Letter: Hold off Review of Hotel Proposal

Letter: Hold off Review of Hotel Proposal

The following letter was addressed to the Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic Alexandria District.

The Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront recommend that the BAR defer holding a "concept review" for the proposed hotel at 220 South Union Street (the Cummings Site) submitted by Carr Hospitality ("Carr") and docketed for the BAR's July 25 public hearing. Consideration of Carr's application, seeking a Certificate of Appropriateness, is both premature and inappropriate at this time for the following reasons:

• The recently passed and enacted Alexandria Waterfront Small Area Plan ("Waterfront Plan") is the subject of two cases in two separate courts challenging the City's actions, or lack thereof, in passing and enacting the Waterfront Plan. In addition, the City Council and the Director of Planning of Zoning ("Director") are challenging, in a separate third matter, the recent decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals ("BZA") that overturned a Director’s decision regarding the requirements necessary for the City Council to pass the proposed text amendment that if enacted would have made significant changes to the W-l zone; the Cummings Site is zoned W-l. In particular, the litigation includes:

o The appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court seeks to reverse a decision by the Alexandria Circuit Court dismissing a group of citizens' petition for a Writ of Mandamus and an action for Declaratory Judgment with regard to City Council's adoption of the Waterfront Plan on Jan. 21, 2012.

o The pending lawsuit in the Alexandria Circuit Court, brought by a separate group of citizens from the group that has appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court (above), challenges the legality of the City Council's adoption of the Waterfront Plan.

o The City Council and the Director have appealed to the Alexandria Circuit Court the April 12, 2012, decision by the BZA reversing the Director's determination with regard to a protest petition filed that would have required the City Council to pass the text amendment impacting the W-l zone by a three-fourths supermajority requirement. Since the vote on the proposed text amendment was 5-2, the proposed

text amendment has not been enacted.

• As provided in paragraph 9 of the City's instructions for filing an application for BAR review, a BAR application "... may be deferred for public hearing by staff for one or more of the following reasons ... non-compliance with zoning requirements, ... " (emphasis added). Carr's proposed hotel clearly violates existing W-l zoning requirements in at least three regards on its face:

o Carr's proposed increase in the building height of 59 feet, as shown in the drawings accompanying the BAR application, exceeds the maximum building height permitted in the W-l zone (55 feet).

o Carr's proposed increase in the floor-area-ratio ("FAR") to 3.0 for this proposed hotel substantially exceeds the maximum FAR of 2.0 permitted in the W-l zone under a mixed use or residential special use permit. Specifically, Carr's BAR application indicates that the project would have 63,897 square feet for the purpose of calculating its FAR. According to city records, the Cummings Site has 21,299 square feet, thus dividing 63,897 by 21,299 equals exactly 3.0000000.

• Authorizing a hotel on the Cummings Site would presumably require both a text amendment to the zoning ordinance, defining what was permissible within what appears to be a new W-2 zone, and a map amendment from the existing W-l to a proposed new W-2 zone that has yet to be defined. To the best of our knowledge, no such text or map amendments have been drafted, much less considered, by the appropriate City entities.

Moreover, it is our understanding that the City Council will not consider any text amendments to the City's zoning ordinance until such time as pending litigation referenced above has been resolved, specifically the City Council and Director's appeal to the Alexandria Circuit Court of the BZA's decision that reversed the Director's determination as it relates to the proposed text amendment to the W-1 zone, considered with the Waterfront Plan back on Jan. 21, 2012.

• The Union Street traffic study is either ongoing or has not yet been published. That study must be completed and analyzed before any development or redevelopment decisions can be made with regard to the waterfront area. This is especially true with regard to Carr's proposed hotel given the amount of truck and automobile traffic and parking demands generated by hotels.

Given these issues that are barriers to any immediate development of the Cummings Site for use as a hotel, it is far too soon for the BAR to give any consideration to the architectural characteristics of a project which cannot be built under the law and which may never be permissible on the Cummings Site. Any such consideration by the BAR of Carr's proposed hotel would be putting the proverbial cart before the horse, especially since the zoning does not allow carts (hotels).

Therefore, Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront urges the BAR to save both the time of its members as well as the time of members of the public concerned about this proposed project by asking City staff, at this Wednesday's BAR public hearing, to defer any public-hearing consideration of Carr's proposed hotel. Such a request by the BAR would be in the spirit of paragraph 8 of the instructions for submitting an application for BAR review, which provides in part that "[i]t is the policy of the [BARs] not to review applications which do not meet other applicable city regulations. This policy ensures that the project approved by the Board can, in fact, be undertaken."

Clearly Carr Hospitality's request for a BAR "concept review" is unquestionably premature and inappropriate. It should be deferred.

Mark Mueller

Chair, Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront