Shops project in Del Ray in tune with the Avenue

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In an effort to increase Del Rays image as a shoppers destination, the Alexandria Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for a the Shops at Del Ray, a 12,430 square foot development that will be a combination of retail and office space on Mount Vernon Avenue.

The Shops will be located at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue, bordering Oxford Ave., on a space currently occupied by Mikes Garage, a Citgo gas and service station. There will be 6,500 square feet of retail on the ground floor and 5,900 square feet of office space on the second level.

The project was presented to the Del Ray Civic Associations land use committee in February 2007 who looked the proposed shops building design, set back, parking, open space location and other determining factors. They also looked at the level of compliance with the Mount Vernon Avenue Urban Overlay and the Mount Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan. The plan includes strategies for land use, retail marketing and arts promotion, urban design, streetscape and zoning while protecting the surrounding neighborhoods and encouraging a mixed-use, pedestrian oriented atmosphere.

Its going to even out the landscape, said Nora Partlow, owner at St. Elmos Coffee House a few doors down. Partlow is a member of the Potomac West Business Association and the Del Ray Civic Association which are groups that looked at the plans closely, and decided that the Shops will bring more business and foot traffic to the area. People will come, walk around and have a leisurely visit, Partlow said.

Irene Schanz, a resident of Del Ray for the past 23 years, is glad to see more activity. Schanz is a yoga teacher at the Ultimate Results Center across the street. Any improvement is fine, she said.

The Shops project falls with the guidelines for a Tier 2 improvement in the Mount Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan, said Amy Slack who co-chairs the land use committee on the DRCA. For example, the Tier 2 guidelines call for 15 percent of ground level open space, and this project has 32 percent open space. Although there isnt a firm mold for the appearance and dimensions for businesses on Mount Vernon Avenue, the Shops building has similar height, rythmn of windows and setbacks that fit with the surrounding businesses. It has a lot of characteristics of other buildings on the avenue, Slack said. There isnt really one style here, added Schanz.

Not everyone is happy though. Linda Lyons, a former resident of Del Ray that now lives in neighboring Rosemont, isnt happy with the fake modernism, appearance of the faade shes seen in drawings. It looks like it belongs in a strip mall, she said. Lyons thinks a design reflecting the 1920s or 1930s look that many of the other Del Ray businesses have would be more fitting. Up the street, an old bank was renovated in that fashion, which Lyons calls just wonderful.

Another point that was not finalized was the plan for loading and unloading at the Shops. The original plan had the loading done from a loading zone on the street, but there was some opposition so the plan was amended to allow unloading from smaller trucks on-site, which is in the rear of the structure, any loading and unloading from large trucks be done temporarily on the Avenue. The city was urged to look at alternatives and they agreed to work with the Mount Vernon Avenue Area Business Plan Implementation Work Group on that.

So far, a local restaurateur has shown interest in one of the available spaces but none for the other space or the office spaces on the second level.

The lease of the current tenant at the station expires in four months, but they did just install new pumps at the station. Although Partlow said part of the plan is to locate the service station down the street, Slack disagreed. Mikes could move into a space occupied by a present gas station, but the Del Ray planners are doing away with those automotive type businesses on the Avenue. The Del Ray Gas Station and the Hyundai dealer both have special use permits that are coming up for review, and Slack feels there wont be much enthusiasm in the land use committee. Thats the idea, to move automotive uses off the avenue, she said, people are excited that a gas station is going to get redeveloped.

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