After 13 years of debate, lawsuits and planning, the Alexandria City Council has approved a redevelopment plan for Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown), also known as The Berg.
The approval came at Council’s last meeting of the year on Saturday.
“I wish to thank the mayor, Councilman Euille and Councilman Speck for the many hours that they have devoted to making this process work,” said A. Melvin Miller, chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board (ARHA). “We have come a long way from where we started and now have a project that we can all be proud of.”
There were speakers, but all supported the project. “It is one of the densest projects in Old Town, but we are here to express our support,” said Carolyn Mirk, the president of the Old Town Civic Association.
The project, which will encompass two city blocks, will contain 52 public housing units and 100 market rate units.
“There needs to be 152 units to make this project economically viable,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of the city’s department of Planning and Zoning. “The Planning Commission approved this project with some very specific conditions, and we believe that those conditions are very important, especially the need for more articulation of the buildings facing Pitt and Royal streets. Right now, there is a solid wall along this street. In keeping with the residential character of Old Town, we believe that there must be some usable green space in front of these buildings and some space between buildings.”
Mayor Kerry Donley was also concerned about the way the project looks, he cautioned about budgetary constraints. "In looking at all of the different materials that could be used on these projects, I must remind everyone that there are cost constraints," he said. "We do not have unlimited resources."
THIS WAS THE ONLY issue that caused debate, because ARHA and the developer had agreed to every other condition. “If you move the buildings back three feet, the front yards in the inner courtyard will go from being 10 feet to being seven feet,” Miller said. “Ten feet of front yard is very usable, but seven feet is not. While certainly what this project looks like is important, what it lives like is even more important. Many of the ARHA residents who live here will be families with children. We believe that it is very important for them to have a place to sit and play outside,” Miller said.
Council agreed and adopted a compromise that was suggested by the developer, Eakin/Youngentab.
“Right now there is three feet of open space in front of the buildings,” said Bob Youngentab. He was referring to the public open space next to the sidewalk. “If we move one building back one foot and leave the next building where it is, we can get the articulation that is important and still retain the same amount of front yard for those units on the courtyard.”
Donley congratulated ARHA and the developer. “This is a difficult site and, as usual, Mr. Youngentab, you have shown innovation and creativity in designing a project that everyone can be proud of,” he said. “This is certainly the most important thing that we have done today and perhaps the most important thing that we have done in a long time.”
Approval was unanimous.
THE LACK OF DISSENSION continued as the three off-site developments were discussed. Forty-eight public housing units will be built on three sites — one on W. Braddock Road near T. C. Williams High School; one on South. Reynolds Street and one on South Whiting Street. Council approved them all unanimously.
“I am concerned about the lack of a playground on South Reynolds Street,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson. “These children have to cross two busy streets to get to a park. What are we going to do about this?”
There is a tot lot at the site on South Whiting, but the site on Reynolds is too tight to permit one to be built. Donley included a condition instructing ARHA to work with the Transportation and Environmental Services Department (T&ES) and with the Recreation Department to resolve the problem. “Perhaps we can look at improvements to the intersection at Pickett,” he said. “Also, I know that our Recreation Department has been looking at alternatives for the children at Essex House, just down the street. We just all need to work together.”
Councilman William D. Euille announced a new program for ARHA residents that is being offered by the Weigl Automotive Group. One of Weigl’s Automotive Clinics is adjacent to the South Whiting site.
“The Weigl family is pleased to offer auto service and repair vouchers to ARHA residents,” Euille said. “They understand the importance of good, reliable transportation and have made a commitment to provide vouchers in the amount of $5,000 each year for the next 10 years to ARHA residents. They also have a continuing commitment to provide entry-level jobs to local residents. We would like to thank them and encourage other businesses to follow their leadership.”
Donley also commended the family. “The Weigl family has been involved in this community for many years,” he said. “I am not surprised that they have taken this step. I am very pleased and hope that others will see what they have done and find ways to get involved.”
Miller once again expressed his gratitude for Council’s involvement. “This is not the end by any means, but it is the beginning of the end,” he said. “We have a lot more work to do before residents can occupy these homes.”