Friday, October 16, 2009

The Station at Potomac Yard (aka Arlandria's new fire house)

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Grand Opening for The Station at Potomac Yard

Join the City of Alexandria for the grand opening of The Station at Potomac Yard, 2801 Jefferson Davis Highway, on Saturday, October 17, at 8:30 a.m. 

Following the grand opening ceremony, tours of the fire station and housing will be available from 9:30 a.m. until noon.  

When national home builders Pulte and Centex joined forces in late 2004 as Potomac Yard Development, LLC (PYD) to acquire and redevelop a 167-acre tract along Route 1 in Alexandria, they hoped to design dense residential neighborhoods that would revitalize and transform the former regional rail center into a walkable urban village, and complement the future mixed-use development planned for other parts of the site (including office, retail, commercial and hotel space, and a town center).  The City of Alexandria, with a great deal of community input, had spent nearly a decade articulating its vision for Potomac Yard, so developing plans that conformed to the City's detailed preliminary concept seemed relatively straightforward. In fact, PYD hoped to create a residential design template that could be replicated, with minor revisions, throughout the Yard.

However, by the spring of 2006, when City staff was reviewing PYD's initial submission (which included three- and four-story townhomes and urban loft structures), it became apparent that the desired layout and size of the proposed development, with its minimal building set-backs and narrow streets and alleys, would present challenges to the City's emergency services delivery system.  To preserve the City's planned urban design concept, and to maintain its own phased development schedule, PYD offered a creative solution to improve response time for the large emergency vehicles that might need to navigate the Yard: PYD would provide a parcel of land adjacent to the first neighborhood, as well as $6.6 million, to construct Alexandria's first new fire station facility in more than 30 years.  City staff and PYD's project team collaborated together to design an innovative mixed-use structure that would combine first floor municipal use, a small retail element, and a four-story residential component above the first floor that contained 44 long-term affordable rental units and 20 apartments with rents affordable to City workers, including first responders and teachers. The City designated Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit housing development entity, to develop, finance, own and operate the residential and retail components of the project.

Throughout the summer and early fall of 2006, the "Potomac Yard Fire Station-Affordable Housing" project concept was extensively vetted with the public at community meetings and after more than a dozen outreach and information sessions, the project was unanimously endorsed by a mayor-appointed citizen task force.  At the City's option, a fourth bay was added to the fire station to accommodate an expanded stock of emergency and HAZMAT equipment gained by the City after 9/11 and in anticipation of future Fire and EMS departmental needs.  The City agreed to supplement funding for the fourth bay and for added costs associated with the fire facility achieving LEED certification. (The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design/LEED Green Building Rating system is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings).  The project was approved by both Alexandria's Planning Commission and City Council in February, 2007. View a complete history of the planning process to learn all the details about how this unique project was developed and approved.

The productive public-private-nonprofit collaboration among the City of Alexandria, PYD, and AHDC, forged through creation of The Station at Potomac Yard project, has achieved extraordinary results that benefit the whole community by enhancing public safety, meeting critical needs for new infrastructure and affordable housing, and by providing an excellent example of Smart Growth.  In maximizing the use of donated land, incorporating green building design and principles in all components of the building, and in combining uses, including affordable housing close to shopping, amenities, and public transportation, The Station is an outstanding model of sustainable design, construction and livability that the City hopes to replicate again, possibly through other public-private collaborations.  

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