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Votes

A New Day for Landmark Mall?

A mix of residential and commercial use envisioned.

It was to be a routine work session between City Council and the Alexandria Planning Commission, supported by Department of Planning and Zoning staff, to prioritize development considerations for the year ahead. Then something occurred that was outside the prepared presentation.

A possible reevaluation and restructuring of Landmark Mall was brought to the department by the owners. This would not only impact the prioritization but also the workload, and the staff requirements, of both the department and city government.

According to Eileen Fogarty, director, Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning, "The group that owns Landmark Mall came in and said they were interested in redeveloping that property. We'll know in a few weeks if they are proceeding."

Fogarty made that time estimate on February 19. On March 12, Jenny Forest, Eastern Region vice president marketing, General Growth Properties, Inc., owners of Landmark Mall and a series of other shopping centers across the nation, said, "We are looking at a number of scenarios. But we don't know where we are going at this time and probably won't [know] until the end of the year."

She assured, however, "We are very committed to Landmark Mall. It's an incredible location. We are looking at a lot of different things. We have a new developer for the company. We have to look at what the demand is and what the components might be. But whatever we do it will be exciting for the city."

Fogarty told Council at the joint meeting, "The developers will keep the anchors (Hecht's, Sears, Lord and Taylor) but make more of a town center concept. If they decide to proceed we are going to have a lot of work and require extra staff."

In a later interview, Fogarty saw the rebirth of Landmark Mall as "A real opportunity for the city to look at the entire area immediately surrounding the mall. It would present a chance to create an urban village."

Fogarty envisioned, "More of a Clarendon, where you have a town center — a mix of residential and commercial use. We could create street frontage to give it more of a sense of place or destination."

As for staff requirements, Fogarty admitted, "If they [Growth Properties] go forward, we will need someone dedicated to this project. They said they are evaluating it. We are waiting to hear from them. But my sense is that they want to do it sooner than later."

PRIOR TO THE interjection of the potential Landmark Mall redevelopment, planning activities for the period January 2004 to December 2005, as described in a memorandum dated December 4, 2003 from Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland and Fogarty to the Mayor and City Council, listed the following priorities:

*The ongoing King Street Retail Study to maintain King Street as a key element of a "vibrant historic city."

*Continuing development of each of the area plans to create "multiple urban villages" with a mix of retail, commercial and residential uses, community services, planned open space and transportation systems that form "unique livable neighborhoods, preserve natural resources," and provide for "healthy urban living."

*Addressing the importance of affordable housing.

*Have each plan include a strong market, economic and implementation element to assure that they contribute to Alexandria's economy.

"Many planning activities remain for the department to accomplish. These include: additional planning initiatives; citywide zoning issue studies; and a comprehensive review and update of the Citywide Master Plan," the memo stated.

The "Recommended Priorities" of the Department, listed as "highest priorities" were:

Planning Initiatives —

*Braddock Road Small Area Plan

*Waterfront Small Area Plan

*Hunting Towers/Hunting Terrace

*Eisenhower West

*Route 1 Corridor

*Duke Street Corridor

Zoning and Special Studies—

*Neighborhood Infill Standards

*Industrial Area Study

*City-wide Retail Study

*FAR Standards

*SUP Standards

*Historic Preservation

WITHIN THIS LIST the priorities were further delineated as Major Projects, Mid-scale Projects, and Small Projects. Within those categories, the high priority project list was subdivided as follows:

Major— Neighborhood Infill, Eisenhower West Small Area Plan, and Waterfront Small Area Plan. To this was added the Duke/Landmark Area and Landmark Mall.

Mid-scale— Braddock Road, Route 1 Study, Duke Street Corridor Phase 1, and Duke Street Corridor Phase 2.

Small— Historic Buildings, Hunting Towers/Hunting Terrace, Citywide Retail, Industrial Study, SUP Standards, and FAR Standards.

Integrated into all aspects of land use planning is a "Comprehensive Transportation Policy and Program." That was spelled out to City Council in a separate work session by Richard Baier, director, Transportation and Environmental Services Administration.

Its goals were: review all modes of travel; identify major city-wide transportation needs and concerns; define specific policies to guide the development and management of city transforation resources; develop policy based enhancement programs and action plans; and establish priorities for funding and implementation.

Following a series of meetings and studies the "Main Themes for the Community" were identified as:

*Develop a set of clear transportation policies.

*Make transit a comparable alternative to individual vehicles by providing a safe, reliable and comprehensive system.

*Improve and enhance arterial roadways.

*Improve pedestrian and cyclist experience within the city.

*Promote livable, urban land use policies.

*Preserve quality of life in city neighborhoods.

Transportation planning, in relation to land use development, was best summed up by a statement contained in Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier's report to the Council workshop: "We cannot solve problems by accommodating through traffic. The city needs to start planning for an urban, mass transit-oriented society."