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Neighborhood: Old Town Aug. 9-15

The Plot Thickens — Affordable workforce housing (or the lack thereof) is moving to the fore of an intense debate gaining momentum in the very south tip of Old Town Back to that in a minute.

We told you the other day that a battle was brewing down that way over a plan to build a massive new condominium development on S. Washington Street at the southern gateway to Old Town. That plan, the brainchild of well-known builder/developer Giuseppe Cecchi, appears to be moving forward. It would bring to that part of our old port city some 300-plus luxury condominiums on a relatively tiny site in the 1200 block where Hunting Terrace now stands.

Area Old Towners and others are particularly troubled by the bulk and scope of Cecchi's proposed project — one which would jam those 300-plus condos into a site that would include two 15-story towers at the rear of the property; a nine-story tower nearer Washington Street and smaller townhouses elsewhere on the site, which has a buildable total of about seven acres.

The neighborhood is gearing up to fight the plan as offered by Cecchi. The Porto Vecchio Board of Directors the other night voted 5-1 to oppose it, based on sheer bulk. The Old Town Civic Association will shortly send a letter to the City opposing the plan for the same reasons. But the debate, already causing some bruised feelings among some longtime 'Towners, is now moving beyond the size and scope of what Cecchi plans. A key element of the entire deal centers on the developer's intention to buy Hunting Point on the Potomac directly across Washington St. from Hunting Terrace and next door to Porto Vecchio. (A disclosure: Your hardworking Old Town correspondent lives at Porto Vecchio.) Cecchi has said he intends to eventually buy Hunting Point from the Virginia Department of Transportation and preserve about 530 units of the building for affordable workforce housing. Obviously, Cecchi will utilize this generous offer as a bargaining point in getting what he wants across the street.

All of this is understandable. and will play out in the weeks and months ahead. But another debate is starting to gather steam within the opposition to Cecchi's plan — whether to publicly make the affordable housing issue part of the opposition's argument. Porto Vecchio's Board decided to remain quiet on the housing issue, and focus primarily on the enormous bulk and height levels of the project's buildings.

That decision has sparked considerable criticism within Porto Vecchio, where many argue that the housing issue plays a major role in the opposition's efforts. One resident, Derry Bancroft, put it this way: "Affordable housing must be taken care of and made a prominent part of our effort."

I agree.

— Bob Feldkamp