Twilight of an Era in Alexandria

Eric Terran, a 39-year-old architect, is doing something that almost no one in the City of Alexandria is doing anymore: building a detached, single-family residence. Last year he purchased a lot zoned for single-family residential for $230,000, and now he’s erecting a 3,300-square-foot house on it, reports Michael Neibauer with the Washington Business Journal.

Construction of detached, single-family dwellings has almost come to an end in Alexandria, where the inventory of lots is fast disappearing. As Neibauer notes:

Alexandria ended fiscal  2016 with 9,131 single-family detached homes, the exact number it counted at the close of fiscal 2015. In fact, only 12 new homes — not including tear-downs, which do not add to the city’s inventory — have been built since 2010. Save for infill and tear downs, Alexandria is largely built out.

I have no doubt that Neibauer has done his reporting and knows what he’s talking about, but his numbers don’t quite jive with Alexandria’s building permit data, seen above, which I took from the website. According to that data set, permits issued for single-family housing since 2010 numbered in the hundreds. Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of permits was for 5+ unit, multi-family dwellings, which is broadly consistent with what Neibauer is saying.

Rather than get hung up on explaining the statistical discrepancy, however, I want to focus on the larger truth, which is the transformation of development patterns in Alexandria. The overwhelming preponderance of new housing construction in the city consists of multi-family housing — apartments and condominiums. Indeed, 2013 and 2014 showed new housing construction running at a torrid pace — faster than at any time since 2001.

I’m not intimately familiar with Alexandria, but I did visit downtown several months ago and observed a lot of recent mixed-use development. My superficial impression is that Alexandria is allowing developers to build a lot of the right stuff. The new development is preserving the walkability that made Old Town Alexandria and environs such a special place.

In 2010, the city achieved an all-time population high of 140,000, and has added population since then. As the city continues to grow, new houses like Eric Terran’s will become an endangered species. Newcomers will be living in apartments and condos.

Update: Michael Neibauer contacted me to explain the discrepancy I alluded to. Eric Terran is building a detached single-family dwelling. Although there are many “single-family dwellings” being built in Alexandria, they are row houses — not detached single-family dwellings.

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6 responses to “Twilight of an Era in Alexandria

  1. It’s only one part of Alexandria, but what’s happening in the new Potomac Yards and the adjacent older but more neglected eastern part of Del Ray is very much a look at the future. Thank God this is becoming planned townhouses and S/F condos and older s/f home renovations and walkable mixed-use commercial with dedicated bus lanes and a new Metro station in the middle of it, all designed to support residential life, NOT the Redskins Stadium and giant 6-day-desert of a parking lot some people talked about so enthusiastically just a few short years ago.

    Here’s wishing Richmond would learn a thing or two about promoting walkable neighborhoods not stadiums from its northern Virginia neighbors.

    • I never understood the anti-stadium sentiment in Alexandria. I grew up in Alexandria and it always seemed to me that you could do the stadium the right way or the wrong way. Nashville has an NFL stadium downtown and guess what? It’s just fine. Baltimore has two – right next to each other. National’s Stadium in DC seems to have dome more to improve that area of the city than harm it. Maybe Potomac Yards was a poor choice of a location but the very concept of a stadium anywhere in Alexandria seemed to send the snowflakes living there into orbit.

      Del Ray is fascinating. I used to go there in my youth (1970s). Talk about segregation. I remember an all white neighborhood in the midst of an almost all African American part of the city. To say tensions ran high is an understatement. Del Ray’s landmark of the time was an Earl Scheib’s car painting operation. For $39 they would paint your car in one day. Sometimes the covered the windshield, sometimes they forgot. It’s a different world down there today.

  2. How can Alexandria be approving new development when it still has not fixed it’s combined sewer overflow problem?

    that’s seems counter-intuitive.. and it also points up a big flaw with dense settlement patterns.. and their adverse impact on the Potomac while at the same time blaming farmers for cow and chicken poop pollution – which ironically are grown to feed the masses in Alexandria no doubt…

  3. Interesting article. Revolutionary, really. Jim Bacon has found a part of Northern Virginia that is not composed of strip malls and McMansions. Who knew?

    Alexandria is where I grew up (technically, just south of the city line on Huntington Ave). It’s a great place today. It wasn’t always that way. Even the much much celebrated Old Town was a wreak during the 60s and 70s. Now it’s a great place with a population density over 10,000 per sq mi. Hey, a real city in Virginia! If the dim bulbs in our General Assembly hadn’t implemented a “temporary” ban on annexations 30 years ago (and still in place) maybe Alexandria could have annexed some of Fairfax County and started to clean up that mess too.

    Meanwhile, Larry has learned that the liberal snowflakes who live in Alexandria don’t really give a rat’s ass about pollution. So, the sewers overflow into the Cheaspeake watershed. Who cares? Build more condos for our yuppie friends. Meanwhile, the genius Republicans in our General Assembly don’t give a rat’s ass about pollution either. So, the right wingnuts in Richmond don’t enforce pollution standards on the leftist snowflakes in Alexandria. Despite my many misgivings about the Obama Administration they were the only political people in America actually trying to clean things up. Now, with pump and dump Trump I can only imagine a major regression in our environment.

    Unfortunately, Larry still can’t accept the generally liberal Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s conclusion that agriculture is the biggest cause of the Chesapeake Bay’s problems (followed by urban and suburban runoff). Hard to understand Larry’s blindspot on this. Some kind of twisted Jeffersonian belief that rural living is virtuous while cities are evil? Maybe Larry thinks he’s defending Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor from Green Acres when he’s really protecting billionaire corporate agriculturists like Jim Perdue.

  4. new word ? “snowflake”.. old hat DJ.. so old it’s retro now…

    on the pollution – take a look:

    Even on the rural… undeveloped forest and fallow land does not pollute – it’s the land used to grow the food it is growing for the urbanites… right?

    A farmer could live quite well with one cow, pig and a few chickens.

    when you got 50,000 chickens all pooping .. those chicken are for Fairfax mouths..and those cows for Fairfax McDonalds…and Chris Steak houses.

    so if you really want the farms cleaned up – guess who is going to pay?

    the very same people who don’t get a rat’s behind… about their own pollution while they castigate those who are providing them with food – !!!

    and yes the Chesapeake Bay folks are “snowflake” green weenies…who
    despite their protestations …. also poop .. and eat chicken who poop.

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