon open space properties are different. A group of architects from firms throughout the area, who Durham says like to call themselves Architects Anonymous, joined forces to create a concept plan. Officially called the Northern Virginia AIA Small Firms Rountable, Architects Anonymous (better than NVAIASMR), stepped into the process when the City deemed reuse designs for the site too expensive and was considering razing the fourth structure. The do-gooder architects explored adaptive reuse for the Duron property and proposed a design that would open up the interior space to allow for community gatherings and activate the outdoor space for community use.
The privately developed plan is now going through public review; the proposal "won't be the final design...it's a really good starting point" said Durham. The team is seeking a special use permit from the City of Alexandria Planning Commission on June 1 to allow a public building on the site and, pending approval, will also require approval by the Alexandria City Council.
Durham says any plans for the site will be implemented in phases. Initial work would involve retrofitting the Duron building to bring it up to code. Additionally, the design team recommends constructing stages near the north entrance and a secondary stage on the east side loading dock to be used for outdoor performances. Other improvements would happen over time "as funding became available" said Durham. The open space will read like a series of "rooms of a park" with different public uses and with "significant landscape improvement over time," added Durham. The plan will seek to be "green," using pervious material when installing paving or other improvements. Other green options include a rain garden and using recycled concrete. Even the stage would be "green," the design calls for two large cisterns to flank the north stage, capturing rain water for site irrigation while supporting a canopy over the stage. The plans should dovetail with designs, now in the works, for the improvement of Four Mile Run.
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