Alexandria, VA

A Parker-Gray business could have to un-paint their property after an unauthorized paint-job over a building’s historically significant architecture.

A commercial building at 1000 Queen Street may have looked significantly whiter late last year after the applicant, Anchor Property Services, painted over the existing yellow-brick exterior with a white coat of paint.

The problem? The property is in the Parker-Gray Historic District and the building is one of the few remaining examples of yellow brick architecture in the area. Staff is recommending that an application for a certificate of appropriateness filed after the building owners were hit with a violation be denied at tonight’s (Thursday) Board of Architectural Review meeting.

“Historically, most property owners avoided painting brick because painting it was expensive, and the use of brick was a clear sign that the building was higher quality and built of a more expensive material than frame construction with wood siding,” staff said in a report. “In the Parker-Gray District most, if not all of the painted brick buildings, likely date from the time before the district was created in 1984. Additionally, there are very few yellow brick buildings located within either historic district. These buildings should remain unpainted to preserve the architectural integrity of the property.”

The building was constructed in 1948 as a store and office building, and staff’s report noted that the design reflects a commercial style that was common in the early-to-mid 20th century. While there have been a few minot alterations, like replacement of the original windows, the report said the building has retained most of its original features.

“The BAR has always been are very concerned about the painting of previously unpainted masonry and the zoning ordinance specifically prohibits this without BAR approval,” staff said in the report. “This is in part because painting unpainted masonry significantly alters the character and material of a building.”

The report noted that 1000 Queen Street is currently one of three violations being reviewed for unauthorized painting over unpainted masonry. Staff said that in similar circumstances, the paint was successfully removed with a biodegradable, water-based painted remover without damaging the masonry underneath.

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Density is forcing some Alexandrians to get closer to their neighbors than they might want: creating some tension as a new townhouse on a vacant lot returns to the Board of Architectural Review tomorrow (Thursday).

The BAR is scheduled to review an application to turn lots 1413 and 1415 Princess Street — which have sat undeveloped since 1893 — into a pair of townhouses. Staff reviewed the application and endorsed much of it, but the project still generated concern over its proximity and scale compared to some surrounding buildings.

At a meeting in November, neighbors decried the new development, stating that it would crowd in on nearby residents. One neighbor complained that his front door on the side of his house would now open into the side of a new development.

The applicant noted that some design changes were made after the November meeting. According to the application:

In response to the Board’s comments at the November 18th, the applicant has updated the plans to include casement windows on the north elevation. The number of windows on the east elevation of 1413 Princess St., has been reduced to three windows, one on the first-story and two on the second-story. The windows on the east elevation must be fire-rated windows as required by the building code. At time of permitting, the applicant must submit updated window specifications verifying the use of fire-rated windows on this elevation. The applicant has also included updated window specifications for the proposed windows and door on the north elevation, which comply with the Alexandria New and Replacement Window Performance Specifications in the Historic Districts. Updated elevations and renderings were also submitted to show the relationship between the proposed townhouses and the neighboring properties.

But staff and the applicant were both in agreement that the project could not be set back without losing parking spaces planned behind the facility. Staff ultimately recommended approval of the new development.

Image via City of Alexandria

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(Updated 1/6/21) A brick parking garage at 101 Duke Street, planted squarely in the heart of Old Town, could be redeveloped into six new townhouses.

At a Board of Architectural Review meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21, a development proposal by Cummings Investment Associates Inc. is docketed for a concept review.

“The redevelopment will demolish the existing parking garage and replace with six [townhouse] units,” the application said.

The application says the new townhouses would have home offices, a garage, and a rec-room on the first floor with a living area on the second floor and bedrooms and bathrooms on the third and fourth floor.

Each unit would also have a two-car garage attached via central alleyway.

Rendering via Eleventh Street Development

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With the Old Town Theater getting a makeover as a Patagonia, the building next-door could be getting a visual overhaul as well.

According to an application headed to the Board of Architectural Review next month, 815 King Street owner Asana Partners is hoping to restore the building’s original limestone facade — at least in color.

“We would like to request your approval to paint the exterior of 815 King Street,” the applicant said. “We found that brick was placed over the limestone upper floors of 815 King Street at some point of time and we would like to bring the natural color back to the building.”

The building’s upper floors are currently covered in tan bricks, visually similar to the buildings on either side of the

The application is scheduled to be reviewed by the BAR on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

Photo via Google Maps

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In a Board of Architectural Review meeting earlier this week, local historic preservation consultant John Sprinkle shared some research from an upcoming book about the intersection — and sometimes fiery conflict — between the city’s efforts at historic preservation and the Civil Rights movement.

