Edens project breaks ground in North Old Town

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By James Cullum (Courtesy photo)

The 50,000 square-foot Edens redevelopment of the old Giant Food property in North Old Town broke ground earlier this month, but some residents remain wary of a lack of parking availability.

“The parking issue is major, and traffic is going to become a nightmare,” said Ann Shack, who has lived in North Old Town since 1987. “We have a definite parking problem on the east side of Washington Street.”

The LEED-certified project at 530 First St. will be 77 feet tall and include 232 luxury rental units with partner Gables Residential, 481 underground parking spaces and more than 50,000 square feet of commercial space for retail and restaurants.

It will include an enhanced streetscape and a Capital Bikeshare station. Officials said neighboring residents and businesses soon will receive a preconstruction survey on potential damage due to construction activities.

Mayor Allison Silberberg said she is sensitive to concerns about parking in Old Town, but she is excited about the project.

“I think that our main concern across the city needs to continue to focus on how we manage congestion and parking, and with Edens people do live around there and will walk to some of those restaurants and retail stores, but a number of people will drive,” she said. “North Old Town is in an uptick and is undergoing quite a number of new building projects, and there is a small area plan for North Old Town that is under consideration.”

Silberberg was joined at the groundbreaking by Edens CEO Jodie McLean and City Manager Mark Jinks. The company has built upwards of 120 retail centers across the country, including the Haymarket Village Center in Haymarket, Va., and the Union Market Center and CityVista developments in D.C.

“We are very proud to launch this project today in Alexandria,” McLean said in a statement. “When community is strong, so is its economy. … We are thrilled to begin to transform this space into a place that supports and thrives alongside its neighborhood.”

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said the project is going to add vitality to North Old Town.

“The most exciting part is the significant retail space on the site,” he said. “Particularly in that area, what we’ve heard from the neighborhood is a desire for some retail options.”

City officials are working on an update to the 1992 small area plan for North Old Town that will accommodate for residential and commercial changes to the area. The plan, which city council uses to guide future development, calls for reduced energy consumption, sidewalks, an increased tree canopy, buildings that are architecturally engaging and open space.

“We are looking forward to our partnership with Edens and entering the Alexandria market with such a thoughtful community-centric project,” said Sue Ansel, CEO of Gables Residential. “Gables Old Town North will be a high-end mixed-use development that will be a great addition to Old Town.”

But Bert Ely, vice president of the Old Town Civic Association, is concerned that residents of the new apartments will not be able to get parking permits per city council’s 6-0-1 approval of the project last year. He is also not convinced that more retail in North Old Town is a good thing.

“This is a phenomenon — a lot of retail space is hurting because of the Internet,” he said. “I’m frankly skeptical of the claims of how dynamic and exciting the retail is going to be. There’s not much in the way of retail in that area anyway.”

The project is slated to open in 2019.

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