Developer proposes upscale housing, restaurant on Alexandria warehouse site


Rendering of the pier and wharf in front of a planned residential and retail development at the site of Robinson Terminal South in Old Town Alexandria. (Courtesy EYA Associates)

A massive warehouse that for 70 years has perched at Duke Street on the Alexandria waterfront would be replaced with high-end residences, retail and a restaurant with views of the Potomac River, according to plans presented to the city’s ­Waterfront Commission on Tuesday.

Robert D. Youngentob, a principal in the development company EYA, outlined the firm’s concept for an approximately $200 million project that he said will transform the 3.5-acre site from industrial to a modern residential-commercial mix.

The presentation was the first public glimpse of what would replace the building known as Robinson Terminal South, which Graham Holdings — the former owner of The Washington Post — agreed to sell to EYA last year.

In addition to about 100 condominium units and townhouses, the project includes a public promenade and an upgraded pier that would allow boats and yachts to tie up for daytime visits. It is a key part of the Alexandria waterfront plan, which was the subject of a pitched two-year battle over the eight blocks of Old Town that border the Potomac. Opponents objected to the traffic and congestion that more development could bring.

“We know there is a lot of controversy and history with the city’s waterfront plan, and we want to balance, not overwhelm, the area,” Youngentob said in an interview.

Lawsuits by opponents have failed to stop the waterfront plan, twice endorsed by the Alexandria City Council. It allows two boutique hotels, new residences and expanded parks along the river. Traffic, landscape design and flood mitigation studies are underway.

The Waterfront Commission, an advisory group appointed by the City Council, received the proposal with little discussion early Tuesday at its meeting.

“People were in general pretty pleased,” said council member Paul Smedberg (D), who serves on the commission. “There were some questions about environmental issues, the piers, how people would get in and out.”

The next significant step will be when the developers turn the concept into an actual plan. EYA officials said they expect to stay within the city’s 50-foot height limit for the site, with condominium buildings of four or five stories.

The land will be raised, an effort to prevent flooding. The waterfront street, called the Strand, will be extended through the old warehouse property, then connected with Union Street.

The Robinson Terminal South warehouse is one of two along the waterfront that were owned by Graham Holdings and sold last year. The northern warehouse, at Oronoco and Union streets, was sold to City Interests and Armada Hoffler, which plan a boutique hotel, condominium units and retail space.

A building at 2 Duke St., which Robinson Terminal Warehouse Co. used as its headquarters, probably will be converted to an architect’s office, an art gallery or other low-intensity commercial use, Youngentob said.

EYA officials said they intend to spend “multiple millions” on their part of the project before the sale closes, which will happen when they have all the needed approvals for the development.

Other development along the waterfront is also moving forward. The council in January approved the construction of a 120-room hotel by Carr Hospitality adjacent to the EYA property.

Blackwall Hitch, a large restaurant intended to replace the former Torpedo Factory Food Pavilion, was approved in December. The city is negotiating with the Old Dominion Boat Club over replacing its parking lot, and possibly its clubhouse, at the foot of King Street with new parking spaces and a park and public plaza.

If all goes well, Youngentob said, EYA hopes to break ground on the warehouse project in the summer of 2015. The plans must be approved by the Waterfront Commission, the local board of architectural review, the Planning Commission and the City Council.

EYA is familiar with the planning gantlet in Alexandria because it has built more than 10 residential projects there over the past 21 years. The firm’s work includes the Oronoco, a waterfront property that Youngentob said is similar to the condominium units planned for the Robinson property. EYA also built Fords Landing and Old Town Commons.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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