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Votes

Berg Plans Pass Commission Muster

Alexandria Planning Commission gave its unanimous approval Tuesday night to the proposed plans to redevelopment of Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown), The Berg, as well as three scattered affordable house sites, after more than three hours of debate and public commentary.

Eileen Fogarty, director, Department of Planning and Zoning, initiated the discussion by proclaiming, "We see this as a project that can be a national model. It will truly be an extension of the Old Town fabric."

Her sentiments were echoed by A. Melvin Miller, Chairman, Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA). "Once we complete this development it will be something Alexandria will be very proud of and the whole country will be trying to duplicate."

An integral part of the total project is the development of three, scattered, affordable housing, sites that will accommodate 48 ARHA residents being displaced by the redevelopment of The Berg. Consideration of these sites, and their approval or disapproval, were also on Tuesday night's docket.

Miller noted, "Although the docket item lists six items pertaining to the Samuel Madden Homes project it is all truly one redevelopment project. I have spent more years in this field than I care to remember and this probably is the most complex redevelopment project anywhere in the country."

He did concede, "The scattered sites are not the most perfect sites but they are the best available to serve the overall goals of the project. We looked at every possible location in the city."

THOSE SITES ARE located at 1608-1706 W. Braddock Road and Radford Street, 423 S. Reynolds St., and 325 S. Whiting St. Plans call for six new townhomes to be built at the Braddock Road site, 18 units, in three buildings, will be located at Reynolds Street, and 24 units, in four separate structures, will be constructed at the South Whiting Street location.

Upon completion, the redeveloped Berg, bounded by N. Pitt, N. Royal, Pendelton, and Princess streets, will contain 152 townhouse- style units. Of that total, 100 will be market rate units and 52 will be ARHA units. The 48 scattered site units will be occupied by ARHA residents displaced from the redeveloped Berg.

In explaining their concept, the chosen Berg developer, Eakin/Youngentab, noted, "One of the priority requests was that this project maintain a compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods. We think we have accomplished that and we are quite proud of the results."

MOST OF THE questions raised by the Planning Commissioners and spokespersons for a variety of interests during the public hearing on The Berg, centered around design details. Three elements that drew the most interest pertained to the height and structure of entrance stoops, the preservation or eradication of a large oak tree on the property, and the location of tot lots.

Commissioner Donna Fossum capsulized the stoops controversy by asking, "If there are properties within two blocks of this project with stoops over three feet why are we worrying about this tonight?"

In order to preserve the tree, it was proposed that a seven foot retaining wall be built around it. There was also some question as to whether or not the tree would even survive the demolition and reconstruction of the site.

Fossum questioned the wisdom of even trying to preserve the tree and, particularly, the proposal to encase it behind such a high retaining wall. She moved they get rid of the tree and replace it with a series of larger diameter trees spread throughout the courtyard of the new development. This was approved unanimously.

Most of the public spokespersons were in favor of The Berg development concept. Questions were raised, however, concerning the placement of the tot lot — whether it should be on site or off site, but immediately adjacent. It was decided, for social engineering reasons, it should be an integral part of the primary site.

QUESTIONS ALSO AROSE about the set backs of various outer perimeter townhouses. As explained by the developer, this was done to satisfy planning staff concerns about a visual wall effect as that impacted the streetscape. The negative to the setbacks was the shrinking of individual yard space from 10 feet to seven feet. The decision was to have the developers, planning staff, and ARHA reach a mutual agreement based on further review.

Although extensive controversy was expected on the South Whiting and South Reynolds streets scattered sites, all three received unanimous approval with little debate. Of the three and one half hours spent on the various Berg docket items, the scattered sites review and vote consumed only 20 minutes.

Most of the objections revolved around parking and, again, a tot lot at the S. Whiting Street location. In both cases the Commission supported the staff recommendation of approval with the proviso that all conditions be met. The entire proposal now goes to City Council for their review and action.