Council rezones INOVA: Seminary Hill, Arlandria residents voice concerns over future of hospital site

Council rezones INOVA: Seminary Hill, Arlandria residents voice concerns over future of hospital site
The emergency entrance at INOVA Alexandria Hospital. (Photo/File)

By Katherine Hapgood |

City Council unanimously passed Inova Alexandria Hospital’s request to change the land use designation of the property from Institutional to Residential Medium during Saturday’s public hearing. This request is due to Inova moving its Alexandria location, currently located on Seminary Road, to Landmark Mall, which is planned for completion in 2028.

The request passed by council aimed to change the land use designation of the current Inova site from Institutional to Residential and rezoning the property to the RB zone, which would allow for single-family residences to be built on the property. Inova originally proposed rezoning the property to the residential RA zone, which would allow for larger apartment complexes to be built on site.

In the leadup to council’s decision on Saturday, the Seminary Hill Association expressed concern over how the rezoning squared with a previous agreement between Inova and SHA. Members of SHA cited a private, notarized and signed agreement between Inova and SHA that restricted the zoning of Inova to single family residences if the hospital ever moved. This agreement, which is dated 2001, expires in February 2027.

SHA started a petition to require council to pass the rezoning with a supermajority. Per SHA’s petition, if two council members had voted against it, then the rezoning would have been deferred until Inova’s new agreement was worked out with the civic association.

SHA President Carter Flemming sent a letter to Mayor Justin Wilson and City Council on June 12, discussing the need for the agreement to be updated, allowing Inova to rezone as long as it provides written commitment to sell the property to a developer that will maintain the updated RB zoning. Flemming also requested a formal agreement between Inova and SHA that Inova won’t rezone or sell the site for 10 years.

“This does not give our neighborhood the security we would normally get if this rezoning was proceeding in a normal fashion with an accompanying [development special use permit],” Flemming said.

“Inova will not be the developer of the property and has made it clear that they will have no control over the property once it’s sold,” Flemming added.

Cathy Puskar, the attorney representing Inova, denied the request to update the agreement between Inova and SHA. Inova is scheduled to vacate the current property on Seminary Road in 2028.

“The hospital [will] be on the property until 2028 because the [new] hospital will not be built until 2028,” Puskar said. “We are getting the rezoning now so that we [can] understand the value of the property to sell it to a future developer.”

In response to the concerns around the agreement between Inova and SHA, City Attorney Joanna Anderson said that since the 2001 agreement is a private matter, the city cannot get involved.

“It’s not necessarily appropriate for me to be determining whether they are in compliance or not of that private agreement, as it is a private agreement,” Anderson said.

Puskar also mentioned that Inova had already held three open conversations for residents and SHA to voice their concerns.

“SHA affirmatively requested that [Inova] apply for a change of zoning to RB,” Puskar said.

Inova originally intended to rezone the property to RA, which would allow for a higher population density than the current compromised rezoning request of RB.

According to Puskar, SHA did not raise any additional concerns at the three meetings and waited until June 12 to mention additional concerns.

“Throughout our meetings with Inova’s attorney, we’ve been assured that Inova wants to maintain the residential character of this site, and we support that commitment,” Flemming said.

However, Flemming said SHA’s main concern remains that after Inova sells the property, there are few guarantees that the buyer will maintain the land as an RB zone.

Several residents also attended the hearing to voice their concerns about the rezoning, specifically citing potential rent increases in the area.

Residents of Arlandria said that they want the hospital property to remain zoned for single family homes. Sindy Garcia, an Arlandria resident, said that she was concerned that their rent will go up.

“This proposal is not prioritizing our diverse communities, as we combat the housing crisis we face,” Garcia said.

Many residents already work several jobs, with upward of 40% of their income going toward rent, according to Garcia.

Members of the city’s Planning and Zoning Department were present at the public hearing and weighed in on the discussion between Inova and SHA.

“It is somewhat uncommon for us to have rezonings without DSUPs, but it is far from unusual in the planning practice, and it’s not unusual in the city’s history,” Director of the Department of Planning and Zoning Director Karl Moritz said.

Several members of council weighed in on the discussions between SHA and Inova as well, echoing some concerns about the process and SHA’s legally binding agreement with INOVA but also agreeing with the city attorney that the city has little maneuverability in this process.

Councilor Amy Jackson asked Puskar if “the 2001 agreement is legally binding.” Puskar did not directly state whether the agreement was legally binding, even though the agreement is notarized.

Jackson also asked whether the RB zoning allows for a school on the site, which Moritz said it does.

Councilor John Chapman mentioned concerns about Inova leaving the community if the rezoning was not approved. Puskar mentioned this could be a possibility, as Inova needs the funds generated by the sale of an RB-zoned property to build the new hospital.

Councilor Mo Seifeldein clarified with Planning and Zoning that any future developer of the property would have to come to City Council to discuss any further development.

“So, there’s no fear that if council approves this, we are tying the community to a large sort of development,” Seifeldein said.

Despite his concerns, Seifeldein said both sides had valid points. “This is the challenging part here, which I haven’t seen this, where I think everyone who spoke today was correct,” Seifeldein said.

Councilor Canek Aguirre urged Inova to “start taking a harder look at this [situation] … and to continue their commitment to the area.”

Council voted unanimously, 7-0, to allow Inova to rezone from Institutional to Residential Medium.