Inova discusses rezoning current hospital site

Inova discusses rezoning current hospital site
The entrance of INOVA Alexandria Hospital on the corner of Seminary Road and Howard Street. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

By Will Schick |

Representatives from Inova Alexandria Hospital hosted a community meeting via Zoom on Jan. 6 to discuss rezoning the hospital’s current Seminary Road location in advance of the redevelopment of Landmark Mall, which will include a new Inova hospital campus.

The meeting came as part of a series of virtual community forums hosted by the City of Alexandria, developer Foulger-Pratt and representatives from Inova regarding the health care provider’s proposed $1 billion investment in the redevelopment of Landmark Mall.

Located on the city’s West End, the new facility will feature a 230-bed hospital with a fully operable cancer treatment center and will also be certified as a level two trauma center. Once completed, the hospital would become one of three level- two trauma centers in Virginia.

According to Dr. Rina Bansal, president of Inova Alexandria Hospital, “any complex trauma cases are [currently] taken outside of Alexandria either to G.W. [George Washington University Medical Center in down-town Washington D.C.] or Inova Fairfax Hospital.”

(Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

The move, however, poses the question of what to do about the current property. According to Cathy Puskar, the land-use attorney representing Inova, the hospital must sell the property to developers to fund their proposed redevelopment of Landmark Mall.

“This is a critical financial component of Inova’s ability to construct the project at Landmark Mall,” Puskar said.

At the meeting, Inova proposed that the city consider rezoning the site for residential use, allowing for the construction of more dense housing to include townhomes, which would potentially enable Inova to secure a higher bid for the property. The site is currently zoned strictly to enable the building of single-family homes, according to Puskar.

Attendees, who posed their questions in advance or via virtual chat, presented concerns with this rezoning plan. Some stated they were worried that the new zoning would also allow for the building of multi-family housing units, such as condos, in addition to town-homes. Developments such as this, they added, could lead to problems with over-crowding at nearby schools or increased traffic in the surrounding area.

“One of the categories that [the proposed rezoning plan] seems to allow under the permitted uses is multi-family buildings such as Fox Chase … and I think that would be an issue to the neighborhood,” Carter Flemming, president of the Seminary Hill Association, said.

“Townhouses and single-family homes are one thing but large apartment buildings … that is a concern down the road with this immediate rezoning,” Flemming added.

Resident Amanda Kelley raised concerns about how the rezoning would affect school crowding. “As someone who lives on the west side and has children who go to school on the west side, I am aware that schools on the west side are already crowded,” Kelley said. “How do you expect forcing more kids into the schools into the west side will work? Do you have a plan?”

Some residents raised concerns around traffic and how the rezoned property could result in untenable amounts of vehicle traffic in the area.

“With the increase of traffic in residential housing units in the area, I don’t believe this current traffic pattern can handle the traffic,” resident John Allen said.

Based on findings from transportation consultant Wells and Associates, Puskar argued the hospital’s move would have the opposite effect, reducing the number of cars coming into and out of the area during peak hours.

“[They concluded] that the weekday average daily trips in and out of the hospital from the property in the morning will decrease by over 2,500 trips … and in the a.m. and p.m. peak hours you will see a reduction of trips in and out of the hospital by about 329 trips,” Puskar said.

John Gary Bantam, another resident and attendee, asked whether the city would require a traffic study that will compare current traffic patterns and those from the proposed redeveloped site. According to Puskar, the current proposal for redevelopment would not impact traffic and, thus, would not require a city-mandated traffic analysis.

One attendee brought up the current 25-year agreement between Inova and the community not to ask for rezoning until 2027. The hospital would not move until 2028 when the rezoning would take effect, Puskar said.

Others expressed concerns with how the scenic easements located along the western end of the property would disappear under the current plan. Previous agreements between the hospital and the community in 2002 and 2005 created scenic easements to obscure the hospital’s infrastructure, including its parking lots, from the surrounding neighborhood. These scenic easements will disappear in 2028 when the hospital moves.

“Open space easements shall terminate 50 years from the date of approval or at such time any hospital use or nursing home use on the property ceases to exist,” according to the agreement.

An artist’s rendering of what the completed project, with the new Inova Alexandria Hospital in the distance and an open plaza flanked by residential and retail facilities, might look like. (Courtesy rendering)

Some attendees argued that Inova should consider donating the property to the city or using the space to build affordable housing. Puskar flatly rebuffed these ideas.

“I’m not sure what the sentiment is that [Inova] should be giving it to the city for [a] high school or an affordable housing provider when they’re making a $1 billion investment in Landmark Mall,” Puskar said.

Puskar, however, agreed to reexamine the rezoning proposal. Inova will consider modifying the rezoning proposal to include another use that would explicitly prohibit the construction of multi-family housing while still allowing for the construction of townhomes, according to Puskar.