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Votes

Commission Approves Two Major Projects

Affordable housing and open space win in both projects.

Gains were made in both open space and affordable housing as a result of favorable votes by Alexandria's Planning Commission during its marathon session on Nov. 11. Each involved approval of new housing, increasing the city's affordable housing inventory, and open space benefits in distinctly different areas of the city.

The largest and most complex of the two was the proposal to redevelop an existing vacant warehouse to provide 16,000 square feet of retail space combined with 168 residential condominium units in a three- to six-story building that will consume an entire square block. The center of the complex will be landscaped open space available to all nearby area residents.

To be known as The Monarch, the mixed use development will arise on the space now occupied by the vacant Hennage Printing building, a car wash facility, and a 10,000-square-foot utility substation. The site is surrounded by North Henry, Oronoco, North Fayette, and Pendleton streets.

Located three blocks from Braddock metrorail station, staff saw this proposal as "an excellent opportunity to create a pedestrian-oriented mixed use development near a transit stop." The 16,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level is envisioned for retail, commercial and restaurant enterprises.

In representing the applicant, Diamond Alexandria, LLC, located at 3919 Old Lee Highway, attorney Harry P. Hart said, "This site has been recommended by the Master Plan for redevelopment and we have worked with staff for the past year and a half to develop this plan." It previously came before a June work session of the commission.

According to the staff report, "The applicant initially proposed to provide three on-site affordable units valued at $475,000 or $2.02 per gross square foot." Planning staff requested this be increased to six units. The applicant countered with an offer of four. Whatever the final number, they will be split between one- and two-bedroom units.

In a letter dated Nov. 3, 2004 to the Commission, Hart said, "our recommended four affordable housing units exceeds the current City Council policy. We are recommending one two bedroom unit, two one bedroom units and one bedroom/den unit which amounts to approximately $650,000 to $700,000 depending on the final sales price of the units. That's $2.92 per square foot, 2.25 times the current City Council policy."

It was on this point that Planning Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., expressed the feeling that for a project so large more affordable housing units should be provided. He was the lone negative vote on approval, which passed six to one, to authorize a development special use permit increasing the floor area from 1.5 to 2.33.

THE 168 MARKET PRICE units will consist of 76 one-bedroom and 92 two-bedroom units. These will be above the ground level retail/commercial space.

All residential parking will be contained within the project in an underground parking facility that includes 15 percent visitor parking spaces. Retail parking will be in both the underground facility and in the private alley behind the retail space. Parking along the perimeter of the blocks is limited to two or three hour time restrictions.

As for open space, "The applicant is providing a significant amount of ground-level open space, most of which is ... within a central courtyard that is accessible and visible from each of the four adjoining streets," staff reported.

They also noted, "At the request of the city, the applicant has agreed to provide a public access easement for the internal pedestrian connections and the internal courtyard park to enable the space to function as a neighborhood pocket park for the adjoining residents and the city." It will contain benches and landscaping.

An added advantage to this open courtyard approach is that this "space could also serve as an area for outdoor dining and other uses that could help activate the space" for everyone in the area, according to staff. Conditions were added to the approval request to promote this conclusion.

One of the six parcels included in the site is the 10,000-square-foot Dominion Virginia Power substation. The footprint of that facility will be reduced to 1,000 square foot and be screened off upon completion.

THE SECOND MAJOR development project to receive the commission's approval, also on a six to one vote, was what is known as The Postmasters. The site currently contains a one-story office building, the National League of Postmasters, and a 24 space surface parking lot.

Holladay Corporation of Washington, D.C., is proposing to erect a three- to four-story building on the southwestern portion of the block adjacent to North Royal and First streets in Old Town North. It would contain 53 condominium units ranging from one to three bedrooms, and a two-level below-ground parking area with access from North Royal Street.

During Thursday's meeting, primary concerns centered on the proximity of the construction to St. Anthony's Day Care School, 321 First St., and the construction's potential impact on an adjacent property owner's business which depends on satellite communication and buried fiber optics cable.

Staff reported, "A concern has been expressed by St. Anthony's School and parents of the attendees that the construction ... will be a significant disruption to classes and students. Additionally, there is concern over safety of the children entering and exiting the building ...."

Commissioners were assured, "Staff has added considerable conditions to address issues such as construction phasing, construction traffic, and provision of appropriate safety precautions during construction. Additionally, staff has required the applicant provide a liaison to the community throughout the duration of the construction."

J. Howard Middleton, attorney representing Holladay Corporation, in a Nov. 2, 2004 letter to Eileen Fogarty, director, Department of Planning and Zoning, said, "In June ... I met with Ms. Patricia Hall of St. Anthony's School and a number of the school's parents to discuss the project ... In response ... we are pleased to suggest adding the following conditions.

"(a) Construction trucks and trucks removing debris shall arrive and depart from the site along Royal Street and shall utilize First Street only to the east property line of the site. After the power lines along Royal Street are placed underground, such trucks will utilize Royal Street only ...

"(b) A fence will be placed between the site and the St. Anthony's School building during construction."

There are approximately 86 students registered at St. Anthony's with an age range from three months to five years, according to school personnel. During the day the children cross First Street to reach Montgomery Park located on the south side.

During the public hearing, Hall, owner of the school, also raised concern about noise during the hours of 1 to 3 p.m. "when the children are taking naps." Middleton assured that this would be taken into consideration during construction.

For affordable housing, the applicant has agreed to provide four off-site units, with a minimum of two-bedroom units to be resold at prices "not to exceed $225,000 and three-bedroom units ... at prices not to exceed $250,000." The location of these units will be subject to city approval, according to staff.

As a boost to city open space goals, Holladay will contribute $10,000 for pedestrian, landscape and signage improvements to Montgomery Park. The ground-level open space within the project will be accessible and visible from the street and consist of private front yards on Royal Street as well as a public pocket park.

Other conditions enhancing open space include:

* Public art or sculpture within the pocket park

* New six-foot-wide brick sidewalks, landscape strip and street trees

* Stamped and colored pedestrian crosswalks at the intersections of Fairfax and First streets and Royal and First streets

"We believe this projects fits in perfectly with the plan for this area of Alexandria," Middleton said. He was supported in that assessment by Planning Commissioner John Komoroske. "I think this is an excellent project," he said prior to moving for its approval.

Also supporting the project was the Old Town North Community Partnership. Its letter of support said, "The developer's work on Liberty Row in our neighborhood has been carried out with minimal disruption to traffic and pedestrians, and Holladay Corp enjoys a good reputation in Old Town North."