Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alexandria, Private Developers Tout Ambitious Beauregard Corridor Revitalization Plans

Alexandria city officials and their private-sector partners have spent February on a virtual barnstorming tour, touting their plan to revitalize the Beauregard Corridor in Alexandria. The thirty-year plan calls for the 440-acre, seven-neighborhood area to undergo a dramatic increase in density (from 5.5 to 12.5 million square feet, including 703 new dwellings) while preserving and enhancing its unique topographical and green features. The remaking of the corridor is a joint venture between the city and the Beauregard Corridor Developer Stakeholders, a group whose membership includes local developer The JBG Companies, Duke Realty, Hekemian & Co., Home Properties and Southern Towers.

Big picture, the Beauregard Small Area Plan seeks to do what nearly all present-day redevelopment does - reverse the missteps of the past. Surface parking becomes public green spaces, sprawl becomes density, and auto-centric planning gives way to pedestrians, bikes, and mass transit. Planners envision the area transforming into a “garden city,” citing Roland Park in Baltimore as a model, with curving streets, courtyards, front yards, and greenways, all of it roughly bisected by the newly landscaped North Beauregard Street.

Planners also recommend the strict definition of seven distinct neighborhoods – Greenway, Garden District, Town Center, Southern Towers, Adams, Upland Park, Seminary Overlook – each with a central park. Developers have already claimed their neighborhoods; JBG (whose parcel looks to be at least as large as the other four parcels put together) has staked out almost the entire western half of the corridor (Greenway, Garden District, and Town Center. Hey, at least they didn't go with “JBGTown.”) Directly adjacent to the east is the oblong Duke Realty parcel (Adams), and along the east side, from top to bottom, are the more moderately-sized parcels of Hekemian (Upland) , Southern Towers, (Southern Towers) and Home Properties (Seminary Overlook), respectively. The logic behind the demarcation of the neighborhoods - which at present range from low to medium density - isn't entirely clear. The developers do own property within the borders of their designated neighborhoods - JBG, for example, already owns the Shops at Mark Center, as well as various apartment buildings along North Beauregard, and Home Properties owns apartments in Seminary Hill - but it's unclear how the apportioning was done (and by whom?), how binding it is, and how many of the purchases predated the mapping process.

It's still early for details about specific businesses, and representatives at recent meetings were vague or simply had nothing to report. However, planners have included three retail nodes in their plans – one in the west, in Town Center, and two in the east, in Upland and Southern Towers. These will be coveted locations for businesses – though Landmark Mall is close by, slightly to the southeast.

In exchange for access to development opportunities in the Corridor, the conglomerate has agreed to contribute just under $150 million towards a new fire station, road improvements, green public spaces, and affordable housing. The public reaction has not, however, been unanimously positive. On the public comment page the city set up, many citizens pointed out that the "townhome" style housing options would price out many of the current tenants. Others questioned the urgency behind the rollout, and wondered if it was a veiled effort by the city to raise density in the area to make up for lost tax revenues from the massive DOD facility at the Mark Center. Some questioned whether the proposed degree of density could be supported without a Metro stop (which isn't forthcoming), while still others objected on aesthetic grounds, calling it a "stepford wives" community.

The city replied by citing the surrounding areas and their projected development figures – Landmark/Van Dorn to the south plans 12 million square feet(!), Bailey's Crossroads to the north will get 5.5 million square feet - which, they say, will drastically alter
transportation and development patterns in the area, isolating and undermining Beauregard if it doesn't follow suit. Whether this is a real worry or the municipal equivalent to “keeping up with the neighbors” remains to be seen. That being said, the plan as it stands does look to be a clear improvement on the present state of the area.
If you have an opinion you'd like to share with the city or with developers, the next community meeting is on March 6. You can also weigh in online, on the citizen comment board.


Anonymous said...

Unless they plan real transportation improvements - as in some sort of fixed guideway system - all of this new density will be a disaster. By "plan" I don't mean just draw a line on a map. They need to devise and commit to a realistic funding scheme to make the improvements happen. Density only works when it is supported by appropriate infrastructure investments.

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