A 107-room luxury hotel was unanimously approved Tuesday night by the Alexandria Planning Commission to replace a previously proposed 65-unit residential condominium. Although the outward appearance of the structure will remain the same, the impact on King Street traffic flow will not.
Two years ago, the Commission approved DSF/Long's application to construct a 121,670 square feet residential structure at 1514-1600 King Street. That was before the condominium market took a nose dive.
Tuesday night DSF/Long, with their new partner Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, LLC, were back before the Commission with a proposal to change that original use to a 107-room hotel that will include two restaurants with 154 seats, a day spa with massage, 2,914 square feet of ground floor retail space, a reduction in loading space, and valet parking.
It was the latter element of the proposal that triggered the greatest concern among both the commissioners and those speaking against the application. "A fundamental question with this proposal is whether valet parking is appropriate," staff wrote in their report to the Commission.
"Valet parking here is not going to help us. You are taking away three King Street parking spaces which will encourage people to park in the surrounding neighborhoods," said Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet, president, Old Town Civic Association.
"Valet parking simply does not work here and I don't think another expensive hotel is best for this part of the City," said James Melton.
"Putting a hotel on this site changes the whole dynamic of this area. You really need to look at what the neighborhoods need," urged Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet.
That was buttressed by Trey Hanbury, president, Upper King Street Civic Association. "Kimpton Hotels has not made any contribution back to the community," he said.
THE REMOVAL OF three parking spaces in front of the site was
proposed by the applicants to allow for the discharge of guests and those visiting the restaurants. Their vehicles would be taken by valets to the dual level, 75 space, underground parking garage portion of the structure accessed from Dechantel Street.
Those in opposition, as well as staff, expressed concerns that this process could contribute to King Street traffic congestion which is already one of the worst in the City. The alternative was to leave the present parking meters but reduce their time limit to 20 minutes. That is the system employed at the Hampton Inn located at 1616 King St, just six doors to the west of the proposed Kimpton Hotel site.
"Valet parking is going to cause a bottleneck on King Street. Why not have 20-minutes spaces there as the City already does in front of our property. That way they remain available to non-hotel patrons as well," said James Moore, regional manager, Hampton Inns.
ORIGINALLY THE APPLICANT sought to have six spaces reserved for valet parking. However, Planning & Zoning Department staff recommended that be reduced to three. "The amount of parking proposed to be removed from King Street by the applicant is excessive," they stated in their analysis.
Staff also found "unacceptable" the applicant’s proposal to charge a fee for valet parking services. "Patrons will avoid the charge by parking on the street when spaces are available," according to staff.
That rationale was challenged by Charlotte Hall, vice president, Potomac Riverboat Company, and member of the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association. "ACVA and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce are reinstituting the "Park Alexandria" program which will encourage residents and visitors to use parking garages through a voucher system," she said.
Several Commissioners stated that valet parking should be free in order to encourage its use. It was finally agreed that parking for the restaurants and spa would be free. Hotel guests would pay for the valet service as part of their overnight parking charge.
In making the case for the applicants, attorney M. Catherine Puskar said, "We believe we can work within the staff recommendation of three spaces for valet on King Street. We also believe this new hotel is going to enliven upper King Street." As noted by Puskar, there is no requirement to provide retail parking within 1,000 feet of a Metro station.
Based on the applicant's willingness to reduce the number of valet
parking spaces and viewing valet parking as "the beginning of a more comprehensive plan for parking ... as envisioned by the King Street Retail Strategy," staff recommended approval of the hotel's implementation of valet parking.
Addressing the charge of Kimpton not making any contribution to the City, Puskar noted, "The applicants are maintaining their original commitment to the Affordable Housing Fund of $175,456 that was made when this site was planned as residential."
She also explained to the Commission that the outward appearance of the hotel will not change from the previous condominium structure. "We told them that all the changes must take place within the existing plan. This conversion from residential to hotel has proven to be a challenge but can be accomplished," she said.
DSF/Long will remain the developer and owner of the property while Kimpton Hotel will manage the property on a day-to-day basis. Kimpton presently has 140 plus properties throughout the United States. Seven of those are in the District of Columbia. This new property will bring their Alexandria presence to three. The others are The Morrison House and the former Holiday Inn Select.
IN OTHER ACTIONS the Commission:
*Voted to deny a request to vacate public right-of-way at 10 Russell Road. The 800 square feet plot the applicants were requesting be vacated adjoins a 10,730 square feet open space plot owned by the City. The applicants wanted the smaller plot to provider greater access to their property and to do landscaping. It was noted the City has a beatification grant program to reimburse residents for such activities on City owned parcels. "Giving up green space is very hard. Once it's gone it's gone. I prefer the City's idea to use the beatification program," said Planning Commission Vice Chairman John Komoroske.
*Unanimously approved a change to the Zoning Ordinance allowing covered open porches in required front yards by special exception and amending the zoning regulations applicable to open covered landings in all yards. In recommending denial of the text amendment change, City resident Poul Hertel noted, "Porches affect neighborhoods more than many other changes." His opposition was buttressed by Del Ray resident, Amy Slack, who said, "It's not the ordinance that gives me problems. It's the implementation that gives me heartburn. I would prefer this not pass." In approving the amendment, the Commission added wording limiting any porch addition to ground level, single story.