One of the first professional societies to locate its national headquarters in Alexandria more than 20 years ago is now planning to expand with a new building that is nearly triple the height of the present structure. It will also add 7,314 square feet of retail space in an area of the city that will be exploding with potential new customers.
On Tuesday night, Feb. 1, The Society of American Florists and Ornamental Horticulturists, located at 1601,1603 and 1607 Duke St., the intersection of Duke Street and Daingerfield Road, brought before the Alexandria Planning Commission a proposal to replace their existing two-story headquarters building with a new 49,997 sq.ft. structure that will be 40 feet taller. Of that total 42,663 sq.ft. will be office space, with an increase in floor area ratio from two to three feet.
"This was a really tough application for staff," said Eileen Fogarty, director, Alexandria Planning and Zoning Department, as she deferred the explanation for recommending approval to Jeffrey Farner, a planner within the department.
"This was really a balance in looking at a variety of things. But, it does complement our encouragement to use Metro. We are also getting ground floor retail and underground parking," Farner said.
Attorney Duncan Blair, representing SAF in their application for a development special use permit (DSUP), told the commission, "This is a project that provides them (SAF) the opportunity to make much better use of their space and bring much needed retail space to this area."
"We have met with the King Street Metro Enterprise Team (KSMET) and the Upper King Street Civic Association and both are in favor of this application," Blair said. Lois Walker, KSMET president, said, "This offers public benefits for the city."
THE SITE IS within a five-minute walk of the King Street Metro Station and "is one of the few remaining parcels located near the metro station which has not been redeveloped" since that station was opened in 1983, according to the staff report.
Of primary concern to staff was that the present building's configuration offers a sense of open space at that location combined with the fact that it is more compatible with other buildings around it. "Currently, the site provides a sense of "openness" for this corner because of the modest height and setback of the existing building," staff stated.
They also noted in their report, "As a commercial office development, the proposed project has no open-space requirement."
And, "The proposed development provides office use with ground floor retail and/or restaurant space, enhanced building design and pedestrian and streetscape improvements ... which is consistent with the Goals of the Master Plan and the recent City Vision adopted by City Council."
SAF plans to occupy the top floor of the new building to be located on the .38 acre site, and lease the remainder of the structure. As stated in a letter to the commission dated Jan. 28, Blair said, "SAF's goal is to construct a new facility to meet its current physical and fiscal needs" that is "consistent with the size and scale of the King Street Metro Station area, and onsite and offsite improvements that will enhance the pedestrian-oriented character of the area."
But, not everyone was in agreement with the application. Ellen Pickering, a citizen activist, who disagreed with the size and scale of the proposed structure given the surrounding streetscape, said, "The staff report makes all my points against this and then says it recommends approval." However, the present and new building is directly across from the multistory Marriott Residence Inn.
Staff did recommend 50 conditions to be met by SAF to gain its approval. One of those dealt with requirements pertaining to any restaurant that would be located at the site. At the meeting Fogarty introduced three changes to that recommendation:
1. The restaurant shall not be a fast food establishment.
2. All patrons shall be seated by a host or hostess, printed menus shall be provided at the tables, and service shall be provided at the tables by a waiter or waitress.
3. There shall be no more than 60 indoor seats and 20 outdoor seats.
Following a series of questions by the commissioners, the application was approved unanimously.
IN OTHER MATTERS:
* With a one-vote margin, 4-3, the commission approved an application by Maziar Choubineh for an SUP to
operate a Quiznos Sub quick-service restaurant at 1640 King
St. in space now vacant. The primary opposition to the
application was based on approving another fast-food establishment in that block.
Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., said, "To put another fast- food restaurant in that block is just not good planning." He proposed that the application be deferred until the King Street Retail Study was complete.
Staff pointed out that there is over 340,000 square feet of office space in that area with few choices for personnel to go for lunch. Commission Vice Chairman Richard Leibach moved for approval with the stipulation that if the space "opens up again it would remain commercial" and not be converted to additional office space.
* Unanimously approved an application by 7-Eleven, Inc., for an SUP to operate a nonconforming 7-Eleven convenience store at 3412 Mount Vernon Ave. The application was recommended for approval by the Del Ray Citizens Association.
* Approved, on a vote of 6-1, an SUP for reduced parking requirement at 1219 Oronoco St. It is now a vacant 11-unit apartment building which the applicant, 1219 Oronoco, LLC, a Virginia limited partnership 100 percent owned by Benten Investors Management, LLC, proposes to convert to 11, one-bedroom condominiums. The three-level building, constructed in 1950, is within walking distance of the Braddock Road Metro Station.
Since the alterations will exceed 33 and one third percent of the building's market value the requirement to provide off- street parking was invoked. There is no space on the site for such parking and it was not required at the time of original construction. Therefore, the new owners were seeking an SUP to relieve them from providing such parking. Most surrounding neighbors supported the application. Commissioner Jesse Jennings was the lone negative vote on the basis that the conversion would bring more cars to the area and thereby exacerbate street parking requirements.