Public Housing, Yes; Fast Food, No

Public Housing, Yes; Fast Food, No

Yogi Berra's truism, "It ain't over till it's over," was evident Tuesday night at Alexandria Planning Commission. On the docket was another chapter in the saga of Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown), otherwise known as "The Berg."

Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) was seeking an 18-month extension of their development special use permits for the three scattered sites of public housing locations due to a complex series of financial transactions and procedures, according to the staff report.

The sites are located at 1600-1706 West Braddock Road, 423 S. Reynolds Street and 325 Whiting Street. Upon completion they will provide 48 public housing units displaced from the new Chatham Square development, previously Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown). Fifty two units of public housing are included in the 152 new units now under construction at the former Berg location.

ARHA's SUP for the scattered sites was originally approved by City Council in 2002. In March, 2003, ARHA applied to the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) for state low income housing tax credits. These were not formally approved until November, 2003.

"While the tax credit funding was being pursued, ARHA filed a condemnation petition for the Whiting Street property. This ... resulted in considerable delay in acquiring the ... site," staff reported. The process was also impacted by a lawsuit filed by the Alexandria Resident Council (ARC) against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Other delays were incurred by negotiations pertaining to the on-site new units. "The sales proceeds from the Samuel Madden site were not available until after the sales transactions closed in February, 2004," staff explained to Planning.

"After extensive and time-consuming negotiations regarding fees and terms, ARHA was unable to finalize a contract and was forced to select another architectural firm. This added time to the process but saved more than $200,000 in architectural and engineering costs," the report revealed.

In recommending approval of the SUP extension, the City's Department of Planning and Zoning concluded, "completion of the final site plans for the off-site public housing units has been delayed due to extensive time needed for ARHA to acquire funding from three different sources," namely HOPE VI, tax credits and the proceeds from the sale of The Berg.

The only objection was voiced by a resident who suggested that the Whiting Street location be used for open space rather than public housing. The Commission, although expressing their concern for open space preservation, pointed out that this site had long since been a part of the overall Samuel Madden public housing package.

"We are all concerned with open space. But these sites have been approved specifically for public housing," said Commission Vice Chairman Richard Leibach. The extension was approved unanimously.

ADDRESSING ANOTHER development philosophy, the Commission backed efforts of the King Street Retail Plan to upgrade the type of restaurants approved along what has been dubbed "Alexandria's Main Street."

Commission Chairman Eric Wagner summarized the implied consensus of the Commission by noting, "If I'm hearing you correctly, it appears that we are discouraging the approval of fast food restaurants along King Street."

The discussion arose from a proposal by Subway Real Estate Corporation c/o Subway Development Corporation to locate a new Subway restaurant at 1512 King Street. The applicant was also seeking a reduction in the parking requirements associated with the SUP.

As noted by Christopher Decre, representing Subway Corporation, the application was for a "Subway sandwich shop." The company, in its application stated, "There are a number of offices, shops and residential uses in the area and there are few places in the area for quick, convenient fresh food."

The proposed site contains a two story building with residential apartments on the second floor, and three retail spaces on the ground floor. The restaurant was to be located on the first floor "farthest to the west" in 1,250 square feet.

According to the application it would seat 36 with an expected patronage of 175 to 200 customers daily. Hours of operation would be Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to midnight. Subway estimated the peak hours at 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They indicated there would be "no more than six employees during peak hours."

ALTHOUGH STAFF recommended approval, they stated, "we have concerns about approving a fast food restaurant in the location on King Street, but recognize that, with design improvements, an active tenant in what has been a vacant space could be an improvement for the area and provide convenience for area office workers and residents.

"In terms of concentration, there are fewer restaurants in this block of King Street than blocks further east, so the restaurant issues that attend, for example, the 700 block are not applicable. There is the potential for redevelopment of this King Street block ... and the area will likely change and improve in the future."

In making his case to the Commission, Decre indicated that the decor of the restaurant had been upgraded. But he admitted it remained a fast food concept.

Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., suggested deferral "pending further development of the King Street study." However, as Wagner noted this would delay any decision by the Commission until September, at the earliest, due to the summer recess.

Decre explained Subway had been paying rent on the property since January and that such a delay would add a financial burden to the company. Wagner suggested that a denial would bring the matter to City Council within two weeks.

Commissioner Donna Fossum strongly backed a denial vote, "Because we are trying to get away from fast food restaurants on King Street. We all seem to be leaning that way. Why defer it?"

The application was denied. Subway corporation can now appeal that decision to City Council.