Carr Hospitality's plan for the Cummings property, which is at the northeast corner of Duke and Union streets.
The vivid color images of a hotel on the waterfront offer a stark contrast to the dingy old warehouse currently occupying the northeast corner of Duke Street and Union Street. The hotel would have about 120 rooms and a restaurant with 50 to 70 seats, creating about 30 new jobs in the city. The new building would also have conference rooms and reservations through the International Hotel Group.
For supporters of the city’s controversial plan to allow hotels and increase density on the waterfront, the proposal now under consideration from Washington-based Carr Hospitality represent a great leap forward. But opponents of the zoning changes decry the city’s willingness to entertain plans for zoning that doesn’t exist. Caught in the middle are city officials who must balance the needs of a developer with the wishes of the community.
“Right now, we’re at a point where we are listening to what people have to say about it,” said Mayor Bill Euille, one of the most outspoken supporters of the plan. “This is a community dialogue, not a decision-making process.”
Opponents of the waterfront plan say now is not the time to start considering plans for a hotel, even if the item was removed from the formal docket of the Old Town Board of Architectural Review and moved to a work session. They point out the existing zoning does not allow hotels, and the square footage of the proposal could not be approved unless legal challenges to the plan have been swept aside. Many opponents fear supporters have been working behind the scenes to orchestrate a swift approval for the proposed hotel.
“Maybe they would be gambling they can jam something through the Planning Commission and City Council this fall,” said waterfront work group member Bert Ely. “But, you know, right now, they don’t have the zoning.”
OFFICIALS FROM Carr Hospitality have already indicated they aren’t willing to wait forever. During an October work session, representatives from the Washington-based company appeared to present their vision to the waterfront work group. At the time, they made it clear that they were willing to move forward with a residential development if the city were unable to change the zoning in the near future.
“We would prefer to develop it as a hotel,” said Carr Hospitality president Hammad Shah. “But we’re happy to look at either option.”
The Cummings-Turner property currently has about 70,000 square feet of development, although existing zoning would allow about 125,000 square feet. The waterfront plan proposes increasing that to 190,000 square feet, which is more than double what’s there now. For many neighborhood residents, the prospect of doubling the density in this part of Old Town is a troubling development — especially without the necessary zoning changes in place.
“This will be the biggest building in that area,” said Katy Cannady, an outspoken critic of the waterfront plan. “It will stick out like a sore thumb.”
Some have criticized the proposal as being somewhat of a bait-and-switch. The scale model that was presented to citizens had an open-air alleyway at the north edge of the Cummings property. But the concept plan now under consideration has a tunnel that connects Union Street to the Strand in a design reminiscent of the connection between the intersection of King Street and the waterfront.
“Its characteristics fit in well with what we are trying to accomplish,” said land use attorney Jonathan Rak, who is representing Carr Hospitality. “The approach would be to integrate this into the historic fabric of Alexandria.”