Lines in the property will also mark the history of the property’s evolving shoreline.
Despite a long struggle with local residents, plans for Robinson Terminal South’s redevelopment into an apartment and retail space are moving forward. But while the reaction from the city has been supportive of the development, local residents continued to express their concerns at the July 15 Board of Architectural Review meeting.
Greg Shron, vice president of architecture for property developer EYA, presented the company’s Historic Interpretation report. According to Shron, EYA’s development plan for Robinson Terminal South is based primarily on Alexandria’s founding as a seaport city. In particular, Shron says the architecture is reflective of the shipbuilding at the site with later influences from the 19th century rail lines that passed through. The furniture, particularly the loveseats along the pier, are styled after the wooden hulls of ships. The shade structures on the pier are modeled after the wings of sea planes formerly built on the site. The foundations of the pier itself are proposed to be built using repurposed materials from the current warehouse building.
One of the more popular facets of the development proposal was the granite lines set to run through the property along where the rail lines used to run. Residents also spoke highly of the proposed “Timeline,” a stone etching that details the history of the neighborhood along one of the pedestrian walkways.
But most of the residents who spoke at the Board of Architectural Review meeting, many of them familiar faces from previous objections to EYA’s development, said they thought the historical overtones were a sham.
“We’re talking about something out of Disney World here,” said Tony Kupersmith. “The lore of the warehouses is gone. It’s a theme park now.”
“Discussing historical interpretation is a farce when the building is so wrong for the neighborhood,” said Jan Rivenburg.
While the focus of the meeting was ostensibly on the presence of local history in the building’s architecture, most of the outcry centered around the modern features of the building’s size and style.
“[You] think you can throw in references to the bones of a ship on a park bench and no one will recognize it’s diffusing the real discussion?” said Pete Downs. Downs said when he moved to Old Town, he was challenged by the board to properly restore his house and to respect the community he lived in. “I don’t think there’s that respect here.”
Some of the anger from the community was turned towards the board as well.
“You didn’t ask a single question,” said Greg Lce. “I would suggest that this is all just lip service… Those historic markers in the plan are tombstones, they tell you what used to be here. Look up [at the mural of the Waterfront] and think about putting in a few glass boxes.”
From the board, however, there was more widespread support of EYA’s proposal, even among comments and concerns that this was just a small piece of the broader plan.
“I think one of the problems here is that we’re looking at this microcosm without seeing the macro,” said Board member Christine Roberts. This might be premature because there are so many things that are in brackets and are things we just don’t know. There’s so many pieces of this puzzle coming together. What the applicant wanted to do is that they’re going in the right direction.
Board member John Von Senden said the comment about tombstones struck him as particularly interesting.
“Most of what’s being marked here was gone when the current warehouses were built,” said Von Senden.
Despite being elected as chair of the Board of Architecture Review during the June meeting, Wayne Neale was not acting in that role during the group’s July 15 meeting. Al Cox, historic preservation manager in Alexandria’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said the election was held fairly by the rules according to Robert’s Rules of Order, a system that guides most government meetings. However, according to Cox, the election in the previous meeting was invalid.
“Unfortunately, I overlooked that there is a provision in the Freedom of Information Act that says all votes must be oral and may not be by ballot,” said Cox. “The board will need to advertise another election.”
“It’s a public body, so it’s governed by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which doesn’t allow votes where no one knows who voted for whom,” said Chris Spera, a deputy city attorney. “The next meeting is on Sept. 2. They will have to re-vote, and vote with attribution.”
For the time being, John Von Seden remains chair of the Board.