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Alexandria City Council rejects controversial Del Ray house and ADU proposal

Proposed Del Ray accessory dwelling unit (image via Eustilus Architecture/City of Alexandria)

(Updated 9:20 p.m.) After a prolonged battle between a Del Ray homeowner and his neighbors over a proposed accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and a single-family home, Alexandria’s City Council struck the plans down in a meeting earlier this week.

The plan (docket item 11) was to create a two-story, single-unit ADU to 404 E. Alexandria Avenue along with a single-family home. The unit would be set off the main street on a vacant lot and accessible by a public alley.

The plan drew backlash from neighbors from the start. The Del Ray Civic Association recommended denial of the project and residents spoke at the Planning Commission and City Council meeting, expressing concerns about the tree preservation, emergency access, stormwater management and more.

While the Planning Commission recommended approval for the ADU in a divided 4-3 vote, the City Council was unanimous in their denial.

City Council members said the sum of the concerns added up to the development feeling incompatible with the neighborhood.

“Where I’m really struggling is, when I reviewed this case, it says over and over that in order for the SUP approval it has to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “And then when you look at the staff report, the language that was used was ‘we’re not aware of any lots without the frontage in Del Ray’, ‘this is the first of its kind on the block’, ‘no other contemporary architectural types’ and ‘it’s unique’. For me, that language begins to pull out some of those pieces… it is different in multiple ways.”

City Council members said they didn’t want to discourage ADU development or even slap down unorthodox buildings, but the Council agreed unanimously that this ADU didn’t fit on that Del Ray lot.

“The request to permit a substandard lot is not in and of itself an extraordinary or unique case,” said City Council member Sarah Bagley, who noted that she was still undecided up until the final vote. “I want to be careful about what we think of as ‘well it’s different… and therefore incompatible.'”

Bagley said there’s likely to be more new and innovative designs coming before the City Council in coming years as buildings are reconfigured to, for example, maximize solar panels on the roof.

Bagley ultimately joined her colleagues on the City Council in a unanimous vote to deny the substandard lot application.

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