The Alexandria City Council approved a controversial redevelopment proposal of Arlandria’s Mount Vernon Village Center on Saturday afternoon by a 6-1 vote.
The project calls for demolishing the existing shopping center along Mt. Vernon Avenue and replacing it with two, six-story mixed-use buildings that will include 53,000 square feet of street-level retail space and more than 480 multi-family housing units. Parking for the development—a total of 940 spaces—will be available underground.
Hume Springs resident Betty King called the development “a monument of greed and excess.”
Members of the neighborhood’s Salvadoran community and others expressed a belief that public outreach was inadequate during the planning process. Others argued that the project opens the door to gentrification, would raise rents in nearby buildings and represented an assault on the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup.
“We want redevelopment. We just want to be included,” said Gabriel Rojo, director of advocacy group Tenants and Workers United.
Rojo said the language barrier and the “digital divide” were responsible for many citizens not learning about the proposal until just the last week.
A Spanish translator supported many speakers on Saturday. Rojo said many in Arlandria don’t have computer access and cannot rely on city’s eNews service for bulletins and updates on projects like the shopping center.
City staff pointed to 10 community meetings about the project since September, while members of council said the project conforms to the goals and expectations of almost two decades worth of planning in the neighborhood—goals that include maintaining affordable housing and the multiethnic fabric of Arlandria.
Some speakers expressed a belief that council wasn’t making affordable housing a priority. The development will include 28 affordable housing units available for the next 30 years. Construction will not displace any residents.
Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley and several councilmembers said their commitment to making affordable housing available in the face of great challenges has never wavered.
Euille, who grew up in public housing in Alexandria, said it has been a primary dedication during his 18 years on council.
“We’re the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia with real public housing,” Donley said.
Councilman Rob Krupicka, commenting on the extreme difference in income in the city, said the proposal represents the first project in five-plus years that is “market-rate targeted.” He said the development would offer housing at rates affordable to the working class and recent college graduates—a rarity in the city.
Councilwoman Alicia Hughes cast the lone dissenting vote Saturday.
In response to complaints about community outreach, Hughes offered a failed motion to create a work group that would seek more stakeholder input on the project, much like the mayor-appointed Waterfront Work Group, and report back to council at a later date.
In a conversation with Del Ray Patch, Oswald Salinas, a 35-year resident of the Arlandria area and owner of several businesses near the center, expressed fears that the development would have the same effect on Arlandria as MCI Center (now Verizon Center) had on Chinatown in Washington, D.C.
“Chinatown, Little Havana in Miami, those communities are a dying breed,” he said. “I hope the city really is devoted to maintaining the makeup of this neighborhood.”
The project was supported by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the Arlandria-Chirilagua Business Association and the Del Ray Business Association.