Planning Commission Not Open to Applicant's Demands

Planning Commission Not Open to Applicant's Demands

Don't tell the Alexandria Planning Commission how to vote on a requested change to a Special-Use Permit (SUP). It usually doesn't work.

That was a lesson Jack Taylor learned Tuesday night when he demanded that the Commission deny his request for a development SUP after it suggested a one-month deferral to clarify some conflicting information and interpretations. They voted to defer.

After Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn Jr. recommended that the application be deferred "until the points in question are clarified by staff," Taylor stormed to the microphone and declared, "This has been my worst experience in 30 years of doing business in Alexandria."

He then accused Eileen Fogarty, director, Department of Planning and Zoning, of double-dealing in a negotiating session to get more concessions for the city. Taylor indicated he was misled by Fogarty into making certain concessions from his original request and then asked, "Now what else are you willing to do for us (the City)?"

In support of his motion to defer, Dunn noted, "This application is not presented to us in a clear way. It's not wise to move forward with the issue in a state of confusion."

Commissioner J. Lawrence Robinson was on the other side of the deferral motion. "This is a car dealership. It was always a car dealership. It's a good car dealership. I will vote against the motion to defer because I support the application."

AT ISSUE WAS Taylor's application requesting a major amendment to the approved development SUP for the Alexandria Toyota dealership located at 3750 Jefferson Davis Highway in order to construct a 5 1/2-level, 723-space parking structure, according to the staff report.

This would provide 723 parking spaces and a 4,660-square-foot building addition for 12 additional service bays at the rear of the existing dealership. It also calls for a car wash to be located at the west end of the proposed parking structure.

Staff's primary concern, although it recommended approval based on acceptance of several dozen conditions, is that the proposed structure is too high and that it "will be visible from Commonwealth Avenue and from Route 1, a gateway entrance to the city."

After outlining its concerns, the staff report concluded, "While the changes proposed by the applicant are positive and begin to help mitigate the visual impact ... staff does not believe these measures alone adequately address the impacts of the proposed parking garage."

Staff’s main request was that the structure be lowered by two stories, and additional architectural treatment and landscaping be provided. Taylor and his attorney, Harry P. Hart, maintained that lowering the height of the structure would make the project economically unfeasible.

IN THE COURSE OF the discussion, Hart noted that the entire project was to stretch over a four- to five-year period and involved a land swap with a plot on Mount Vernon Avenue. The Commissioners also expressed concerns about the materials to be used on the exterior of the proposed structure.

Given the amount of uncertainties and the total time span of the overall project, Commissioner Donna Fossum asked, "What is the rush?" They then voted to defer, with the Commission chairman, Eric R. Wagner, pushing for a consensus that the matter come back no later than the March meeting.

In other matters:

* The Commission honored Kimberly Johnson, who has been with the city department for 15 years. She is leaving at the end of the month to accept another planning position in Northern Virginia. In recognition of her years of service, Wagner presented her with a plaque. She received a standing ovation from the commissioners and the audience attending the public hearing;

* Approved a request by the Yoga in Daily Life studio located at 2402 Mount Vernon Ave. to change its hours of operation, expand its studio to include the second floor, and reduce the off-street parking requirement. The latter would reduce the requirement by approximately 14 spaces. A series of local residents and the area civic association spoke in favor of granting the request to maintain the nonprofit organization at its present address;

* Denied a request by Scott Management Inc. for an encroachment into the public right of way at 724 S. St. Asaph St., to place a trash Dumpster and recycling bins with fencing. Staff recommended denial based on the conclusion that "it will place paving and structures within what is currently a green landscaped area. Throughout the city, small open green areas are being lost to driveways, parking areas and other perceived requirements for development. ... This case raises the issue of the benefit of retaining small areas of open space."

The proposed site of the Dumpster was on the Franklin Street side of the Monticello-Lee Apartments at the northern end of the property, where the rear alley intersects with Franklin Street. The applicant maintained that moving the Dumpster to that location would free up one parking space for the apartment complex.