Nowhere is the city’s accelerating urbanization more robust than in two contiguous areas of northeastern Alexandria: the newly developing Potomac Yard and the redeveloping Braddock neighborhood immediately south of Potomac Yard.
Transit-oriented and walkable, both areas are being transformed by higher density, mixed-use development and redevelopment. Financed primarily through private investment, new real estate both in Potomac Yard and in the Braddock neighborhood is making the city more urban and urbane.
Within just these two areas, dozens of new buildings are now going up or soon will be going up. They will contain about 3,000 sale or rental apartments and townhomes. Accompanying all this housing will be hundreds of thousands of square feet of new shopping, office, hotel and institutional space, along with new parks and other recreational and civic amenities.
Whether the city’s citizens realize it, this part of Alexandria will acquire millions of square feet of new, taxable property. And the city will acquire several thousand new voters, taxpayers and workers. Inevitably, Alexandria’s demographic and fiscal center of gravity will shift northward.
An entirely new urban environment, Potomac Yard is taking shape on a 295-acre former railroad yard stretching southward from East Glebe Road. About a mile long but only two blocks wide, the Potomac Yard site is bounded on the west by U.S. Route 1, also known as Jefferson Davis Highway, and on the east by the Blue and Yellow Metrorail line.
At Potomac Yard, Pulte Homes already has developed several blocks of traditionally styled, three-story townhomes and “townhome condominium” duplexes. The latter are two-level units stacked one above the other within four-story structures designed to look like large, vaguely neoclassical apartment buildings. Eventually, the Pulte development will contain about 450 dwellings.
In the approval pipeline elsewhere at Potomac Yard are five mid-rise apartment buildings containing more than 1,000 units. A couple of these buildings will include street-level space for a small store. But one of the largest will house a 70,000-square-foot supermarket with 291 apartments above and 479 residential and retail parking spaces in the garage below. In fact, there will be no large surface parking lots at Potomac Yard.
Regrettably, out of all these units, only a few are destined to be “affordable” workforce housing. Unlike in Maryland and D.C., zoning in Virginia does not require developers to provide a minimum percentage of below-market-price units. Any affordable units will be linked to density bonuses.
Also regrettably, there is so far little to celebrate architecturally at Potomac Yard. Design preferences remain conservative rather than contemporary. But this could change as development progresses and density increases.