Redevelopment planned for DCHS site

Redevelopment planned for DCHS site
The current Department of Community and Human Services office is located at 2525 Mt. Vernon Ave. in Del Ray. (Photo/Google Maps)

By Olivia Anderson |

Alexandria real estate developer Bonaventure Realty has recently announced redevelopment plans for the current Department of Community and Human Services office, which is moving to the West End.

The developer submitted plans earlier this month for a mixed-use project at the site, located at 2525 Mount Vernon Ave in Del Ray. The Washington Business Journal first reported that the plans indicate replacing the 1-acre building and parking lot “with a four-floor, 88,500-squarefoot building with ground-floor retail and 78 apartments above.”

According to WBJ, the project would reach 50-feet high, 10 feet higher than allowed under the local urban overlay zone.

“A dozen of the 78 units would be two-bedroom and the rest one-bedroom,” reported WBJ. “The ground floor would have three retail spaces fronting Mount Vernon Avenue of different sizes, plus an apartment lobby and amenity spaces.”

In order to move forward, the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning must review the project. It must also successfully pass through the Planning Commission and City Council – including public comment.

Some residents expressed concerns regarding plans to eliminate the parking lot, the number of affordable housing units in the new development, and the size of the building.

“This will only solidify making Del Ray into Adams Morgan with zero parking,” Jennifer Beun Rohrbach wrote on the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! Facebook page.

“Del Ray’s turn now for too large buildings,” Fran Vogel, another resident, commented.

Other residents are in support of the proposal. Restaurateur Mike Anderson, who owns Del Ray hotspots Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow, said he thinks the current DCHS office is not the best use of the space, given that the building is so centrally located. He supports DCHS’ transition to the West End.

“Most residents in most areas don’t like change, so that’s always an emotional battle for everybody,” Anderson said. “ … I think converting that building [to] mixed-use residential is going to benefit the community, I think it’s going to benefit the businesses, there’s probably going to be some retail in there which is going to benefit the residents.”

He also said that Bonaventure founder Dwight Dunton has “a really good track record of doing right by the community.”

Previously, Bonaventure purchased other retail and residential properties on Mount Vernon Avenue in 2019. Before that, it purchased the former Anthony’s Auto Center on Mount Vernon Avenue and an office building at Hume Avenue in 2018.

Anderson said that the lot purchased in 2019 contains approximately 100 parking spots beneath it, which is across the street from Pork Barrel BBQ and may quell some of the parking concerns. Bonaventure’s application also indicated that this garage may aid with parking from the new development.

“I’m a fan of his and the work he’s done,” Anderson said. “I think he’s a good developer. He’s a local guy. He’s got roots in Alexandria, so I think he’s making it right by the community – what he’s gonna do down there.”

As for DCHS, director Kate Garvey said plans are well underway to fully move the department to a Mark Center office, located at 4850 Mark Center Drive, in Alexandria’s West End by 2023, with the transition beginning as early as November 2022.

“[The new] development is fine for us because we’re going to be leaving, moving to one single location,” Garvey said. “It won’t harm us in any way because it will not happen until we have left.”

DCHS is currently dispersed in various offices throughout the city, with eight separate buildings for departments like behavioral health, social services, and aging and adult services. Since the department consolidated more than 10 years ago, Garvey said the hope has been to consolidate the workspace as well. This, she said, will make the department’s services more unified and accessible to clients.

“We’ve been wanting, for a long time, to do this, but about three years ago we really started looking where we might all fit,” Garvey said. “ … We’ll be taking over the entire building, so it’s really going to be wonderful.”

It finally became a reality in 2020 when the city agreed on a 15-year lease for the office, owned by the Institute for Defense Analyses. According to Garvey, the health department, permitting services, a finance office and Neighborhood Health will also be in the building.

“The space has tons of meeting rooms, so it would really be a place where groups can come and have meetings. We really want it to be a community asset where people can carry out things they’re interested in in that space,” Garvey said.

DCHS has already conducted preliminary focus groups for those who utilize DCHS services to gauge interest and priorities. Many people requested ample parking, an area where people can eat and relax, a level of childcare and a welcoming environment.

Two more recent sessions encouraged community members and partners to provide feedback on the proposed West End building. These conversations included discussions about the layout, signage and an overall check-in to make sure DCHS is on the right track.

“We’re able to really meet all of those expectations with this new building, so we are super psyched about that,” Garvey said.

Garvey noted that the current Mount Vernon office’s proximity to Arlandria is important, so DCHS is working to ensure a smooth transition for those who will have to travel farther. She said that fortunately the new building is located adjacent to a transit center, which will help alleviate the transportation obstacles many face.

Additionally, DCHS plans to hold events and opportunities for community members and partners to tour the new building as it gets closer to the move.

DCHS anticipates fully consolidating to the new building by February 2023.