The Seminary Hill Civic Association has filed a protest that, if found to be valid, would require a super majority vote of City Council to approve the proposed Quaker Ridge development.
This protest mechanism has been used twice in the past month by Seminary Hill but hadn’t been used before that, since the 1980s. Council has directed planning director Eileen Fogarty to determine whether the protest meets all of the legal requirements. Those include whether the protest was filed in a timely manner and whether the protest is supported by the owners of 20 percent of the land within 300 feet of the proposed development. If the protest is found to be legally valid, the proposed development must be approved by six members of Council.
“We are still reviewing the protest and will make a determination before Nov. 25, when Council is scheduled to vote,” Fogarty said.
The development would be located on Duke Street, between the Quaker Village development and the Colonial Heights development and is across from Sunrise Assisted Living.
“There are townhomes on either side of this proposed development and commercial properties across the street,” Fogarty said at Saturday’s public hearing. “We feel that this is an appropriate place for this development.”
CURRENTLY, THERE are six single-family homes on the property where the development would be located. “While there would be an increase in the number of cars at this location, we believe that there would be traffic benefits as well,” said Tom Culpepper, the deputy director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “Right now, there are five driveways that lead directly onto Duke Street. This would decrease to one exit onto Duke Street from this development. The driveways hamper the flow of traffic on this arterial, so we see this development as bringing a benefit in that regard.”
Carr Homes proposes to build 25 townhomes on the property. This requires a zoning change from residential/low to residential/medium and an amendment to the small area master plan for the area.
“If a zoning change is required and if you require a change in the master plan, this should make Council stop and think,” said Richard Cain, speaking on behalf of many of the 30 people who signed up to speak against the development. “A master plan is a vision for the area, and you need to think about whether more townhomes in this area is what your vision is for this part of Duke Street and for the city.”
THE OWNERS of the single-family homes disagree. “These homes need many repairs,” said Diane Crawford Batt. “At least one of them has been vacant for a number of years. I hope that Council will not be swayed by a few people who get involved in every issue and will allow this development to go forward.”
Residents at Colonial Heights support the Quaker Ridge development. “We have worked closely with Carr Homes, and they have responded to all of our concerns,” said the president of the Colonial Heights homeowners association. “We support this development.”
Council had many questions, but Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper corrected Cain’s assertion about the small area plan. “As I recall,” she said, “we zoned this particular small section of Duke Street because of what was in front of us and not because of what we eventually wanted to see there. We did not want these single-family homes to be a nonconforming use. I’m not sure that anyone who was involved at the time really believed that, long-term, we would have single-family homes on Duke Street. This is hardly a neighborhood that is being destroyed by this development.”
The density that is being proposed is no greater than that of Quaker Village or Colonial Heights and is less than a development that Council approved on West Glebe Road just one month ago. “And in that development, we did not get nearly as many benefits to the public as we are getting here,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka.
Both Councilman Ludwig Gaines and Councilman Andrew Macdonald expressed reservations about the development. “I am very concerned about the additional traffic on Duke Street that will result from this development,” Gaines said. “Duke Street is already a parking lot, and the Patent and Trademark Office is going to make it worse. I have some real concerns about this.”
Macdonald was concerned about the geotechnical report. “I’m not sure that this isn’t going to have a negative impact on the existing developments,” he said. “There is certainly some evidence that building this many townhomes is going to make already unstable soil conditions even more unstable.”
IN RESPONSE TO the question of, if not this, then what, Councilwoman Joyce Woodson had a number of suggestions. “Since we are being told that a developer could come back and build nine or 10 or maybe 12 or 13 townhomes without our permission, perhaps we should look at this as an opportunity to consider building low-income housing or maybe even a safe-haven house for homeless individuals with mental health issues. I believe that ARHA is looking for some additional scattered site housing for those who are being displaced from the Berg’s redevelopment.
"Maybe we should talk to ARHA. Those who have spoken about a vision are right, and I have a vision that if we don’t approve this, maybe we could look at this as an opportunity to help the poor or the homeless.”
The neighbors did not respond to her suggestions. Fogarty did confirm that some developer would have a "by-right opportunity" to develop the property at some level without consulting Council. Council will vote on Quaker Ridge on Nov. 25.