Save Del Ray was founded in response to proposed redevelopment of the current HHS building located at 2525 Mt Vernon Ave. In 2019 Bonaventure Holdings spent $22.45m buying real estate along Mt Vernon Ave including 2525 (Alexandria HHS), the entire block from 2401-2419 (the United Bank building to Piece Out including the parking lot used for the Farmer’s Market), and the corner of Mt. Vernon and Hume. 2525 is the first of these parcels to be developed. Here is how the developer describes their mission:
Bonaventure offers vertically integrated multifamily services and solutions that maximize asset value throughout the real estate cycle. The organization excels at creating and implementing comprehensive plans with well-devised growth potential for developing, building and managing communities that people call home. The organization leverages decades of expertise to drive ROI, helping each client reach their specific goals. (Bonaventure company overview brochure)
In other words, they build large apartment buildings. Given the footprint which they have purchased over the last three years, Bonaventure has the ability to fundamentally alter the character and density of Mt Vernon Ave from Hume to Oxford.
What’s at stake?
The Mt Vernon Ave Business Area Plan has helped guide exponential economic growth and property values over the last decade while ensuring that Del Ray retains it’s unique character and sense of history. Over the last decade, Del Ray has seen property values, community engagement and the number of successful businesses grow exponentially. This economic growth has happened while retaining the identity of the Town of Potomac, celebrating the architectural style, architectural scale and style.
The project as planned will establish a new prevailing building height and density which will be used as the basis for future projects. This will set a precedence which risks Mt Vernon Ave being littered with placeless apartments and big box retail. As Bonaventure are using prior projects to justify increasing the prevailing height and density, it makes it all the more important to limit the height and density of this project as much as possible.
The Mt Vernon Area Business Plan was established by the community and city to provide guidelines which have proven to facilitate exponential growth in the quality of life, available amenities, community engagement and tax base. The guidelines set forth have proven to be a resounding success. The plan put forth by Bonaventure ignores 10 of the 11 guidelines. Our demands are that in redevelopment, the decades of cooperation between the community are not undone by ignoring what has proven to be successful.
What are the issues?
Our concerns with the current proposed project replacing 2525 Mt Vernon Ave:
- Establishing precedence. The most significant concern is that this project – like the buildings mentioned in the developer’s presentation – will be used to as a basis for variances to future project height and density. As the developer has recently purchased over 90,000 sq. ft. of real estate along Mt Vernon Ave, this amplifies the impact each of the below has on the character of Del Ray and quality of life for those of us who live here.
- Overall density.
- Traffic. The 79 units are surrounded by two lane streets on all sides. Deliveries, curb side pickups and ride shares will need happen somewhere. What traffic impact studies are planned and how will the design be adjusted based on these studies? How will vehicle traffic described above impact traffic flow and volume not only on the adjacent streets but also on Dewitt Ave and the streets which connect to Route 1 (Raymond and Custis)? If the emphasis is on carless residents, traffic from ride share will be significantly higher than with the existing single-family homes.
- Parking. With the parking spaces being leased independent of the units, those who are challenged with affordability are likely to use the surrounding residential streets. Walking a few blocks for parking is not uncommon in other dense, urban areas. Covered parking in the area ranges $100-250/month. This is sufficient expense to offset the inconvenience of walking a few blocks. Visitor and car-share parking seems to be wholly unaccounted for and there is a significant potential to impact the quality of life for residents on the surrounding streets. We can’t just hope people won’t have cars. That’s not a plan.
- Sidewalk capacity. The shift of the west wall towards Mt Vernon and the addition of outdoor dining will put pressure on what are already narrow sidewalks. Building to the easement lines on the Stewart Ave side removes open space to absorb people capacity. A lack of bike storage options and e-scooters littering the sidewalks are also of concern. If there is a premise that the units will be occupied by non-car owners, these need to be addressed in a way which does not impact the public right of way.
- Sanitary sewers and stormwater management. The addition of 79 more residential units will further stress already overloaded sanitary sewer lines. Residents in many areas of Del Ray experience sewer backups and flooding during heavy rains. While the city is beginning to address the issue, this project and follow-on development should be required to establish better than net-neutral storm water holding and require adequate capacity sanitary sewer capacity as part of the zoning approval.
- Building height and lot fill. The proposed building is significantly taller than the existing structure and inconsistent with the surrounding commercial and residential buildings. All the buildings highlighted in the initial proposal for height comparison have significantly greater setbacks than the 2525 location. MVCS by comparison is more than twice the distance from the Mt Vernon Ave curb to the building than the 2525 plans. The presentation emphasized the “wedding cake” design to create a visual step back from the vertical of the property line. In the renderings, the balconies appear to counteract this visual step back and reinforce the vertical monolith when viewed from the sidewalk perspective.
- Historic context. The architecture is out of place in Del Ray. Bonaventure’s portfolio examples have no focus on historic preservation or community context. No nod to the deco past or intimate feel of Del Ray. The proliferation of placeless architecture is a growing phenomenon across historic Alexandria. If we wish to continue to have our historic charm create an economic premium on Alexandria, we need to honor the historic character with more than a historic plaque indicating what used to be present.
- Construction impact. A project of this magnitude will need to stage construction materials, place cranes and debris removal during construction. For those that lived here during the construction of “Del Ray Central” the developer used the public street as their private staging area reducing Mt Vernon Ave to a single lane for much of the construction.
What needs to change?
- The existing proposal should be revised to thoughtfully conform to each of the guiding principles of the Mt Vernon Ave Business Area Plan. All parties – the developer, the City, City Council and the Mayor’s office – should consider the historic context, scale and density when reviewing and approving this project.
- The city should not approve any Special Use Permits or variances without detailed consultation with and documented input from the residents of Del Ray. These are exceptions to zoning not the rule and any exception should be well justified.
How can you get involved?
- Talk to your neighbors about the impact and more importantly the precedence of the 2525 project. Check out our resources page for materials you can print, email and share to spread the word
- Sign up for email updates to stay informed of the latest developments and to be reminded of critical meetings that need your support
- Connect with SaveDelRay.Org on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and share our pages
- Join the Del Ray Citizen’s Association and make your concerns known (see sample communications).
- Contact City Council and the Mayor’s office to let them know your concerns (see sample communications)
- Show up to DRCA general and Land Use Committee meetings to voice your concerns – the number of attendees matters!
- If you’re a member of the Del Ray Business Association, get engaged to help others see the long-term impact to our neighborhood
- Join us! While we have a lot of support from the community, we need help! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use our contact form to sign up. If you have a professional skill – legal, urban planning, communications, marketing, and researchers – we need those in spades. Bonaventure has a lot of money and expensive lawyers which get paid to ensure they can, in their words, maximize every opportunity for [them]selves.