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Neighborhood: Old Town July 19-25

BATTLE BREWING? - A tempest may be brewing in the most southern of the sought-after southeast quadrant of Old Town. It could develop into a battle royal later this summer and fall. Or it may simply become a tempest in a teapot. Or maybe a tempest in a VDOT. More on that later.

Well-known and respected builder and developer John Cecchi has filed the necessary paperwork with the City to build 300-plus luxury condominiums on a 12 1/2-acre site bordering S. Washington Street at the very southern end of Old Town. Cecchi already has bought the property, which includes about six-plus acres of protected wetland. Cecchi intends to tear down what is now known as Hunting Terrace and rename his luxury condos Portofino.

So far, so good. Or is it? Cecchi's company, IDI, and its partner, Kaye Management also would like to buy the property directly across Washington Street, known today as Hunting Point on the Potomac (formerly known as Hunting Towers), and currently owned by VDOT. VDOT intends to sell Hunting Point at a fair market price as the Wilson Bridge project winds down next year. Cecchi is confident that he can buy Hunting Point.

This is where the entire plan gets a little hazy. Cecchi and his colleagues say they intend to preserve 530 units overlooking the river at Hunting Point and use most of them as affordable housing. Again, so far, so good. Or is it? Cecchi's quid pro quo for this seemingly generous plan is to get permission from the City to build his condos at Portofino at a height that far exceeds City and National Park Service limits. These include two 15-story buildings at the rear of the site, a nine-story tower nearer Washington Street and smaller luxury townhouses elsewhere on the property.

This is where the enormous bulk of Cecchi's project has already raised eyebrows, concerns and worse. The Old Town Civic Association already has signaled its opposition, as has the Hunting Creek Stakeholders and other neighborhood groups. The Porto Vecchio Board of Directors next door to Hunting Point is presently debating what, if any, position it will take.

The process ahead is circuitous. It will involve the Board of Architectural Review, the Planning Commission and, of course, City Council. Alexandria City Manager Jim Hartmann came to Porto Vecchio the other evening for a state-of-the City report. In a question session later, Hartmann said his planners would almost certainly oppose the sheer bulk and height of Portofino.

As the process unfolds, that will put the ball back in Cecchi's court. Will he rethink the proposed height of his towers? Almost certainly. If he isn't able to purchase Hunting Point, what happens then? If he does buy Hunting Point but doesn't get his way on Portofino, will he forget about making affordable housing available at Hunting Point? Who knows.

Lots will happen in the weeks a months ahead. Stay tuned.

— Bob Feldkamp