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Potomac Yard is a neighborhood that straddles SE Arlington County and NE Alexandria, Virginia, sited primarily between Route 1 across from Del Ray, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, The neighborhood was once home to one of the Eastern Seaboard’s busiest rail yards. Today, it includes a large shopping center, mixed-use development and residential streets lined with detached and attached single family homes and townhouses.
Potomac Yard was included as one of the components of National Landing, a cross-jurisdictional neighborhood brand representing the Arlington/Alexandria area dedicated to Amazon HQ2 in 2018. In addition to Arlington HQ sites, Virginia Tech plans an Innovation Campus to be opened in the Oakville Triangle parcel, located on Route 1 between the residential areas of Del Ray and the commercial area of Potomac Yard, and the Potomac Yard Metro station is scheduled to open in 2022.
Potomac Yard began as a group of plantations developed by English settlers during the 18th century. These lands became part of Alexandria County DC when the District of Columbia was created in 1791, then retroceded to Virginia in 1846. Congress chartered the Alexandria Canal Co. in 1830, connecting the port of Alexandria with the. C&O Canal in Georgetown via the Potomac Aqueduct Bridge. It operated until 1886. During that time, railroad development began in the area. The 1901 Plan for Washington, D.C. (McMillan Commission report) proposed consolidating the region’s rail operations, including construction of Washington Union Station and the New Long Railroad Bridge, completed in 1904). The newly-formed Richmond-Washington Company was tasked with controlling all rail traffic and Union Station, along with the new switching yard at Potomac Yard (c.1906). Thousands of workers flocked to Potomac Yard, settling in Del Ray and St. Elmo. Both subdivisions incorporated as the town of Potomac in 1908, but were annexed by the City of Alexandria in 1930. At its peak, Potomac Yard processed thousands of rail cars daily, reaching capacity in 1937. Eventually, corporate mergers between separate railroad companies that used the yard diminished the need for interchange and the RF&P decided that Potomac Yard’s land value exceeded the need for yard switching. The catenary was dismantled in the 1980’s, the facility was tagged a toxic waste site in 1987 and the RF&P decommissioned it in 1989.
Since decades of industrial use had left the site contaminated with heavy metals and hydrocarbons, Potomac Yard was declared a Superfund site. The EPA approved RF&P’s study and cleanup plan in 1995, and the work was declared completed by 1998.
Seventy of the site’s 400 acres were approved for retail use in 1995. The Potomac Yard Center, a 589,856 sf strip mall anchored by ‘big box’ retailers, opened in 1997. More development followed in Potomac Yard over the next two decades, on the Arlington and Alexandria sides. As Amazon moves into National Landing, development is again expected to boom.
Amenities in Potomac Yard include the 24-acre Potomac Yard Park, completed in 2013. The park offers playgrounds and sports fields.