City Is Failing Old Town Residents

City Is Failing Old Town Residents

To the Editor:

On Dec. 5 the Alexandria Planning Commission will be asked to approve four audacious exceptions so the developer of 301 N. Fairfax can maximize his profits by building an architecturally bland, modernist condominium one block from City Hall and Founder’s Park. The plan is visibly out of place among the historic 18th, 19th and 20th century homes that would surround it. The building has been vociferously opposed by every resident who spoke at three Board of Architectural Review meetings this summer, to no avail.

The proposal is far too large for the lot and makes no effort to align with historic architectural elements, as required by Alexandria’s Design Guidelines. Over 600 Alexandrians and Americans have signed a petition opposing this development because they don’t want to see us squander a priceless center of American history. If the Planning Commission approves this plan, it will have a tragic and irreversible impact on this grand example of American heritage.

Why does every resident oppose this building? To erect this terribly out of place condominium, the developer demands exceptions and special use permits no ordinary Alexandrian ever receives. He expects the city to re-zone the site, so he qualifies for a density factor twice what is allowed for residential buildings. He wants to skirt our open space requirements by counting a huge private rooftop party deck as “open space” for a building that otherwise provides almost none. Finally, he wants to slash the crown coverage requirement by a whopping 33 percent — resulting in far less greenery for residents to accommodate his demand for the largest building possible on this lot. None of us tax paying residents get that kind of consideration from the Planning Commission.

This project has made it this far in Alexandria partly because the City has misinterpreted our zoning ordinance and has blindly supported the developer, rather than being an independent arbiter for all of Alexandria – especially the neighbors who will be most affected. Alexandria is on the dangerous precipice of losing the very historic and architectural character that defines our city as a destination. But will city officials finally listen to its residents? The proposed structure will overwhelm the residential townhomes that surround it and isolate key parts of Historic Old Town from our waterfront. It will have a dire impact on essential community services, parking, traffic, and infrastructure. 

Why didn’t the developer reach out to the community before his architect designed this sad affront to Old Town? Why hasn’t the developer gone back to the drawing board after hearing unanimous opposition to his design? We have openly signaled that we are willing to engage with the developer and come up with a building our community can support and be proud of. Old Town residents would welcome a three-story building, devoid of the awful rooftop party deck, and that comports with the priceless 18th, 19th and 20th Century townhomes that surround it. We would welcome a building offering appropriate open space, tree cover, and setbacks. We would welcome architecture that looks like it was designed for Historic Old Town by a more imaginative architect. 

Every reasonable suggestion we have made to the developer’s representatives has been met with this dismissal - “It will never happen!” When pressed why they want to build such an offensive building that every resident has spoken out against, the answer is “because we can.”

We implore Commission members to reject this proposal and give us a building designed for Historic Old Town that residents can be proud of. The blind rush to approve anything that adds more density to Alexandria – already the most densely populated city in Virginia – does not have to add insult to injury by approving bad designs.

Scott Corzine

Old Town Neighbors