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Votes

Council: No Gas At B.J.'s

Overturns Planning Commission decision.

There will be no bank and no cheap gasoline at the B.J.’s Wholesale Club on Duke Street despite a unanimous endorsement by the city’s Planning Commission and the support of the city’s Planning staff.

On a 6-1 vote, City Council overturned the Planning Commission at Saturday’s last public hearing of the year. State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) was one of those who spoke against the proposal.

“The small business proprietors ... are a part of this community,” said Saslaw, a gas station owner himself. “B.J.’s is not proposing this to help Alexandrians. They are proposing it to expand their own business,” he said.

B.J.’s proposed installing five gasoline pumps and selling discounted gasoline to club members. “We would only sell discounted gasoline to our members,” said Ericka Byrd, the attorney who represented B.J.’s. “Anyone else who wants to purchase gasoline will have to pay market rate.”

Lonnie Rich represented Landmark Towers Mobil, whose proprietor is Kent Taylor. “There are eight service stations within less than a mile of B.J.’s,” Rich said. “We don’t need another gas station. Also, the amount of traffic that would be added by offering discounted gas at this site is not insignificant.”

B.J.'S STUDIES indicated that the number of additional cars would be minimal. Rich disputed those numbers. “In other locations where B.J.’s has offered discounted gasoline, they have pumped up to 4.2 million gallons of gasoline a year,” he said. “That would mean an additional 100 cars an hour at an intersection that is already congested.”

Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper agreed. “During rush hour, that area is already a parking lot,” she said. “To say that this would not increase traffic is just not correct.”

Councilman David Speck was troubled by the argument that this would create competition. “When did it become wrong to want a business to increase its sales?” he asked. “Don’t we want to encourage competition?”

Rich responded. “Not if competition puts small businesses such as Mr. Taylor’s out of business and then B.J.’s increases the gasoline prices,” he said.

Taylor said that the ability to purchase discounted gas at B.J.’s could force him to close or, at a minimum, relocate. “We are here because of the gasoline,” he said. “That’s why the oil companies want us here. We offer other services such as auto repair, but we do not make enough money on these services to support the business.”

In the end, Speck was the lone Council member who supported the proposal.

COMPROMISE AT 209 S. LEE

A last-minute compromise saved at least two hours of public testimony and an equal amount of time deliberating about the encapsulation of a historic wall at 209 S. Lee St.

The case came to City Council in June 2002 and was scheduled to be heard again last Saturday. Last year, on a favorable vote of 3-0 with two abstentions, Council allowed the homeowner to encapsulate the wall and build a playroom for her children. A neighbor took the case to court, and a judge recently ruled that he did not understand what Council had done and referred the matter back to that body.

The Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District (BAR) must rule on any construction project in the area that encompasses much of Old Town. The wall in question was constructed in the 19th century and is considered to be of great historical significance. While the homeowner did not wish to demolish the wall, it would have been encapsulated and not visible.

DUNCAN BLAIR, who represents Amy Baer, the owner of the house at 209 S. Lee, said “We have decided to build a hyphen or hallway that will connect the current structure with the addition that Amy wants to build,” he said. “The BAR has already looked at the design and has indicated that it is fine. We were originally asking for permission to encapsulate and were planning to come back to discuss the design later. Because we are not going to demolish more than 25 square feet of the historic wall, BAR does not have to rule on that piece. We will return to them sometime in the fall with the design,” he said.

Councilman David Speck suggested the compromise. “Our rules say that if you only demolish 25 square feet of a wall, the BAR doesn’t have to rule,” he said. “That’s a doorway. This type of design has been used successfully before, and I just thought it might work here.

“The compromise is going to please almost everyone who is concerned about historic preservation. It is not going to please those who simply don’t want anything to be built on this property,” he said.

The design will come to the BAR in September or October.

POSITIVE RESULTS AT CARLYLE

Council has approved the next phase of development at Carlyle, which will include the much anticipated hotel with conference space.

When all of the shifting of space was approved, there was no greater density and the city will have what Planning Department staff and the developer believe will be a better development.

“By adding residential space to the block with the hotel, we believe that we have increased the vibrancy of this development and have helped to ensure that it will be a place where people are after the Patent and Trademark Office closes at 5 p.m.,” said Eileen Fogarty, director of zoning and planning.

Jeffrey Farner, the acting division chief for Development within the Planning Department, explained further. “While we did a lot of technical stuff here, the most important things are that the city is going to get a large hotel with significant conference space, we have added floor space to the retail block and we will have high-quality buildings,” he said.

The hotel will be built on the site that had been used for a potential media center for the proposed terrorist trials. “The hotel will have first-floor retail, 15,000 square feet of meeting space and 68 condominium units,” Fogarty said at Saturday’s public hearing.

Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper asked about the meeting space. “Will there be a space that is large enough to accommodate our dinner meetings,” she asked.

The ballroom that is envisioned will have 8,000 square feet of space, slightly larger than the ballroom at the Hilton at Mark Center.

John Carlyle Street will have two floors of retail. “We really wanted this to be the anchor for retail in Carlyle,” Farner said. “With Whole Foods being built we think that this will become a destination retail center.”

Pat Rudd, who spoke for the Carlyle-Eisenhower Civic Association, asked for additional screening of the PTO parking garage. “The townhouses screen two sides but we would like some additional height on the north side so that we are not looking at a concrete wall,” she said.

THE DEVELOPER has agreed to consider adding a floor to the office building on the north side of the PTO campus. “This will make that building about 60 feet high, which is about the same height as the parking garage,” Farner said.

Although it was not on the agenda, Council inquired about the completion of the Duke Street concourse. This is the “tunnel” that will allow people to cross Duke Street from the Metro stops to get to PTO. The developer has encountered significant problems with utility relocation and some other engineering difficulties.

“I don’t believe that we should take off the table the possibility of not allowing the first PTO building to open if we don’t have a solution to this problem,” Pepper said. “I want to see a plan that would have these shuttle busses running every few minutes. I am also concerned about the amount of time that it is going to take to construct this concourse. We have all lived through the construction of the Duke Street bridge and many of us thought it would never be completed in our lifetime. I don’t want to go through the same thing here.”

Both the developer and Richard Baier, the city’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services agreed that construction would take a minimum of nine months. “We can do some things to shave a little bit of time off construction but it really is going to take about nine months,” Baier said. That matter will be before Council in the fall.