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Del Ray residents converge over Preservation Virginia’s ‘endangered’ designation

Residents hear about Preservation Virginia’s declaration of Del Ray in its annual list of endangered communities, May 18, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

About 50 people gathered in Del Ray early Thursday evening to decry increased development and to hear about a recent “endangered” designation within the neighborhood.

Preservation Virginia recently designated The Town of Potomac — once an independent and racist town and now a sub-neighborhood within Del Ray — in its annual list of endangered historic sites. The Town of Potomac was created in 1908 as a white-only community in Arlington County. It was annexed into the Alexandria in 1930, after which it “ceased to exist,” according to the city.

The designation was made after Del Ray resident Rod Kuckro nominated the neighborhood. Thursday’s event outside Fire Station 202 (213 E. Windsor Avenue) included speeches from Kuckro and representatives of Preservation Virginia, Save Del Ray and the Del Ray Cafe. Among the attendees were representatives of the Del Ray Citizens Association and Del Ray Business Association.

Preservation Virginia says Del Ray’s architecture, scale and walkability are at risk of destruction by developers wanting in on the neighborhood’s popularity.

Their solution would be placing Del Ray under the same kind of architectural review boards overseeing the Old Town and Parker-Gray Historic Districts. The groups only have the authority to hear development projects to ensure that they don’t break with the historic character of the neighborhood.

“Alexandria’s economic growth and character have long been rooted in preservation,” said Sonja Ingram, an associate director for Preservation Virginia. “Del Ray deserves the attention and respect that Old Town and Parker-Gray, have received. And I just encourage everyone to make a collaborative effort to protect this unique part of Alexandria.”

The designation coincides with the city’s massive Zoning For Housing/Housing For All proposal, which in its current form would upend a number of zoning ordinances.

One of them is a bonus height amendment incentivizing developers to add affordable housing to projects in exchange for two additional stories of construction in areas where height limits are 45 feet. If approved, developers would be able to build 70-foot-tall structures by right along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.

The initiative launched earlier this year and will go through an extended community engagement process before heading to a series of public hearings and City Council’s determining vote in December.

“We’d like to have the city’s professional staff, the Planning Commission, the City Council sit down in a collaborating process to try to develop some kind of tool to review proposed demolitions,” Kuckro said. ” This is an urgent request. It’s a courtesy and right offered to residents of Old Town and the Parker-Gray District, and the residents of Del Ray deserve the same treatment.”

Kuckro said that there’s no organized effort yet to make a new district, but urged residents to contact members of City Council.

“It’s not going to happen just because city manager, the planning director and the Council are struck by lightning, and they think it’s a good idea,” Kuckro said. “It’s a political process, and next year’s an election year, and just maybe there’ll be some candidates who decide they want to run and talk not just about the Town of Potomac, but representing other communities in the city that will be threatened by overdevelopment.”

Margaret Ticer Janowsky, owner of Del Ray Cafe and daughter of former State Sen. and Mayor Patsy Ticer, said that she took special care to maintain the historic integrity of her restaurant, which is a converted 1920s-era home at 205 E. Howell Avenue.

“The (creation of the) Old Town Historic District took a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” Janowski said. “It’s going to take that here to to retain the character here, and it’s a lot of energy and a lot of fight.”

Nate Hurto, founder of Save Del Ray, said that the area should be exempt from the bonus height text amendment.

“When we look at some of the city policies that have been proposed… It’s really adding incentives to tear down and really modify the neighborhood in a way that fundamentally changes the character (of Del Ray),” he said.

City Council Member John Taylor Chapman was the lone representative of the city government to appear at the event, staying long after to talk with residents. Chapman said he appreciates that the designation creates another conversation in the community.

“You can’t just sweep the issue under the rug,” Chapman said. “Regardless of the side that you’re on, I think that Council is going to continue to have to look at and understand and frankly hear from people.”

The City’s next zoning for housing/housing for all meeting is on Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson Street).