Alexandria Planning Commission opened its first meeting of 2007 on a bitter sweet note with a ceremony honoring the public service of Commissioner and former vice chairman Richard Leibach. He announced that after nearly 20 years on the Commission he is stepping down. Last Thursday night was his final meeting.
"I could never have achieved in Pittsburgh what I have achieved here," said the Pennsylvania native who has been one of the most perceptive, inquisitive, and dedicated members of the Commission during his two decade tenure.
"Alexandria is a very open city. It has been an honor to serve this city and its citizens. The people of Alexandria can be very proud of what this Commission does and has accomplished," Leibach said in responding to a proclamation in his honor read and presented to him by Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.
"Richard has been the epitome of what volunteer service is all about. He has seen a wide range of changes in this city and has participated in bringing many of them about," Euille said. "We all thank you for your years of service."
Following Euille's remarks and Leibach's comments he received a standing ovation from both members of the Commission and the audience gathered in City Council Chambers for the upcoming meeting. Later he was presented with a farewell cake by his fellow Commissioners.
WHEN IT CAME to the evening's docket items, the Commission revisited an item that had been deferred following a lengthy debate during the December 2006 meeting. However, the basic question remained which brought about that deferral. Does the Carlyle development need another fast food eatery?
The applicant, Jerry's Systems, Inc., sought a Special Use Permit to operate a restaurant with both inside/outside dining and carry-out service at 520 John Carlyle St., Unit 150. The proposed restaurant space is located in the middle, ground floor space of a multi-story condominium building that includes both residential and retail space.
Commissioners H.Steward Dunn, Jr., and J. Lawrence Robinson were absent from the December Commission meeting. During discussions last Thursday night they split on their assessment as to the desirability adding another fast food establishment prior to securing a full service, more formal restaurant for the area.
"When we approved the PTO (U.S.Patent & Trademark Office) we created a no-man's land. We looked at Carlyle as a mix use area. But it hasn't worked out that way," Dunn said in proposing denial of the SUP.
"The area is mainly composed of fast food establishments and banks. We seemed to have taken the position that we follow the market. That's not good planning. Too many fast food establishments discourage full service restaurants from locating in the same area," Dunn said.
Robinson, conversely, made a motion to approve the SUP based on the fact that there is a great deal of retail space still vacant and that the clientele to support a full service eating establishment was not yet present in the Carlyle development. Bill Harvey, a Carlyle resident, spoke in favor of granting the SUP and Robinson's motion.
In a memorandum from Rich Josephson, acting director, Planning & Zoning Department, he noted there are five fast food restaurants currently located in the Carlyle development. They include both chain and non-chain operations.
Overall there is 258,850 sq.ft. of retail/commercial space programmed for Carlyle. Existing restaurants account for 11,349 sq.ft. with another 3,000 sq.ft proposed, including the Jerry's SUP. Other retail uses account for 19,668 sq.ft. of utilized space, according to Josephson's memo. That leaves approximately 224,000 sq. ft. of retail space vacant.
"With over 86 percent of retail space still available in Carlyle, there are ample opportunities to accommodate the short and long term needs for both quick service and full service restaurants and other retail and personal service uses," Josephson said in his memo.
That opinion was buttress by Stephanie Landrum, executive director, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Inc. "AEDP has been working on promoting a full service restaurant for Carlyle. Our office feels very confident that it will come but it will take more residents and completion of more office space before that happens," she said.
"I will vote against the motion for denial not based on the market but on the staff report that show the extent of free space still available," said Commission Chairman Eric Wagner.
That staff report stated, "While staff feels that it would be
desirable for a full service restaurant to locate in this retail space, it also recognizes that there is still a demand for quick service restaurants to be located in close proximity to an area with a large number of office workers. By requiring conformance with high quality design elements, staff is confident that the proposed use will not detract from the surrounding retail area."
After a vote of four to three to defeat Dunn's motion to deny, Robinson's motion to recommend approval of the SUP to City Council passed five to two. Hours of operation are scheduled to be 7 a.m. to midnight daily to coincide with other previously approved restaurant SUP's in the Carlyle area.
IN STARK CONTRAST to previous controversial actions pertaining to the asphalt producing facility in Alexandria's West End, the Commission breezed through consideration of an SUP renewal for Virginia Concrete Company located at 340 Hooffs Run. It was approved unanimously in minutes.
"Virginia Concrete has been an Alexandria business for over 60 years," said J. Howard Middleton, Jr., in speaking for the company's application. He also stated that the company wished to "maintain a plant in the City" well into the future.
"It is important for a city to maintain an industrial element if it is to be a real city and not just a suburb," Middleton said. Originally located at Prince and Strand streets, the plant moved to Eisenhower Valley in 1976. There the company built a concrete facility on a site previously used as the City's landfill, according to the staff report.
In 1996, with the agreement that the plant would not expand or add employees, the City granted an extension of the existing SUP for another 20 years with consecutive five year reviews, according to staff. Remaining years at its present location are dependent on further development within Eisenhower Valley. However, several Commissioners expressed their hope that the company is able to remain in the City for the foreseeable future.