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Votes

Planning Marathon Ends With Deferral and a Yawn

Alexandria Planning Commission started off the fall season with a marathon session that concluded at 1 a.m. It spent three and a half hours on one item and split its docket, announcing a second session for Thursday night.

At the outset of Tuesday night's meeting, Chairman Eric R. Wagner announced that if they did not get through item 16 by 10 p.m., there would be a second session. The first discussion item was number 12 which began at 7:30 p.m., and concluded at 11:05 p.m. Four others followed.

Consuming all this time was a proposed 5.14 acre development bounded by 2310/2318 Mill Road and 2201 Eisenhower Ave. It is part of the 60.9 acre parcel within the Eisenhower Avenue Coordinated Development District, CDD#2, known as "Mill Race."

A staff presentation consumed nearly an hour. The applicant consumed another 45 minutes. A host of speakers reiterated many of the same points for another hour. Then the commission debated and interrogated the applicant spokesperson, attorney Jonathan P. Rak, for an additional 50 minutes with a final decision calling for a deferral until Thursday night's session.

LOCATED IMMEDIATELY adjacent to the Cameron Center office complex and the mixed-use Carlyle development, the site is owned by Trammell Crow Company (TCC) through its subsidiary TC Cameron Development LP. They propose to construct one apartment building, one condominium building, and one office building, each with ground floor retail space totaling approximately 861,228 square feet.

The residential buildings will have several stories of above-grade and one story of below-grade parking. All office parking is above-grade. Total parking spaces anticipated is 1,334. The plan also calls for an internal street system which breaks the parcel into three segments.

ACCORDING TO THE staff report, "off-street parking will be provided in enclosed garages embedded within the proposed buildings." Office parking totals 466 spaces in the garage areas including visitor and retail spaces. Residential parking will account for 861 spaces, including visitor and retail.

Another critical element of the Mill Race CDD is the creation of affordable housing. As stated in the staff report, "the density and the height of the project are only allowed in exchange for a meaningful affordable housing program, defined by the CDD zoning as a minimum of $1.29/net square foot or $1.08 million..."

In this case, the city has requested a significantly increased affordable housing contribution. Trammel Crow has agreed to a program more than twice the minimum, estimated at $2.3 million, which will provide for approximately 28 rental and ownership units on site.

Both the parking and affordable housing elements of the plan were the cause for all of the dialogue Tuesday night. Most of the public speakers, while praising the overall concept for the site, questioned the need for the number of parking spaces being provided for the office complex. One even suggested limiting residential parking.

They argued that considering the project's proximity to the Eisenhower Metro Station parking should be significantly reduced forcing people to use Metro. The developer countered that to do so would threaten the viability of the project, particularly the retail element.

Speaker after speaker argued that the proposed parking would lead to increased traffic congestion is the area. Katy Cannady, of East Oak Street, lead off the public debate by warning the Commission, "The Patent and Trademark Office is on its way here and it's bringing 3,800 cars in parking garages one block from Mill Race. We have to think about those cars every time we consider another special use permit in the East Eisenhower neighborhood."

She further noted,"I specifically object to the 392 parking spaces reserved for all day commuters in the five story parking garage. I do not object to the 861 parking spaces for residential use or the 74 short term parking spaces. There are other landowners lined up, waiting their turns for special use permits. How can any of them be denied their parking garages if we say 'yes' to Mill Race?"

COMMISSIONER Donna Fossum pointed out that she works in a building that is directly over a Metro station and yet, she can not use the system because where she lives is not adjacent to a station. "I would need to take bus to get to the nearest station. People need their cars," she insisted.

When it came to affordable housing most of the Commissioners agreed that Trammel Crow was more than complying with the city mandate. But, they questioned whether it would really be "affordable" given Alexandria's tight housing market. Again Fossum asked, "How do we define affordable housing?" She also questioned the size of the affordable housing units, emphasizing they would only be acceptable to single residents.

Of the 13 affordable units, seven would be one-bedroom condominiums available at a discounted price of $173,200; six would be two-bedroom units at $225,000. The proposed market rates for the same style units would be $225,000 and $337,000 respectively. The units would remain affordable for 15 years through a restrictive covenant recorded at the time of sale. The prices include a one-time expense of $15,000 for the purchase of one parking space. Condo fees were not included.

AT THE CONCLUSION of all presentations and questioning, the Commission ended up in a debate over whether the SUP application should be approved, denied or deferred. With only six of the seven Commissioners present, J. Lawrence Robinson had been excused for business reasons, there was the possibility of a tie vote on any of the motions.

Following three motions, each with its own nuance as to how long the deferral should be, it was finally decided to defer the entire matter until Thursday night. The vote was four in favor, one against, and one abstention.

Staff and the developer were instructed to attempt to work out any differences, particularly as to the parking situation. There will be no public discussion on this item at the extended session.

IN OTHER ACTION, the following item were approved:

* A request for an amendment to the King Street/Eisenhower Avenue Small Area Plan to change the land use designation at 1700 Duke St. from office and retail use to residential and retail use.

* A SUP requested by the City Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities to construct a Skatepark at 3360 Duke St., Luckett Park.

* A SUP requested by the Alexandria Community Services Board for a social service use in an area zoned Office Commercial Medium at 4480 King St. It will serve as the new home of "The Clubhouse" which has been located at 115 Patrick St. since the early 1980's.

* A SUP to change the ownership of a nursing home at 900 Virginia Ave.