Our View: Sometimes redevelopment is a win-win proposition


New development is not inherently good. But, as many Alexandrians often appear to forget, its not innately bad either. Clearly, the BRAC project in the West End of the city is an example of poorly planned development: little community benefit and massive negative consequences from a pending traffic nightmare. The contentious waterfront redevelopment plan is an example of a project with clear benefits, but also drawbacks that need to be addressed. It was properly sent back to the drawing board.
Sometimes a plan really is almost all good news. The Harris Teeter project approved unanimously by City Council on Saturday fits that bill. The list of benefits from this project, located at the corner of North St. Asaph and Madison streets, is long. First of all, a high-quality grocery store (with apartments above and parking below) will come to Old Town, increasing convenience for shoppers and competition for their dollars. The store will be within walking distance for many in Old Town, and a convenient stop on the way home from work for others. Greater competition should mean lower grocery prices.
The development will bring additional economic benefits to Alexandria. It is projected to provide a net of $1 million yearly in new taxes for the city. In tough economic times, thats a welcome boost to city revenues. And the store estimates it will create 150 new jobs, clearly a positive at a time when so many people are out of work. A significant portion of those hired will hopefully be local residents who can walk to work. Nearby property values should also rise after this project is realized.
Development of this parcel of land will also aesthetically improve the neighborhood. As Mayor Bill Euille correctly said on Saturday, the area in question is currently an eyesore. It consists of two vacant buildings in disrepair, a small dry cleaning store currently in use, a small parking lot and open areas that are either overgrown with weeds or consist of large concrete slabs left over from previous buildings. This will be replaced by a five-story building that is 68 feet tall, much smaller in size than the nearby Sheraton Hotel, which is 100 feet tall, or the enormous Alexandria House on Pitt Street that is 200 feet tall. The plans architecture fits with the surrounding neighborhood.
Finally, the city gets an improved park in the deal. Since the site in question doesnt have enough room for public open space, the developer has agreed to finish enhancements to nearby Montgomery Park that have never been completed because of budgetary constraints. Enhancements will be made to the dog park and paths, and new plantings will be done. The developer will put $400,000 toward the improvements and a maintenance endowment.
New undertakings seldom happen without any consequences. Many residents of Alexandria House, which is directly across Pitt Street from the site, voiced concerns Saturday about traffic and pedestrian safety from vehicles coming in and out of the parking garage that will be located on Pitt Street. Others argued that the scale of the Harris Teeter store, at 52,476 square feet, was too large for the location.
Those concerns, while legitimate, do not negate the good this project will bring to Alexandria. Sometimes, in the rarest of occurrences, a project is clearly a win-win-win for the developer, city government and Alexandrians.