Monday, Oct 26, 2020

Alexandria City Council Approves the Innovation District and Launches Development in North Potomac Yard


On October 17, 2020, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved the latest in a series of land use applications, submitted by a partnership of JBG Smith and the Virginia Tech Foundation, to allow Phase I of the long-anticipated redevelopment of North Potomac Yard. These landmark approvals will facilitate the transformation of a 19-acre site, currently occupied by a movie theater and a surface parking lot, into a 1.6 million square foot mixed-use development anchored by the Potomac Yard Metro Station and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

Known as the Innovation District, the new development will become a vibrant hub of activity that will serve as an economic engine to drive North Potomac Yard and the City into the future. The approvals allow JBG Smith to deliver four office buildings and two residential buildings – all with ground floor retail – and enable Virginia Tech to construct the first of three planned academic buildings in its new Innovation Campus. Designed by five different teams of architects, the buildings achieve a variety of innovative architectural expressions, while maintaining a sense of cohesion across the Innovation District as a whole. In addition to the buildings, the Innovation District will have a network of publicly accessible open spaces connected by a network of pedestrian-focused streetscapes, bicycle paths and shared use paths. The open spaces include Market Lawn, Metro Plaza, and a 4.5 acre extension of Potomac Yard Park that will be considered at forthcoming public hearings in December 2020.

Consistent with the Small Area Plan’s vision for North Potomac Yard as an environmentally sustainable community, sustainability was top-of-mind throughout the project design and application process. Sustainable elements were incorporated into all aspects of the project, ranging from solar-oriented architectural features, porous pavers in the streetscape design, and green stormwater management technologies. The project team worked in coordination with consultants at Sustainable Building Partners to develop an Environmental Sustainability Master Plan for North Potomac Yard – the first of its kind in the City. The ESMP will serve as the sustainability roadmap for future development in North Potomac Yard by establishing goals, targets and a variety of strategies designed to advance the City’s sustainability goals over the 20 – 30 year buildout of North Potomac Yard. As a living document, the ESMP will be updated in future phases of development to incorporate new strategies and technologies in the rapidly-evolving field of sustainability.

The Innovation District will provide a number of significant community benefits to the City. Tax revenue generated by the Innovation District will help fund the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station, and incentives provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia associated with the Virginia Tech campus include the allocation of additional funding for the southern entrance to the Metrorail station. During the application process, the applicant worked with the City to augment its contributions to affordable housing through the dedication of additional land to be used for a school collocated with affordable housing. With these contributions and additional community benefits to be generated by the development, the Innovation District will achieve a number of the City’s objectives.

The Walsh Colucci team of Cathy Puskar, Caroline Herre and Bob Brant navigated JBG Smith and its team of consultants through an application process that resulted in approvals of a Master Plan Amendment, Coordinated Development District Concept Plan Amendment, Preliminary Infrastructure Plan, a Subdivision, and Development Special Use Permits for six individual buildings in a period of under twelve months. In addition to extensive coordination and negotiation with City of Alexandria staff, the application process involved substantial community outreach, including six community-wide town hall meetings, over a dozen meetings with the Potomac Yard Design Advisory Committee, and meetings with the Environmental Policy Commission, Park and Recreation Commission, and the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee. With the guidance of the Walsh Colucci team, the proposal was met with widespread community support throughout the application process.

The Innovation District approvals represent the first step in realizing the vision set forth in the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan, and will serve as a catalyst for the remaining 6 million square feet of development to come in future phases of North Potomac Yard. The Innovation District sets a new bar for future development in the City and the region, and pushes the envelope in terms of innovative and sustainable design.

Market Lawn – Source: OJB Landscape Architecture


Metro Plaza – Source: OJB Landscape Architecture


Block 10 -Source: Hickok Cole


Block 19 – Source: Hord Coplan Macht


Block 14 – Source: COOKFOX Architects