Comments: AlexWest Draft Recommendations (Alexandria, Support)

Mr. Christian Brandt, AICP
Urban Planner
Department of Planning and Zoning
City of Alexandria

Mr. Brandt, 

The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the overall recommendations for a more walkable, transit-friendly, mixed-use and inclusive West End, with greater housing security and opportunities for families to live in its neighborhoods. We also appreciate the City’s thoughtful planning process that has emphasized proactive engagement for all communities to participate. 

In particular, we support these important components of the draft recommendations:

  • Converting surface parking to housing and other uses (including encouraging interim uses) is a common-sense approach to provide more opportunities for needed housing, corner retail, pocket parks and other uses along transit corridors. 
  • Fixing unsafe intersections and taming high-speed corridors are needed for safety, livability and equity. West End residents who walk, bike, scoot, take the bus, and drive should have a range of safe and comfortable travel options like other parts of Alexandria. 
  • Creating more dedicated affordable units, via preservation and construction, and addressing problems that renters encounter are critical. We are glad the City is working to help current residents stay and have quality housing, while also accommodating new households that can take advantage of the area’s robust transit and other services.

We recommend these refinements:

  • Show a clear Transit-Oriented Development Strategy – The AlexWest Plan maps and text need to better prioritize Bus Rapid Transit station areas for higher-density housing, neighborhood retail and services, and pedestrian improvements.  The draft recommendations and maps hardly reference the coming West End Transitway and planned Route 7 BRT that are major investments. The plan needs to more explicitly embrace and communicate transit-oriented development and the transformative potential of these two major transit projects. With the change in the real estate market and West End Transitway phasing since the prior Beauregard corridor plan, the AlexWest plan needs to explain how transit-oriented development is still a fundamental principle and can support equitable housing opportunities.
  • Show higher-density housing opportunities near BRT stations – The maps and recommendations should more clearly align the area’s long-term vision, planned higher housing densities and building heights, and pedestrian and bicycle network with station locations. 
  • Reduce parking requirements and limit new parking in BRT station areas – The plan should explore ideas such as a parking benefits district, removing parking minimums near transit, unbundling parking from rent/condo costs, and other strategies. These can help support more affordable and timely redevelopment of surface parking areas while helping existing residents have more affordable and convenient mobility options. 

Other specific improvements and clarifications we encourage:

  • Plan for a future pedestrian/bike connection across I-395 to the Landmark development. This improvement, that has been in the Landmark/Van Dorn small area plan, would be transformative for the West End, and needs more than a dotted circle on a map. In the interim, prioritize working with private landowners to create continuous direct pedestrian and bicycle facilities along Breckenridge Place to the Duke St bridge over I-395.
  • Identify Mark Center Avenue as a corridor for multimodal safety improvements – Mark Center Avenue (near Seminary Rd and midway between Seminary and Mark Center Drive) is unsafe and inconvenient for many common pedestrian and bicyclist movements and bus riders accessing stops. Pedestrian safety deficiencies have been documented for example in the Mark Center Transit Center Expansion Feasibility Study conducted by WMATA for the City in 2017. 
  • Improve access to the Winkler Preserve in the near term – Access to Winkler for Southern Towers residents and the growing Mark Center residential community should be a priority. 

Thank you for your work. We look forward to the refined plan.

Bill Pugh, AICP
Senior Policy Fellow

Jose Delcid, Urban Planner, Department of Planning and Zoning
Karl Moritz, Director, Department of Planning and Zoning