Neighbors in the Alexandria community of Arlandria are divided over a proposal for a massive new development, and many low-income residents in the area are concerned about gentrification.
As customers browse up and down Mount Vernon Avenue in the working-class neighborhood straddling Arlington and Alexandria, anxieties are building about a proposal to knock down a 1940's-era strip mall and construct a massive new mixed-use development. The proposal would demolish an existing 50,000 square foot retail strip and replace it with two six-story buildings that have nearly 500 rental units and 53,000 square feet of retail space.
Gabriel Rojo, director of the nearby advocacy group Tenants and Workers United, is leading an opposition to the proposal.
"This development is going to cause a chain reaction," says Rojo. "The rents across the street in this huge apartment complex are going to go up. The rents on all the small businesses are going to go up."
One of those small businesses is FPP Communications, which sells cell phones and accessories. Owner Roberto Perez is an immigrant from Bolivia who says he's concerned about what will happen with an upscale building opening across the street.
"Our market is the Hispanic community that lives around here, and I assume it won't be the Hispanic community that is going to live in the new development," says Perez. Many neighborhood residents spoke up against the development during a public hearing on the proposal last week.
Others say redeveloping the old strip mall will bring a new sense of vibrancy to a blighted strip of land.
"I hear a lot of comments this evening about diversity," says Jacob Cuomo, who lives in nearby Hume Springs. "I challenge anyone to ride down Mount Vernon Avenue and see diversity of races."
Arlandria is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, but it has small businesses owned by immigrants from all over the world. Sopha May is an immigrant from Cambodia who owns a market on the avenue. She says she's concerned gentrification could push her out of the neighborhood.
"I don't like it," she says. "I'm worried about it closing my business down." Residents will have another chance to weigh in at a public hearing Dec. 17, and the Alexandria City Council is expected make a final decision on the development later this month.