Shades of Europe in the West End

The future of Alexandrias leafy West End isnt cul-de-sacs, single-family homes and strip malls.

As the Beauregard Street corridor coalesces with plans for an increasingly urban-minded Alexandria, change from its present-day landscape is around the corner.

On Monday, just days after they got their first glimpse of a re-imagined waterfront, city residents studied preliminary designs for what the area around Mark Center could be in 20 years: The sort of town center that exists in places like Shirlington and Old Town.

In order to stay apace with the citys planning process for the neighborhood, the JBG Corporation, the largest landowner in the area, held a three-day public workshop to gather community input on redevelopment ideas for its property straddling the Beauregard corridor.

The core concepts of urbanization that influenced the workshops final product a road grid, mixed-use buildings, mass transit and increased walkability would be revolutionary for a neighborhood that grew up in the era of sprawling suburban planning.

The developers basically cauterized the streets so you could live in splendid isolation and what they didnt tell you was that the minute you left your cul-de-sac, youre in traffic hell, said Andres Duany, head of the land-planning firm JBG hired for the project and a nationally recognized figure in the field. 

Duany, whose firm has offices in Miami, Charlotte and Gaithersburg, explained the nuances of the draft JBG brought out of the weekends public-private sessions the first of its kind during the Beauregard planning process.

Including traffic alterations like the addition of mass transit and a proposal to cut Beauregard from four to two lanes of automobile traffic, the preliminary vision for the area had shades of historic planning methods found in D.C., Alexandria and Europe.

The additional 7,500 housing units would help restore a job-housing balance that is sure to dissolve with the September 2011 opening of the 6,400-employee BRAC installation at Mark Center, Duany said.
If we do this its going to be a revelation to everybody to American planning, Duany said.

The new development, which would be phased in over time and remains several years from any firm start date, JBG officials assured residents, would be marked by large blocks of housing ringed with six- to eight-story apartment buildings and filed with smaller, townhome style units, according to the draft plan.

In the northern half of the 140-acre JBG property, where a strip mall with a Giant supermarket currently stands, a larger grocery store would take over and the neighborhood would likely have a dedicated building for a farmers market.

And while Duany often paused to answer residents questions during his presentation Monday night, the land-planning expert remained upbeat about the development taking shape.

Karl Moritz, the citys deputy director of neighborhood planning, said the presentation included a lot of good ideas for traffic solutions and land use.

The city does not expect to have a draft of the area plan until this fall. However JBGs concept plan does give the Department of Planning and Zoning ideas to work with in the coming months, Moritz said.

That kind of center in this part of town would be primarily for folks who live in the Beauregard corridor already or pass through it anyway, Moritz said. But people may well be attracted to going to a well-done town center that are not already going to the shopping center that exists now.

The Beauregard corridor planning area includes the JBG property, Duke Realty properties at Mark Center, the Southern Towers on the north side of Seminary Road and even some land across Interstate 395.

As Duany put it, the majority of the JBG property now consists of apartments without urbanism. The mixed-use developments, additional everyday retail, along with the town-center vibe would add street life to an area that has next to none, Duany said.

Many of the residents struggled to grasp the idea of the single development plan existing successfully if surrounded by several dissimilar, competing developments. The counter-intuitive traffic principles Duany described took some discerning questions but appeared to sink in as well.

The city already has Small Area Plans in place around the city, including in the Braddock Metro area and Landmark/Van Dorn.

JBG officials do not expect any changes to take place for at least two years and nothing is likely to be finished any sooner than four or five years from now.

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Alexandria Times Staff

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