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Votes

Commission Backs Plans

Proposals create debate over open space and affordable housing.

At the launch of its 2004-05 season on Sept. 9, Alexandria Planning Commission was presented with two of the most contentious issues on the city's land use agenda: open space and affordable housing.

The open space involves a plot of land on Ivor Lane while the opportunity to gain additional units of affordable housing is tied to the development of a site at the intersection of Cameron and Fayette streets. As usual, citizens were lined up on both sides of the argument in each case.

In an unusual turn of events, however, it was present home owners, living adjacent to the Ivor's Lane plot, that spoke in favor of development rather than open space. And it was the present land owners coming down on the non-development side.

Located at 4615 and 4617 Seminary Road and 4500 W. Braddock Road, the property in question is owned by Seminary Forest Associates Limited Partnership, doing business as Seminary Forest Apartments. The site fronts on the unfinished — or "underfinished" — portion of Ivor Lane, depending on the observer's definition.

According to the staff report, "The owner ... has offered to sell the subject land to the City and has filed a subdivision application ...." It is now vacant land adjacent to the Seminary Forrest Apartments, staff reported.

"What's before the commission is very exciting," said Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Zoning Department. "There has been use of this land for open space which goes back to the 1980s. And the West End has the greatest lack of open space."

The pending subdivision application will consolidate and resubdivide three existing parcels to create four new parcels, according to the report. "Two of the newly created parcels will be acquired by the City for open space in accordance with the Alexandria Open Space Plan," staff said.

HOWEVER, at least two of the existing property owners on Ivor Lane, opposed the proposed open space use in favor of allowing the lots to be developed and having Ivor Lane "brought up to par."

One of their arguments was that the present road is too narrow for emergency vehicles to properly serve existing homeowners.

"The Fire Department's position is that the present road [Ivor Lane] is adequate to serve the existing development," said Arthur Dahlberg, director, Code Enforcement.

When questioned by Commissioner John Komoroske as to whether emergency vehicles have enough right-of-way, Dahlberg said, "Yes, we could get a fire truck or ambulance to those homes that now exist on Ivor Lane."

This property, consisting of approximately five acres, was recommended by the Open Space Committee for acquisition in June 2004. City Council authorized its purchase for $750,000 pending the subdivision and Section 9.06 application, according to the staff report. "Money from the Open Space Trust Fund, funded by the one cent real estate tax dedicated to open space acquisition, will be used for this acquisition," Staff said.

Section 9.06 refers to that element of the City Charter which addresses "the acquisition or sale of public land and any change in streets, squares, parks, public buildings or spaces." Staff also noted, "acquisition is consistent with the Master Plan."

Other concerns expressed during the public hearing and debate dealt with parking and how the open space would be used. "We envision this to be more of a passive recreation area. It will be used by neighbors as a local park area and won't generate much traffic or parking," said Kirk Kincannon, director, Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.

The final vote recommending approval for adjusting the lot lines to create the necessary parcels was 4-0-3. Vice Chairman Richard Leibach as well as Commissioners Donna Fossum and J. Lawrence Robinson recused themselves from the debate and the vote.

WHEN IT CAME to affordable housing, the interests of existing residents in one the City's historic districts clashed with that of the developer who was seeking a 20 percent increase in density in exchange for providing affordable housing units on site.

The applicant, Carr Homes, Inc., proposes to provide four affordable dwelling units with an estimated value of $451,800, according to the staff report.

"We think this offers a very good chance to get affordable housing and for senior affordable housing," said Jeffrey Farmer, division chief, Department of Planning and Zoning.

Situated at the intersection of Cameron and North Fayette streets, within the Parker Gray Historic District, the proposal calls for the creation of a 64 condominiums in a three- to four-story building with one level of below ground parking. It will be located on the southern portion of a block surrounded by Cameron, Henry and Fayette streets, the site of the present abandoned Hopkins Warehouse and a one story service station.

The greatest opposition to the project was voiced by residents of the immediate area who view it as "a dagger pointed at the heart of the neighborhood," according to Dan Koslov of 1219 Queen St. "It will increase the population of the neighborhood by several hundred percent," he said.

"It would place a multi-family dwelling in the midst of what is now an area exclusively made up of single family homes. The proposal, therefore, abrogates the guiding tenets inherent in the Parker-Gray Historic District," a group of residents said in a letter to Fogarty dated Aug. 12.

"The only people who will accrue anything positive from this project will be the profiteer developers, who will reap their bounty and leave, having no lasting stake in the neighborhood. Conversely, we residents will be left with the irrevocable and permanent harm done to the nature of our community and ... the quality of our lives," the residents said.

ADMITTING OLD TOWN Civic Association had "not followed this project as closely as others in the Old and Historic District," Michael Hobbs, OTCA president, said, "We believe this project is a substantial improvement over what's there now."

Both Upper King Street Civic Association and Inner City Civic Association also back the proposal which was recommended for approval by the Planning and Zoning Department. "We are very happy with the project and support it," said Amy White, president, Inner City.

Two of the primary concerns raised during the public hearing focused on traffic generated by the development and the calculation and positioning of open space within the complex. Guy Boston, speaking for American Legion Post 129 said, "I view the development as a threat to the Post," emphasizing the traffic threat.

As for open space, the proposal provides 26 percent at ground-level and 14 percent on the rooftop terrace, according to staff. Of most concern was that allotted to the rooftop terrace which some questioned as qualifying for true open space to benefit the overall community.

"Taylor Run Civic Association opposes rooftop open space," Ellen Pickering said. She suggested that such space be referred to as an "amenity, not open space." She also requested that the commission defer their decision to allow for further study.

Commissioner Donna Fossum asked Boston what he would suggest in place of the proposed development. He had no answer. However, Koslov put forth several possibilities that included an African-American art center in the image of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

"This is not the perfect project but it's a very difficult site. [The proposed development] is so much better than what we have there now I intend to vote for approval," Fossum said.

Attorney J. Howard Middleton, representing the applicants, said, "We think this is an ideal response to smart growth." He was buttressed in that assessment by the staff report that cited three prime "opportunities" presented by the proposal:

* Redevelopment of a vacant site within the Braddock Road Metro Station Small Area Plan.

* Provision of on-site affordable housing.

* Provision of pedestrian and streetscape improvements.

AS OUTLINED, the proposal calls for a three- to four-story U-shaped building with an interior courtyard, designed to have the appearance of multiple buildings of varying styles. The 64 units are proposed to consist of five one-bedroom and 59 two-bedroom units.

Vehicular access will be via Fayette Street with 110 underground parking spaces and 10 visitor spaces on the surface. Controlled access will be provided to the garage. Primary pedestrian and visitor access to the building will be from Cameron Street and the rear parking area midway between North Henry and North Fayette streets.

"I think on balance this is a good development," Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn said. He then made a motion to approve the project subject to conditions by the department. It passed 6-1 with only Leibach voting against.

In other actions, the commission:

* Denied an SUP to construct a single family dwelling on a substandard lot at 301 Laverne Avenue.

* Approved a development SUP amendment to expand the definition of permitted commercial uses at Cameron Station Phase III to include day care centers and other uses.

* Approved an SUP for Daniel O'Connell's Irish Restaurant on the site of the former Bullfeathers Restaurant and Hats In The Belfry at 108A, 110 and 112 King St.