Judge dismisses suit against 301 N. Fairfax Street residential development in Old Town Historic District

After months of contention, an effort to fight approval of a four-story apartment building in Alexandria’s Old and Historic District was dismissed in court on Friday.

The developer, 301 N. Fairfax Project Owner LLC, wants to demolish the existing three-story office building on the property that was built in 1977 and replace it with a 50-foot-tall building with 48 one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments, a 67-space below-grade parking lot and a rooftop terrace.

City Council voted 6-1 in January to approve a special use permit to convert the building from commercial to residential use, but news of the project met with controversy from neighbors. The property is in the highly restrictive Old Town Historic District, and neighbors said that City Council exceeded its authority by approving the SUP and increasing the allowable Floor Area Ratio from 1.25 to a maximum of 2.5.

An online petition against the project raised more than 900 signatures, and at one point Mayor Justin Wilson said that preschoolers were better behaved than residents protesting the development.

Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Lisa Kemler ruled that the plaintiffs — seven Alexandria residents alleging direct, pecuniary and substantial harm because of the project — were incorrect in their interpretation of city statutes.

According to Kemler’s ruling:

The language of Z.O. 5-305 provides that the FAR of a development in the CRMU-H zone “depends on whether a single use or mixture of uses is proposed and whether a special use permit is sought.” The subsection beginning “(C) Mixed use or residential/SUP” applies when there is a mixed use or residential development and a special use permit is sought to get approval for additional FAR. Once the requirements of 5-305(C) are met, a maximum FAR of 2.5 is permitted. This language and these circumstances directly track the type of development and SUP at issue in this case.

The SUP was granted for additional density or intensity of the development, something expressly permitted by 5-305(C). Thus, the City Council did not exceed its authority in this manner either.

Kemler also wrote:

They (the plaintiffs) directed the Court’s attention to sections 5-302 (Permitted uses.) and 5-303 (Special uses), noting that “Multifamily dwelling” was listed as a “permitted use” under 5-302 rather than a “special use” for which the City Council has authority to approve an SUP. They argued that the City Council exceeded its authority by granting an SUP for a “multifamily dwelling” for the development in this case when 5-305(C) does not grant a special exception for “multifamily dwelling.” However, the SUP was not granted for the purpose of allowing a “multifamily dwelling.” This was already a by-right permitted use under the zoning ordinance.

The building owners, William Thomas Gordon III and his son William Thomas Gordon IV, bought the property for $4.6 million in 2014 from an office product and furniture dealer, according to city records.

Blankingship & Keith, P.C. is representing the plaintiffs. They have 30 days to refile.