“From Historic Preservation to Neighborhood Conservation: Displacement, Urban Violence, and Architectural Survey in Alexandria, Virginia” details how, over the last fifty years, the city’s efforts at historic preservation have sometimes been at odds with efforts at preserving affordable housing in and around Black neighborhoods.

Preservation efforts as they’re known today in the city generally took shape in the 1960s, but were influenced by cultural and political movements of the 1970s. Things came to a head in 1970 when a 7-Eleven shopkeeper shot and killed 19-year-old Robin Gibson and tried to frame him for a robbery by planting a knife on his body. Riots erupted across the city.

“Alexandria marched along in a very traditional way up to 1970,” Sprinkle said. “Then something happens in 1970 with a period of experimentation in the mid-70s specifically dealing with what becomes Parker-Gray.”

Also in 1970, a city report ranked buildings throughout the city on a 1-4 scale, listed what was most-to-least in need of preserving. It was a common practice in the United Kingdom at the time, but was controversial in the United States. In Alexandria, it provided land owners with an idea of what was really important and what could be replaced with modern development, Sprinkle said.

The report also included a proposed 30-block expansion of Old Town to the north, though the city eventually settled on a smaller 13 block expansion.

“Alexandria faced a conundrum,” Sprinkle said. “[They] recognized that expansion of Old and Historic District would lead to displacement of lower income families, but they also saw expanding the district would increase property values and the residential tax base within the district.”

Sprinkle said, with the economy in shambles in the early 1970s, that expanding the Old and Historic District must have been a tempting prospect. The move was opposed by local Black community leaders at the time, who noted that increased property values would force Black families and communities from their homes. Black leaders subsequently promoted “neighborhood conservation” as an alternative to historic preservation.

“Displaced from Old Town neighborhoods, African-Americans integrated formerly all-white working class communities in Del Ray and Arlandria,” Sprinkle said. “Despite the heroic narrative in Remember the Titans… the dual path of desegregation and displacement was indeed contentious.”

Sprinkle noted that conflicts between equal justice movements and Lost Cause celebration were as active in the 1970s as they are today. Rioters targeted a building adjacent to Robert E. Lee’s home — which had been recently turned into a museum — with a molotov cocktail and flames gutted much of the interior. A carriage house undergoing rehabilitation was firebombed with most of the building’s architectural elements destroyed.

Sprinkle said the riots had a profound impact on the city’s planning efforts. The historic preservation at the time started to shift toward neighborhood conservation. The city pursued grants from National Endowment for the Humanities that focused on conservation as part of  “an experiment designed to address forecasted displacement of African Americans in the north-western quadrant.”

In 1973, the City Council rejected the expansion of the Old and Historic District to cover the area known as Parker-Gray after an outpouring of opposition from the area’s predominately Black citizens. The Parker-Gray District was established in 1984 to protect the neighborhood from incoming development. The Old and Historic District and Parker-Gray District remain distinct historic districts, though as of 2019 both are reviewed by the same Board of Architectural Review.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Old Town neighbors raised eyebrows at a proposed development at 1415 Princess Street that staff said would fit all the zoning requirements, but still puts nearby residents in a tight bind.

Viewed from the street, 1415 Princess Street appears to be a house-sized vacant lot on the largely residential street in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. But the empty space at 1415 Princess Street is actually part of a three lot segment, two of which came forward to the Board of Architectural Review as part of a proposed development that would rub right up against the front doors of neighboring homes.

Steve Davidson, in particular, told the BAR that the new development would be pressed up right against the front door of the house, located on the side of the building.

“If this building is built, it will cover the entire front of the house I am living in,” Davidson said. “That door is my front door. That building, the proposed structure, would be up against the property line which is only four feet two inches from the site of my house.”

Davidson said the proposed development would obliterate light access into the house and would turn the front door into an alley.

“That seems like a bad idea,” Davidson said. “I can’t understand why we’d put three properties in a little narrow strip like that.”

Other residents on the street expressed concerns that the new development could impact other nearby houses. Read More

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What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the report that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. sends one of his children to Bishop Ireton High School. In case you missed it, the story first broke in Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.

Hutchings also presented his plan for a phased reopening of ACPS starting next month. The results of a survey over virtual schooling were also released, revealing that screen time and childcare were among the top concerns of students, staff and families.

On the health front, Alexandria exceeded 4,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 11.

Additionally, more than 200 people participated in our weekly poll on traveling this holiday season, and 56% reported they will not travel, 27% still plan on traveling, and 17% still haven’t decided.

