Alexandria Planning Commission Tuesday night was ordered out of City Council chambers an hour into their regular monthly meeting. It was not because of anything they said or did, but because a malfunctioning fire alarm caused a total evacuation of City Hall.
For the next 40 minutes Commissioners, applicants, lawyers and citizens milled around Market Square or huddled close to the building in an effort to stave off the falling temperatures while Alexandria firefighters and fire marshals tried to locate the problem. Finally, all were allowed back in to resume deliberations.
"The alarm system is malfunctioning. They don't know why. It's been disconnected for now but we may have to evacuate again and it may sound again as they work with it. The Fire Marshal is here and will keep us informed. Let's see if we can get through this agenda as quickly as possible," said Commission Chairman Eric Wagner.
That proved to be somewhat wishful thinking. Wagner made the request at 9:15 p.m. They completed the last docket application at 11:05 p.m. There had also been a one hour work session on the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan prior to the regular meeting which commenced at 7:30 p.m.
That work session focused primarily on a review of the various elements of that plan in preparation for the Dec. 14 neighborhood information meeting to be held at Jefferson Houston School at which the Department of Planning and Zoning will present the draft plan and receive citizen feedback. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.
One of the primary goals of the plan, as stated in the presentation to the Commission, is the preservation of existing and creation of additional affordable housing. Several members of the Commission expressed their desire that that element of the plan should be increased given that developers were being afforded the opportunity to create greater density.
Richard Josephson, acting director, Planning & Zoning Department, assured Commission members that a greater percentage of affordable housing space would be analyzed prior to the public presentation. Commissioner Jesse Jennings cited the Fairfax and Arlington counties examples of increased density when planning areas in and around Metro stations.
AT THE OUTSET of the regular meeting the Commission deferred a request by Jerry's Systems, Inc., for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to operate a Jerry's Subs and Pizza restaurant at 520 John Carlyle Street. Although the item had been on the docket's Consent Calendar for automatic approval, it was removed when a citizen indicated a desire to address the proposal.
"There are too many fast food restaurants in the Carlyle area now. We need more high end restaurants in the area. And, the Commission has indicated in the past that is your desire for this area as well," said Craig Rosen, a Holland Lane resident.
Jay Ryan, representing Jerry's Systems, Inc., explained that the proposed restaurant is a high-end version of the Jerry's franchise. "We intend to have railed-off outdoor seating and the interior design is quite high-end," he said.
The Commission has indicated in previous discussions that the ultimate goal is to get more full-service restaurants into the entire Carlyle/PTO area. Staff said that remains a goal but no applications have been received from such restaurants until recently. That application is under review, according to staff.
Jerry's site is proposed within the Shops at Carlyle Square building, a multi-story condominium structure comprised of residential and retail uses. The proposed restaurant space is located in the middle of the first floor of that building and would occupy approximately 1,843 square feet, according to the staff report.
The 70-plus acre Carlyle development envisions a mix of office, residential, and retail uses. As noted by staff, most of the present customer base in the area comes from the occupied offices and is primarily lunch business. Even though the Jerry's application indicated the restaurant would remain open until 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, they indicated they expect "more customers at lunch than dinner."
The application will be reconsidered at the January Commission meeting. Staff was requested to "identify just how much space is available for restaurant use" prior to that meeting. "We don't want to lock ourselves in for the next 10 or 15 years by limiting the space available for full service restaurants because of existing leases," Wagner said.
In dealing with another Carlyle development application, the Commission gave their unanimous approval to what Jeffrey Farner, division chief, Development, Planning & Zoning Department, described as "The first real development coming into Carlyle's southside."
Located at 310 Hoofs Run, the application by Carlyle Centre, LLC, sought approval of a concept plan for block 27 of the Eisenhower East Small Area Plan; a development SUP with a site plan for a residential building with underground parking; approval of an SUP for a transportation management plan; and other items.
"This is a piece that begins to establish the framework for this section of the South Carlyle area," Farner said in presenting the staff analysis. The Commission agreed voting unanimous approval.
They also gave unanimous approval to a proposal by Carr Homes, LLC, to develop a triangular two-acre site at the convergence of Mount Vernon and Commonwealth avenues in Del Ray. According to staff, "Redevelopment of the property will bring significant change to the site, currently an unattractive collection of vacant lots, parking lots and one story buildings."
Carr's proposal calls for 141 residential units in a three- and four-story complex of two buildings over two levels of underground parking plus smaller "townhouse-style" units fronting on Commonwealth Avenue. The southern portion of the site will provide 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail on Mount Vernon Avenue adjacent to a proposed triangular open space park area.
"Our goal was to create the type of development described in the City plan for this area. We believe we have done that," said attorney J. Howard Middleton, representing Carr Homes at the public hearing.
That was buttressed by Commission Vice Chairman John Komoroske. "I lived in this area as a child and that site has always been rather seedy. Because of its shape and topography I never thought it could be developed properly. I am extremely pleased with this proposal and intend to support it," he said.
An application that did not receive the Commission's approval was one to subdivide an existing residential lot at 13-15 West Groves Avenue. It was recommended for denial by staff.
The proposal by Scott W. Cullen called for the existing lot which contains a 94-year-old single-family dwelling known as "an American foursquare" to be subdivided into two lots with the intent of building a semi-detached dwelling on each lot. If the house were 100 years old, its renovation or removal would require approval by the Board of Architectural Review, Old and Historic District.
Another element of contention was that the property also contains two large maple trees that contribute to the City's tree canopy. Although Cullen stated he intended to keep the trees, the City arborist informed P&Z staff that "the demolition and excavation of the existing home and construction of the new curb cut will impact the critical root zone" of the 27-inch tree along Groves Avenue. He recommended its removal.
Demolition of the 94-year-old home and removal of the tree brought forth objections from neighbors and the Del Ray Citizens Association. Both groups recommended denial of Cullen's application. The Commission agreed and voted unanimously to deny.
IN OTHER ACTIONS the commission approved:
* A child care center at 917 Prince St. within the Third Baptist Church.
* The naming of two alleys at the rear of the 200 block of North West Street and North Payne Street as "Jones Alley" and "Hollis Alley" after long time City residents.
* Extending the existing Infill and subdivision regulations pertaining to Infill development for a year to allow additional time for further study. Both were die to expire at the end of 2006. Consideration is also being given to the creation of an Infill Task Force, according to Josephson.