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Preservation vs affordability in Parker-Gray neighborhood divides Alexandria BAR

Samuel Madden homes (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) gave a thumbs up to the demolition of an Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority property, but not without a stern rebuke to the housing authority’s history of neglect.

ARHA is working through the city process to demolish the Samuel Madden homes at the north end of the Parker-Gray neighborhood. The homes were built as workforce housing during the Second World War and ARHA leadership said the properties have deteriorated beyond preservation.

The plan is currently to turn the buildings into a larger mixed-use development that will replace the current 66-units across 13 buildings with 500 residential units.

Keith Pettigrew, CEO of ARHA, said that retrofitting the buildings is cost-prohibitive and unit configuration doesn’t comply with current codes. Pettigrew also noted that over their 75-year lifespan, the buildings have received minimal capital maintenance.

BAR members lamented that the buildings are in a state requiring demolition and questioned how their redevelopment would change the boundaries of the historic district.

“What impact does this have to the historic district?” BAR member John Sprinkle asked. “We spent $100,000 [for the] nomination for Parker-Gray, now we’re losing x number of buildings out of that district.”

Sprinkle said if the historic buildings are replaced in Parker-Gray, the rules should and boundaries should be changed to reflect that.

“Frankly, for the Parker-Gray district, perhaps those boundaries need to be reevaluated or redrawn because no one wants to be here ten years from now when they’re doing a window replacement and do an evaluation for a building built three years from now,” Sprinkle said. “We’re losing resources and the boundaries have to be redrawn, both at a national level and local level.”

In contract to Alexandria, Sprinkle said Arlington was doing a better job with garden apartment preservation.

“Arlington has taken substantial efforts to identify historic resources, get them listed on the register, filling out [tax credits],” Sprinkle said. “In our case, we’re not doing that.”

Sprinkle also said that it was ARHA who let the buildings get into their current deteriorated state.

“I wonder: who wasn’t maintaining those old buildings so there does have to be this investment,” Sprinkle said. “So the degradation is on whose list? You’re saying one of the reasons for [demolition] is they’re poorly maintained.”

Pettigrew argued the current residents shouldn’t have to languish in deteriorating buildings because of past neglect.

“I inherited what I inherited,” Pettigrew said. “Residents have expressed to me: they look to the left and they see The Bloom and they look to the right and see James Bland. They want to live in new buildings as well, so we like to follow their lead because this is their home.”

Kevin Harris, president of the ARHA Resident Association, confirmed that current residents have been involved in the development planning process and are asking for the buildings to be redeveloped.

“The fact remains: the buildings that residents are currently residing in need to be redeveloped,” Harris said. “It has to happen. They’re outdated and there are a lot of things that have deteriorated… I don’t even think you can maintenance some of this stuff because of the age of the building. It’s something that needs to happen, I don’t know any other way of saying it.”

James Spencer, chair of the BAR, said he felt divided over the issue.

“With tearing down public housing, it’s a double-edged sword, because part of me feels like yeah, some of it needs to come down because it’s derelict and poorly maintained,” Spencer said, “and then the other side of me is: if it’s historic it needs to be maintained.”

Ultimately the BAR recommended approval of the demolition in a 4-1 vote.

Image via Google Maps

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