Crime-wise, we reported that a woman was assaulted in Arlandria on October 11; an arrest was made after an attempted armed robbery in the West End; a West End gas station was robbed of $1,700 in tobacco products; a woman ended up not being charged after firing a warning shot at a man in the 4300 block of Duke Street; and the mother of a man whose truck was stolen in Del Ray received an unexpected phone call from the thief.

There was some good news.

The southern entrance of the Potomac Yard Metro station is really taking shape, at least on paper. This week, the final plans going to the city were made public. The Board of Architectural Review will look at them at their meeting on Wednesday, October 21.

And in recognition of Oyster Week, ALXnow on Thursday emceed the first-ever “Pearl of Alexandria Oyster Eating Contest” between rival Del Ray and Old Town business owners.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  2. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  3. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  4. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  5. ISIS ‘Beatles’ Held in Alexandria Jail, Charged with American Murders in Syria
  6. Here’s What the Potomac Yard Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Will Look Like
  7. Superintendent Proposing Phased Reopening of Alexandria City Public Schools Starting in November
  8. A Dozen Restaurants are Participating in Old Town Oyster Week
  9. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  10. ‘Brewski’s Barkhaus’ is Opening This Saturday
  11. Old Virginia Tobacco Co. Moves Directly Across Street from Longtime Old Town Tobacconist

Have a safe weekend!

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Six months after approving construction for the southern entrance to the Potomac Yard Metro station, the final plans are going to the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, October 21.

City Council unanimously approved the second entrance for the Potomac Yard Metro station in April. The project includes a bridge over wetlands that connects to the northern entrance, . The city is planning for the southern entrance to open at the same time as the station in March 2022.

The station’s designers have made small revisions to their initial proposal, and the final design has small modifications, including the size and angle of the southern pavilion entrance roof.

Images via City of Alexandria

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What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

The pandemic seemed inescapable this week, and much of our coverage was related to dealing with the coronavirus.

Five more fatalities related to the virus were reported by the Virginia Department of Health, and the death toll now stands at 67. There are now or have been 3,671 cases in the city since the first case was reported in March.

The week also began with our coverage of City Council’s passage of a face mask ordinance requiring residents to wear masks in public places. While there is no fine for noncompliance, the new law takes effect on October 1.

There was some heartwarming news. City residents helped a Del Ray business owner raise more than $10,000 after her house burned down on September 12.

We also covered the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s newest COVID-friendly in-person show. Additionally, Alexandria restauranteur Bill Blackburn participated in a COVID-19 vaccine trial this week, and Alexandria resident Ann Samuels safely celebrated her 100th birthday.

The Alexandria City School Board also accepted a name change proposal for Matthew Maury Elementary School. Now with the virtual school year in full swing, we also published a poll on how folks think school is going so far and saw mixed results.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. ‘Lipstick On A Pig’: BAR Rejects Heritage Old Town Proposal
  2. Just Listed in Alexandria
  3. ThePoopBrothers: ‘Fearless’ Del Ray Kids Created New Business Over Summer Break
  4. UPDATED: Flooding Reported in Parts of City After Heavy Rain
  5. Man Struck by Bullet While Driving in West End
  6. Alexandria Hospital Nurse Wins First-Ever Nightingale Award
  7. Juvenile Arrested After Shots Fired in Arlandria
  8. City Council Passes Mask Ordinance, and There’s No Fine for Noncompliance
  9. New Alexandria Boxing Club Works Out Every Sunday at Jones Point Park
  10. Monte Durham’s New Hair Salon is Opening Saturday in Old Town
  11. Alexandrian Ann Samuels Turns 100 Years Old

Have a safe weekend!

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The Alexandria Board of Architectural Review will consider a permit to demolish/capsulate the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened.

The one-story theater first opened in 1998, and “is an example of a typical multi-screen movie theater built during the late 1990’s throughout the region,” according to a city staff report.

In its place will go a pump station that is part of Virginia Tech’s massive Innovation Campus development, and will handle sanitary sewer flows for Virginia Tech’s Sewer to Wastewater Energy Exchange system.

As previously reported, this and next month, the BAR and the Planning Commission will receive half a dozen plans for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use North Potomac Yard development.

The area was a rail yard from 1906 until 1989, and the staff report stipulates that all eventual construction “will stop on the site if any buried structural remains (wall foundations, wells, privies, cisterns, etc.) or concentrations of artifacts are discovered during development,” and that a city archaeologist will need to record the finds.

The plan will go to City Council this fall for approval.

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