Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Once Again with a Purpose: Revisiting Arlandria Revitatlization

They're called spaces between places, forgotten areas susceptible to blight and vulnerable to crime. Arlandria, a community bordering Alexandria and Arlington, is arguably one such area. Arlandria is an easy walk from some of both cities' premiere destination locations, but visitors driving through this neighborhood are too often more likely to roll up their windows and check their door locks than stop at one of the struggling, weathered storefronts.

As small businesses continue to shutter in this long overlooked community, a small group of residents and business owners are combining forces with city staff to identify mutually beneficial ways to bring growth and vitality to this neglected area.

"Community involvement will play the largest part in successfully executing a strategic plan to tap the potential in this area," said Alexandria Councilman Rob Krupicka of the newly formed Arlandria Action Plan Advisory Group, whose goal is to find ways to expand business retention and attract development.

Those goals appear to fall directly in line with the city's - Alexandria City Council adopted a Strategic Plan for Economic Sustainability in 1994. Updated this winter, the plan is an effort by Council to move the City forward in realizing the goals of the community. The group also hopes to create much needed synergy by working to remove zoning barriers that stand in the way of development.

"We hope to support efforts to establish a financially sustainable and efficient neighborhood," said Nick Partee, the vice president of Hume Springs Civic Association, when asked about joining the Arlandria Action Plan Advisory Group. "We enjoy living here. This is a great, diverse community and so close to everything. I just wanted to be part of the process in turning things around. Everyone in Alexandria deserves to live in walkable neighborhoods, near decent parks and community oriented businesses. Arlandria ought to share in the community benefits and not just bear the negatives."

Jim Matthews, one of the owners of the world renowned Birchmere, an Arlandria entertainment venue, believes addressing outdated, cumbersome zoning constraints is all the neighborhood needs to create a vibrant place to live, work and play. "Here's a perfectly wonderful project," he said. "Arlandria could turn into a potential gold mine for the city. There's a water feature and access to metro. This part of Mt. Vernon Avenue is poised to be a hip, dynamic gateway to Alexandria, we just need to make it more attractive to businesses."

The group comes together at a time when the city is looking for ways to shift the tax base and create more business opportunities. The current shortfall could impact budgets across the board. "Cuts are impacting the police and the schools. Unless we find alternative revenue, homeowners will continue to bear the burden, and taxes will go up or services will be cut," said Krupicka.

"There's virtually no downside here," said Matthews. "The challenge is getting busy folks in the community to show up and support the group. Developers are interested in this neighborhood, we just need to provide zoning that will encourage redevelopment."

With developer interest comes the hope for public benefits, like an updated road network with more connectivity, pedestrian and bike improvements, open space and other livability enhancements. Not to mention the boon to the neighborhood job market. Development and a strengthened retail segment will bring jobs that local residents can get to on foot or with a short bus ride.

Right now the stars seem aligned for this hopeful group of residents. "We want what the city wants. We never wanted to be a burden, and here's finally an opportunity for us to become a viable, sustainable part of this community," said Partee. "We just hope we have a good turnout."

The Arlandria Action Plan Advisory Group will meet Wednesday, February 17 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at Cora Kelly Recreation Center at the corner of Reed & Commonwealth Avenues, the first of three anticipated meetings this year.
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