Editorial: Council should delay redevelopment in low-income Arlandria like it did in high-income Old Town


If the Alexandria City Council wants to practice random enforcement of justice, it will vote to approve the mammoth, sprawling, six-story Arlandria Center nearing fruition in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood. If it wants to take an egalitarian, democratic track, it will defer the decision, listen to neighborhood stakeholders and work with the developer to re-plan the urban renewal project.

The situation in Arlandria hardly differs from the development war waging on the city’s riverfront. Residents there believe plans to commercialize the Potomac River shoreline will devastate their quality of life. Despite good-faith efforts by City Hall to include them in the planning process, many residents did not participate or speak up until the plan’s approval was imminent.

They were late, but loud. The city government delayed a final decision and began working with stakeholders on a compromise.

Likewise, in the mostly low-income minority neighborhood of Arlandria, residents and business owners woke up one day to find their quality of life at risk. If approved, Arlandria Center will tower over the community’s low-lying skyline, price-out residents and business owners and change Arlandria’s dynamic, in some cases for the better.

But gentrification is a valid and imminent concern. City officials are on record saying gentrifying Arlandria is not ideal, but they cannot guarantee protection against it. Why? Because it is an uncontrollable phenomenon of the open market. You cannot micromanage gentrification; it cannot be stopped once it starts.

What City Hall can do is reset. Officials should work with residents who feel marginalized, just as they did with Old Town residents who felt disenfranchised during the waterfront planning process. Anything less would be blatantly inequitable. The only difference between the two situations is the developer in Arlandria, PMI, has its shovel halfway in the ground. This situation is extremely urgent and more difficult to resolve. Residents and elected officials must act now.

“Quality of life” is a subjective term. Some Arlandrian residents struggling to make ends meet don’t think a 636,000-square-foot development will enhance their quality of life. On the contrary, it would likely raise their rent. In wealthier Old Town, residents worry their quality of life will be stampeded by hotels. The council must treat Arlandria stakeholders as they did Old Town residents.

The only way to realize the city’s vision of an inclusive, socioeconomically diverse Arlandria is to include every sect of city in the decision-making process. The City of Alexandria doesn’t have unilateral control over the property in question, but this is not City Hall’s first rodeo with developers. The government has influence but must choose to use it. It should start by deferring approval and compromising with Arlandria stakeholders as it did with Old Town residents.



  1. I wonder if the transportation issues have been reviewed and addressed. I sometimes drive through this area using Ridge Road to go to Pentagon Mall or heading into DC, and it can be brutal, without a high rise apartment building in the neighborhood. Also, I wonder why a better pedestrian crossing at Glebe and Russell hasn’t been installed. Virtually no cars turning right onto Russell (near St. Rita’s) stop for pedestrians, often families with young children.

  2. I could be wrong, but I believe the Old Town redevelopment is being bankrolled with tax payer funds. The Arlandria development is private property and will be developed with private funds. That is the difference. I AM an Arlandria resident and I see nothing wrong with a property owner making use of his property. The development will add jobs and the increased property value will add to the City’s tax base. With the city obtaining proffers like they did at Carlyle, I say, City Council…approve it.

  3. Russ, Parts of the waterfront plan approved by the planning commission, like public parks, will likely be paid for with taxpayer dollars. But the three main waterfront sites that will likely undergo commercial development are privately owned. It will be up to the property owners and developers to develop them, just like in Arlandria.

  4. For years now I have been a proponent of of two things; the addition of affordable housing in need base communities and urban revitalization through the use of approved zoning ordinances and SUPs. Sometimes, one is impossible when the other exists but, not here, not in Arlandria.

    Arlandria represents a culturally diverse community consisting of small businesses supported by subsidized, low and middle income housing that plays a key role in the economic viability of it’s surrounding communities and of the city itself.

    I have recently been afforded the opportunity to review the proposal as outlined on Agenda 8 of today’s (12/17) Alexandria City Council docket and, based on that scope of knowledge, I wish to express my deepest support for the proposed Arlandria Commercial Re-Development.

    Many of those who oppose the plan protest the issue on the basis that they believe as subsidized, low or middle income residents they’ll be displaced by the construction and that “gentrification” will do the rest. On the contrary, the current proposal which, among other things requests a Special Use Permit to a building height restriction actually suggests the developer increase the amount of subsidized housing in the area thereby spurring economic growth through personal financial freedom, the jobs that come with the addition of small business and the construction of these facilities.

    Alexandria is quickly becoming a progressive city and in order to play that role effectively, progress must be made in areas deemed otherwise lacking fiscal stability, such as Arlandria. I am hard pressed to oppose any development that will strengthen the commercial and residential stability of a struggling economic region.

    The addition of modern, mixed-use, diverse small to medium sized businesses and the increase in subsidized housing represents a massive win for the City and for the City to vote contrary to the Planning Commission’s recommended 6-0 vote would be detrimental to the overall foundation of the Arlandria area.

    Thankfully, it seems the Council agrees with the planning commissions recommendation and while I clearly support the Commission and Council in this case, I highly recommend that the City Council listen very closely to it’s Arlandria constituents as they protest this issue as I’m writing this.

    While not the case here; it’s long been my opinion that our current City Council has alienated themselves from the general public and our citizens have become disenfranchised by the City Government.

    Perhaps the Arlandria community is so outraged because they feel there has been a lack of communication in the subject?

    Either way, progress can almost never be a bad thing but progress without support is counter-productive.

    – Scott Gordon

  5. If you can’t possibly see someone else’s viewpoint, then you will never be able to look at the entire picture. No one is against new development, most of us want to live in areas that are financially viable, safe, walkable, and have great school systems. So, let’s take “why would you be against new development that will bring so much more to Arlandria”. Let’s take that off the table b/c that isn’t the issue w/ those opposing the new development.
    Like the writer stated “no one can “control” gentrification”. It may not be your intention, but this is America and capitalism drives everything. With the highrise being built, the landlords in the surrounding areas are business people and they will increase their rents to keep up with the market in that area. That directly affects the current residents who live in Arlandria, who are the “working poor”. It will naturally make it so they will not be able to afford their rents, and they will have to leave. Your talking about a community of people who work 2 and three jobs, just to keep their heads above water.

    What you also may not understand about the trade-off with the developers asking for the two extra floors, so they included 28 units of “affordable” housing. But the “affordable” piece is relative, the affordable for this development is $50,000. The Arlandria residents who are renters w/ families, do not make $50,000 if they did they wouldn’t be living in Arlandria. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that the new development is for people w/ no children, or a family with one child.

    Scott Gordon made an unbiased statement when he stated although he isn’t for the development, that Council members should still be looking at the constituents concerns. They didn’t. The only council member who voted against it was….Alicia Hughes. She is a Republican. Which goes to show, that the one party you would think would be against something like “affordable housing”. But she was the lone wolf.
    The Council didn’t take into account all of the people who came out to tell you to vote against this development.
    So, you mean to tell me there was no other way to go back to the drawing board. Bad Business decision!
    It’s all good, because that just means it’s VOTING TIME, and change is a coming!
    There are many registereda and ctive voters, who will GET OUT THE VOTE, AND CONTINUE TO MAKE OUR VOICE HEARD IN MANY DIFFERENT, NEW, AND CREATIVE WAYS.