Members of the Arlandria-Chirilagua Business Association expressed concerns that the proposed redevelopment of the Mount Vernon Village Center would spur gentrification in the neighborhood during a meeting Tuesday with project developers at Cora Kelly Recreation Center.
The group’s board, however, unanimously backed the proposal. ACBA President Nelson Zavaleta spoke in support of the project at a Dec. 6 Alexandria Planning Commission meeting where the project was approved.
The proposal calls for razing the current shopping center—which houses businesses like MOM’s Organic Market, Fashion K City and a CVS—and constructing 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 residents and shoppers—a total of 940 spaces—would be available underground.
Twenty-eight affordable housing units will be maintained for 30 years within the structure, which would be at the heart of the ethnically diverse Arlandria neighborhood along Mt. Vernon Avenue.
Attorney Duncan Blair, who represents developer PMI, said the project presents the first new housing in the area in three decades.
“From a commerce standpoint, [the project] creates a new vitality in the Arlandria area,” Blair said. “It really brings it to the 21st century by bringing it to the street.”
Zavaleta told the Planning Commission the ABCA supported the project because it would improve the economic viability of the neighborhood and increase the customer base for businesses. He also said his organization, which is heavily supported by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, works to maintain diversity in the neighborhood.
Representatives from PMI said the there is a preference toward finding local businesses to fill the retail space at the shopping center. Negotiations are ongoing to keep MOM’s as a tenant, as well as the CVS.
Some attendees at Tuesday’s meeting questioned if the project wouldn’t raise rent in the area and drive out low-income residents.
“How is this not gentrification?” asked Rev. Patrick T. Crerar, associate rector at Grace Episcopal Church.
Blair responded, saying that the housing units in the development will not be luxury apartments and the project itself does not displace any residents.
“This is not intended to bring Old Town rents to the area,” Blair said.
Others raised traffic concerns, while some felt there wasn’t enough community outreach about the project.
“There are definitely some folk who feel like they haven’t had a voice in this plan,” Crerar said.
Crerar mentioned that while the city touts its eNews service as a reliable and effective way of disseminating information about meetings and planning, many Arlandria residents don’t have computers or smart phones.
Many at the Planning Commission hearing asked for the project to be postponed so more outreach could be done, including Gabriel Rojo, director of Tenants and Workers United.
Del Ray Business Association officers and members of the Arlandria Civic Association spoke in support of the project.
Nora Partlow, owner of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, said she was concerned about how the project would alter traffic in Del Ray and potentially displace businesses and residents.
The proposal will go before City Council on Saturday morning.