Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Taking a Bite Out of Alexandria’s Historic District

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Taking a Bite Out of Alexandria’s Historic District

The Southwest Quadrant of the Old and Historic District is under serious assault. Asland Capital Management intends to build three 7-story buildings filling the blocks along Alfred Street from Wolfe Street to Gibbon Street and in most of the block at Wilkes and Columbus Streets. That’s just the beginning: our city is planning to extend those behemoths along Patrick Street all the way past Franklin Street. The plan is to demolish all of the current garden apartments and green space and build sidewalk to sidewalk. This means the loss of the entire tree canopy of largely oak trees, most of which are 30 to 60 feet tall, and eliminating almost all green space, gathering spaces and dog park. It is unbelievable that these massive buildings that mimic low-cost office buildings and would tower over their surroundings, mostly 2-story townhomes, are being considered in the historic district.

Asland Capital hopes to build these massive structures as the solution to Alexandria’s need for affordable housing. The claim is that they have to build three market rate units for every affordable unit to make a profit. However, HUD reimburses them for the difference between market rate and the rate affordable residents pay so there’s no loss to Asland. They also believe they should be exempt from the height, open space and setback limits promised in the South Patrick Street Affordable Housing Strategy and the Small Area Plan for the Southwest Quadrant for the historic district.

The Strategy and the Small Area Plan require “the residential character of the neighborhood be maintained and protected and all new residential and commercial projects should provide open space and recreation opportunities.”

The Asland design has made no attempt to abide by this requirement or to fit into the rhythm and scale of its surroundings. Its height, mass and architecture look like office buildings and their design of impervious blocks will increase stormwater runoff. Demolishing the trees and reducing the setbacks, where in some cases buildings are 6 feet from the property line, will change the environment and visually degrade the neighborhood. The need for affordable housing is real, but it can be provided without destroying the neighborhood and the environment.

So far, the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) made a decision to approve the demolition and clearing of the sites but surrounding homeowners and the Alexandria Civic Association have appealed that decision to the City Council. The Council has agreed to hold a public hearing to consider the appeal on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 9:30 a.m. Additionally, BAR will hold a hearing to review the latest Asland concept on Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be in Zoom format.

Kay and Chris Morell