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Votes

Affordable Housing Project Approved

Group wins fight to build affordable housing project over neighbors' objections.

History is preserved and the City Council’s stated policy of providing affordable housing to city residents is now a reality. Last Saturday, Harambee Development Corporation won the right to build an eight-unit affordable housing apartment building for senior citizens.

“We have gone out into the community and addressed every concern,” said Loretta Young of Harambee. “There was a concern about parking and we addressed that. Then we heard a concern about the number of units — we wanted 12 and we agreed to eight. Then we heard a concern about open space and we have addressed that. We knew about the concern about archaeology and there is no one more interested in preserving the history at 1323 Duke Street than Harambee. We have addressed all of the concerns and have worked with city staff and the community to address every concern. Now, we are asking you to approve this project for Alexandria. Shiloh Baptist Church gave us the land but this is not a project for Shiloh members; it is for everyone in the community who can meet the guidelines imposed on us by our funding.”

That funding will come from private and public sources, including the city. The Housing Trust Fund provided $50,000 for the project — $25,000 for a feasibility study to determine need and $25,000 in pre-development costs. The remainder of the funding for the project will come from federal, state and private sources.

“We have worked very hard to address all concerns and feel that we have done so,” said Carolyn Harvey. “Now, we are asking you to approve our project.”

Mabel Price also spoke on behalf of the project. “On Dec. 11, I turned 96 years old,” she said. “Seniors in Alexandria need housing. Please support this project.”

The project will be located at 1325 Duke Street, on the site of a slave auction and L’Ouverture Hospital. “The original project called for tearing down the house that was on this site,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of Planning and Zoning for the city of Alexandria. “That house will remain intact and the addition will be architecturally appropriate for the rest of the neighborhood.”

THE HISTORIC HOUSE was built in the 1880s and there was an addition built in the latter 1890s. The house was never part of the hospital nor of the slave trade. It is what is referred to as a “background” building in that it is not architecturally significant — only historically significant. Nearby neighbors oppose the housing project.

“There is no one in this room who is opposed to affordable housing, especially affordable housing for seniors,” said Russell George. “However, this is not the right site for this project. We have signatures from virtually every neighbor who lives in the vicinity of this property opposing this project.” George presented a petition with 200 signatures, protesting the zoning change that was required for the project’s approval. This protest required council to approve the zoning change by a “super majority” or with six of the seven votes.

Fogarty explained the zoning change. “In effect, zoning changes usually are requested when a developer wants a larger footprint than the zoning allows,” she said. “In this case, Harambee is asking for a smaller footprint than is currently permitted by right. We believe that it is appropriate to approve this request because the residential use has a lower floor area ratio (1.36) than is permissible currently (1.5.)”

OLD TOWN CIVIC Association also opposed the project. “We, too support affordable housing but there are more appropriate locations than this very important historic site,” said Michael Hobbs, OTCA’s president. “We cannot support this project as it is being proposed.”

The vote to approve the zoning change and the special use permit was unanimous. “If we don’t do this now, we never will,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “We are a community that supports affordable housing and this is the right project to support at this time.”

Councilwoman Joyce Woodson agreed. “I have been a supporter of affordable housing my entire career,” she said. “We need affordable housing in Alexandria and we need affordable housing for our senior citizens.”