By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Another controversial project that has raised concerns about density, parking and safety, but which would considerably boost Alexandria’s supply of affordable housing, will come before City Council at Saturday’s public hearing.
Known as ParcView II, the proposal by Wesley Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit, would involve almost tripling the current ParcView Apartments at 5380 Holmes Run Parkway from a single 14-story affordable housing complex with 149 units to three buildings with 373 units. The proposed project would involve adding two new nine-story buildings, which would house 227 new affordable units on what is now an above ground parking lot. The existing building would then be refurbished.
ParcView II would expand the apartment sizes from one- and two-bedroom units to include some three-bedroom units as well. The project would also expand the scope of affordability from units that are priced between 50% to 60% of the area median income to units that range between 30% and 80% AMI. Construction would start in 2024 and last until summer 2027.
As proposed by Wesley Housing, one of the new buildings would house a 5,100 to 8,000-square foot daycare center or other commercial use, which would be open to all residents.
“I know firsthand that there is a shortage of quality daycare, and the cost is extremely high,” Shelley Murphy, president and CEO of Wesley Housing, said. “Anything that we can do to partner with a qualified daycare provider to provide more affordable daycare that’s on-site or close by to families that live in the area, we consider that a community benefit.”
ParcView II would also bring part of Holmes Run Park back under city ownership. As part of the project, Wesley Housing is looking to subdivide 15,644 square feet of parkland that is currently on the site and deed it to the city.
The project received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission on Feb. 1, and Wesley Housing now seeks rezoning approval and a development special use permit from City Council. Despite resounding support from the Planning Commission, neighbors are much more critical of ParcView II.
Many of the residents who expressed concerns with the project agreed with the goal behind the project – to increase affordable housing in a city and region that is in desperate need of it – yet disagreed with the need for and practicality of a project like ParcView II in this specific area. Several ParcView residents declined to comment for this story, stating they were afraid of losing their housing if they publicly opposed the project.
Located half a mile from Landmark Mall, ParcView is surrounded by high rise condominium and apartment buildings. Claridge House, which borders ParcView to the west, includes about 300 units of Section 8 housing for those age 62 and up, making up nearly half of the city’s total stock of Section 8 senior housing.
James Lewis, the vice chair of the city’s traffic and parking board who ran for council in the 2021 Democratic primary, lives in one of the nearby buildings. He agreed with the need for affordable housing in the city but said his fear is that in the pursuit of affordable housing, the city is “effectively building a tenement” with a large-scale project dedicated solely to affordable housing in an area of the city already full of affordable housing.
“What we’re effectively doing here is saying, ‘Because you need affordable housing, you only get to live here,’ and what we should be saying is, ‘There needs to be affordable housing in every project in this city period, end of the story,’” Lewis said.
During the Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Melissa McMahon said the city needs to explore building both large-scale affordable projects such as ParcView II as well as integrating affordable units into market-rate projects.
“The provision of deeply affordable housing within a 100% affordable project is a great achievement for us,” McMahon said. “I know there are folks who are concerned and might have preference for mixed-income where affordable housing units go into market rate projects. … Those are also desirable, but by and large we don’t get deeply affordable units and we don’t get a lot of units unless projects are participated in and developed by the affordable housing partners that wield a lot of different resources to achieve affordable housing. So, a 100% affordable project in a neighborhood that is of mixed incomes is a mixed-income neighborhood, and that’s a good thing too.”
Some residents have also taken issue with Wesley Housing’s rezoning proposal, which would rezone the site from RC – designated for high density apartments – to RMF, or multifamily residential zone. Created in 2019, the RMF zone is a tool designed to “provide land areas for multifamily residential development and to enhance or preserve longterm affordability of housing,” according to the city’s zoning ordinance.
Lewis said that the proposal takes the wrong lessons from a previous RMF rezoning case: the Heritage in Old Town.
“[The Heritage is] much more connected to the Metro and transit. It’s much more connected to, frankly, the places people work,” Lewis said. “There’s not a lot of employment opportunities out here other than the MacDonald’s and a restaurant, so people are living here and commuting to their places of work and our transit system is unfortunately not set up that way.”
In practice, the RMF zone allows developers to increase the floor area ratio of their projects, allowing for added density, in exchange for including additional deeply affordable units. In the case of ParcView II, Wesley Housing will provide 25 units at 30% AMI, 45 at 40% AMI and 22 at 50% AMI.
Donna Fossum, a Holmes Run resident who served on the Planning Commission for 23 years, said rezoning to RMF would increase density in an area that is already fairly dense.
“We have over 3,000 households in these square blocks, all of which qualify as market rate affordable housing,” Fossum said. “… So, we [do] not [have] a problem with affordable housing. We [have] a problem with crowding.”
Nathan Macek, chair of the Planning Commission, said at the Feb. 1 meeting that he believes ParcView II is “a perfectly creative” use of the RMF zone and that he would like to see more projects make use of surface parking to bring in additional affordable housing.
“I think this is the future for us as a city, and I’m happy to support this project,” Macek said.
Residents in adjacent condominium buildings and affordable housing complexes have raised questions about the potential impact of construction and pile driving on the existing ParcView building, as well as other buildings in the area. Wesley Housing plans to have current residents live on site throughout the duration of the two-to-three-year construction project. Current residents would then be relocated once construction is complete, in order to refurbish the units in the current building.
Neighbors have focused primarily on the one month of pile driving involved with the project, claiming that the geological conditions of the area make the project higher risk than in other parts of the city.
According to Rod Simmons, a natural resource manager who works for the city, parts of ParcView and the surrounding properties in the Holmes Run area sit on top of Lincolnia silt clay, which while not as foundationally unstable as materials like marine or Arell clay, can be particularly susceptible to landslides.
“In both cases, the slopes can be unstable, and in the case of marine clay or Arell clay it’s common or almost guaranteed, whereas with the Lincolnia silty clay it’s not quite as likely or as threatening but it’s still a major consideration,” Simmons said.
Residents have also expressed concern with Wesley Housing’s approach to parking. The project would replace the above ground parking lot with a two-level underground parking garage, providing 289 underground parking spots, in addition to 25 surface parking spots that would remain elsewhere on the site.
The city included a condition in the DSUP that requires Wesley Housing to provide alternative parking within 500 feet of ParcView during construction. If Wesley Housing has to go beyond 500 feet to find parking for residents, the nonprofit would have to provide shuttle service to parking. Meanwhile, once the garage is built, Wesley Housing plans to unbundle parking, which means residents will have to pay a separate fee if they want to park on site. According to Murphy, the cost of parking would be “nominal” given the population living in ParcView and would amount to between $25 and $50 a month.
“My concern here is that by unbundling the parking we are going to add an additional cost to people already living in affordable housing, who are already struggling to afford to live in our community,” Lewis said.
Macek pushed back and said that the cost of housing would increase for all ParcView residents if the cost of parking was bundled.
“By unbundling it, we actually make the housing more affordable for those who don’t need parking,” Macek said at the Feb. 1 meeting. “I think we fall into this trap that because many with means have cars, we assume that everybody in the city owns a car. That’s not the case, especially for these affordable projects.”
The discussion about ParcView II will continue on Saturday during City Council’s public hearing with a vote scheduled on both the DSUP and site rezoning