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Alexandria could force Parker-Gray homeowner to remove unauthorized additions

Exterior piping at 319 North Alfred Street (image via City of Alexandria)

If you live in a historic district, always remember to get approval from the city before making a modification to your house.

One local at 319 North Alfred Street, within the boundaries of the Parker-Gray District, could be forced to remove HVAC piping (item 7) outside of the building after it was installed without the approval of the Board of Architectural Review (BAR).

Most smaller issues that go to the BAR tend to be rather mundane and generally approved with little debate, but the ones where the staff report recommends denial set up a conflict between local residents and Alexandria’s influential BAR.

“The applicant has installed HVAC piping on the exterior of the north wall of the structure extending from the rooftop mounted mechanical unit to four separate locations,” the staff report said. “The piping is located within a paintable plastic enclosure and serves split system units at the interior of the structure. The installation was completed without the required BAR approvals.”

The building on North Alfred Street was constructed in 1928 by the B.B. Ezrine Construction Company, whose eponymous founder was ironically one of the founding members of the Zoning and Planning Commission that preceded the BAR.

“The two-and-a-half story Wardman-style townhouse is highly unusual in Alexandria in that it originally had Craftsman style architectural detailing,” the city report said, “rather than the more traditional Colonial Revival style often seen in Alexandria and Washington DC.”

It has an alleyway and parking lot to the north, leaving the site of the building covered with the new HVAC piping visible to the public. City staff first became aware of the piping after receiving a complaint earlier this year. While a rooftop unit was approved for the site, the exterior piping was not included in that application.

The building is for sale, according to the report, and the report said staff is working to resolve the violations before the building is passed along to a new owner — who would inherit a property with an outstanding zoning violation.

“The applicant is requesting after-the-fact approval for the installation of HVAC piping on the surface of the north wall of the existing structure,” the report said. “The piping is located within a paintable plastic enclosure and extends from the rooftop-mounted mechanical condenser to four separate locations on the north wall. At each of these locations, the piping penetrates the exterior wall leading to an indoor unit.”

The report said the piping “detracts from the historic character” of the building.

Staff finds that the HVAC piping that has been installed at the exterior of the north wall at 319 North Alfred Street detracts from the historic character of this unique building The organization of the piping is based on the location of the unit on the roof and the location of the interior units and not on the composition of the overall elevation. While the painting of the piping to match the adjacent wall helps to limit their initial visibility, they remain a clearly modern element that has been introduced without consideration for the design of the elevation

The applicant has filed an application for after-the-fact approval of the piping, but the report recommends the BAR deny this request. The piping-hot controversy is scheduled for review at BAR meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

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