When Kathie and Gene McBride moved from Charlotte to be closer to their grown children and grandchildren, they chose Old Town North in the city of Alexandria, Va.
They wanted to live in “a place that was walkable, had infrastructure and had things to do,” Kathie McBride said. They found all three in a neighborhood that is a 10-to-15-minute drive from Reagan National Airport and within walking distance of Old Town Alexandria just south. They can also walk to a Harris Teeter and a Trader Joe’s.
“It’s wonderful because it’s close to a big city like D.C.,” Kathie McBride said. The McBrides, who retired before moving to Old Town North, are from California originally and lived in Hawaii for 15 years before moving to Charlotte.
They said they enjoy the change of seasons in Virginia. “It’s probably the best place we’ve ever lived,” she said. Her husband worked as a pharmacist manager and she was a project manager with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, where they lived for 20 years. Besides being near family, they wanted to make new friends and travel a lot.
Neighborhood in flux: Old Town North, a community with a historic flavor dating to the 1600s and 1700s, is in flux as developers seek to build on any available parcel. “This is a mixed-use area and is likely to stay that way,” said Tom Soapes, president of the North Old Town Independent Citizens’ Association of Alexandria, known as NOTICe, founded approximately 15 years ago.
It’s dotted with seven parks including Oronoco Bay Park along the waterfront, one of the largest, and the small Montgomery Park, home to the Old Town North Farmers Market, launched in May and held Thursday afternoons from 3 to 7, at 901 N. Royal St.
The farmers market will be open year round, weather permitting, according to Margaret Townsend, president of the Old Town North Community Partnership and owner of River’s Edge Yoga. Hours are likely to be 3 to 6 p.m. from December through March, she said. If school is canceled, the market will be canceled.
Free Yoga in the Park takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. Concerts also are scheduled in the park.
The Mount Vernon Trail, the bike path that runs along the Potomac, is a popular place. “The river is one of the great assets of Old Town North,” Soapes said. “I use the bike path every day.”
“Turning point”: Agnes and Engin Artemel moved to Old Town North in 1996, drawn by its proximity to the river, and because they “liked the mixed-use nature of it,” Agnes Artemel said. Both grew up in Europe and liked the walkability of the neighborhood. They raised their son A.J., now an architect who lives in Brooklyn, in Old Town North, where he attended the public schools. Agnes Artemel, who is a former president of the Old Town North Community Partnership, a nonprofit organization of businesses and residents, and a consultant in planning and economic development, believes the revised Old Town North Small Area Plan in progress can only improve the neighborhood. “It already has great fabric, but it’s only going to get better.”
“It’s a neighborhood at a turning point,” she said.
And even though everyone hasn’t always agreed on the direction of change, Old Town North is at a point, she said, where “people are more accepting of change.”
Old Town North began to shift from an area that was primarily industrial to one with mixed-use character beginning in the 1960s. At that time, industry began to slow as factories had become antiquated and changes in shipping technology and land prices took place, according to the Old Town North Small Area Plan Update Project Brief from December. The first redevelopment of the area included offices with some hotels and residential.
Later, the 1992 Old Town North Small Area Plan, with its zoning tools and urban design guidelines, continued “to promote the transformation of this area to a balanced mixed use neighborhood,” the brief said.
Soapes, a member of the Old Town North Small Area Plan Advisory Group, explains the upcoming changes in a newsletter to NOTICe members: Old Town North “includes at least 14 approved, pending, and future sites for redevelopment. We are considering needed zoning, height, floor area, and traffic management changes as well as possible new uses for sites over the next 20 years.” Among the strategies, he noted, are affordable housing for a mix of incomes and ages, balanced and flexible land use, focused retail areas, improved access and enhanced and expanded open space.
“There is so much potential for redevelopment,” Soapes said. Both city and citizens “wanted to have some control over it.”
Living there: The neighborhood is bounded by the Potomac River to the east, Daingerfield Island to the north, Oronoco Street to the south and the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Washington Street to the west.
According to JoAnn LaFon, a real estate agent with Weichert Realtors, in the past 12 months 88 condominiums have sold in Old Town North, ranging from an efficiency with one bath for $163,400 to a three-bedroom, three-bath for $1.1 million. In addition, 30 fee simple properties — all others except condominiums — sold, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bath townhouse for $525,000 to a three-bedroom townhouse for $1.55 million.
There are 21 condominiums on the market, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bath for $230,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bath on the Potomac for $3.5 million. In addition, there are five newly constructed townhouses on the market, ranging from a four-bedroom, five-bath listed at $1.9499 million to a four-bedroom, six-bath listed at $3.1999 million.
Transit: The neighborhood is served by the Braddock Road Metro stop on the Blue and Yellow lines, DASH (Alexandria Transit Co.) buses and Capital Bikeshare.
Schools: Jefferson-Houston (K-8); Cora Kelly School for Science, Math and Technology (elementary); George Washington Middle; T.C. Williams High.
Crime: According to RaidsOnline, in the past 12 months, the Alexandria Police Department has reported four burglaries, five robberies and two aggravated assaults in the Old Town North neighborhood.