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With the City of Alexandria closing off the 100 block of King Street for good, it’s looking to make some permanent additions to the street to signal that it’s closed to car traffic.

The city is applying to the Board of Architectural Review at the Wednesday, Jan. 5, meeting for approval of traffic-blocking bollards that will close off the ends of the 100 block of King Street. The city will be using the same type of bollards already in place along the Waterfront.

“These bollards are already approved as part of the Waterfront Common Elements Plan and used in the Waterfront Area,” the city said in its application. “This approval would extend that approval one block to the east to include the 100 block of King Street.”

In addition, the city is seeking permission to use existing types of furnishings on the waterfront — like benches, trash cans and water fountains — on the 100 block.

Waterfront furnishings, via City of Alexandria
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Rendering of 1117 Queen Street home, courtesy Matt Gray

After having been deferred earlier this year, a tiny home planned for a lot in the Parker-Gray neighborhood (1117 Queen Street) is moving forward with a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Board of Architectural Review (BAR).

The application to build a two-story home on the 2,000 square foot strip of gravel was deferred at its July hearing to make fairly minor alterations to the design. Upon its return to the BAR last night, it won unanimous approval with very little discussion.

There was previously a house at the lot, according to a survey from 1877, but the home was demolished in 1935. Getting a new house built there was a challenge, though, as a staff report indicated that the property meets almost none of the city’s minimum zoning requirements.

“It’s not normal at all,” applicant Matt Gray told ALXnow earlier this year. “The problem is: you can’t build a house on it without zoning appeals. Nothing complies.”

The staff report said that, while the home doesn’t meet many on-paper requirements, it still fits with the character of the other buildings on the street.

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The PT Blooms LLC development at 805 Columbus Street is returning to the Board of Architectural Review for a certificate of appropriateness after having its hand slapped earlier this year for being too Old Towny.

The proposed development — designed by the Penney Design Group — is a five-story building with 78 residential units built on what is currently a vacant lot in the heart of the Braddock/Parker-Gray neighborhood. While the building would tower over some of the nearby two-story homes, the application notes that it’s tapered at the upper levels of the building to shift the height away from the street. Even so, several pending five-story developments for the area indicate that this sort of building could be the norm in the area within a few years.

The new application also included a page with comparisons to the current building design and the old Parker-Gray School that had been a centerpiece of the neighborhood until it closed in 1979.

An earlier special use permit (DSUP) indicated that PT Blooms LLC was looking for slight increases in allowable density for the project and a reduction in parking. The DSUP and site rezoning were approved last month.

Images via PT Blooms Development.

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(Updated 4:45 p.m.) After being denied a certificate of appropriateness from the Board of Architectural Review (BAR), Old Town PropCo LLC is taking the case for The Heritage project to the City Council.

The Heritage is a project that will replace four buildings in southeast Old Town ( 900 Wolfe Street, 450 and 510 S. Patrick Street, 901 Gibbon Street, and 431 S. Columbus Street) with three new apartment buildings. It’s attracted some criticism from neighbors close to the project, but was eventually unanimously approved by the City Council.

Designs for the new project were roundly criticized at the BAR for being inconsistent with the scale, mass, and general character of its neighbors around Old Town. A certificate of appropriateness for new construction, typically one of the early first steps toward approval of a project, was deferred and later denied by the BAR. The BAR has been critical of the project nearly every time it’s come to the board, with some calling it “lipstick on a pig” during one early discussion.

According to a notice from the City of Alexandria, Old Town PropCo LLC’s appeal for the certificate’s denial is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13. Members of the public wishing to speak on the topic are encouraged to register online.

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After initially submitting plans in January for review, developer Eleventh Street Development LLC is back in the city process to get final approval on a plan to convert a parking garage at 101 Duke Street into a series of townhouses.

According to the application there will be six, four-story townhouses broken up into three buildings. Each unit would also have a two-car garage attached via central alleyway. The demolition of the existing 101 Duke Street parking garage and the new project are scheduled for consideration at the Wednesday, Oct. 6, Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting

“The current structure was retrofitted into a parking garage in 1988 and the first level resides within the floodplain,” said Garrett Erdle, principal at Eleventh Street Development, in a letter to the BAR. “The plan is to construct six new townhouses, with attached garages, within the footprint of the current garage.”

There could be some salve for those worried about the loss of parking in Old Town: Hotel Indigo (220 S Union Street) across the street is currently in the process of opening up its underutilized parking garage to the public.

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What a challenging week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Alexandria track star Noah Lyles won the bronze medal in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics, garnering congratulations from around the country, including locally by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Mayor Justin Wilson. Also this week, Lyles’ mom and brother held a watch party at his alma mater, Alexandria City High School.

This week, we also spoke with Alexandria boxer Troy “The Transformer” Isley, who said competing in the Olympics was a ‘dream come true.” Tynita Butts-Townsend, the third T.C. Williams High School graduate to participate in the games, did not make it past the first round of the high jump.

“I thought I would feel more crappy about getting last at the Olympics, but then I read that sentence again…IM STILL AN OLYMPIAN!” Butts-Townsend tweeted.

On the coronavirus front, with the City recommending residents wear masks indoors, this week the School Board voted to make it mandatory that face masks be worn when school starts later this month.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parks Department braces for strain on system when Minnie Howard field closes down
  2. Alexandria reports 204 COVID-19 cases in July, a big jump over last month
  3. Alexandria City High School to host Olympics watch party to cheer on alumnus Noah Lyles
  4. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  5. GoFundMe launched for Will Nichols, retiring manager of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray
  6. With ACPS expecting enrollment increase, Alexandria Mayor explains where kids come from
  7. Report details life of Black Alexandrians post-Civil War in home slated for redevelopment
  8. Noah Lyles to race for gold medal in 200 meters at Tokyo Olympics
  9. 18-year-old arrested for firing gunshots at West End apartment building
  10. EXCLUSIVE: Halal slaughterhouse opens, gives away free chickens for first two days in business
  11. Heritage project skirts denial at Board of Architectural Review meeting

Have a safe weekend!

Via Tcwtitantrack/Facebook

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The embattled Heritage project came within a hair’s breadth of being denied at the Board of Architectural Review‘s design review last week, and survived only on a last-minute deferral.

Many of the recurring public criticisms of the project, a series of three new apartment buildings along S. Patrick and Washington Streets in Old Town, resurfaced during the public comment period and from members of the BAR during discussions. BAR members have described the project as putting “lipstick on a pig” when the project first came forward for permitting last fall.

Recurring critics say that the seven-story buildings don’t fit the scale, mass, and general character of Old Town.

“What I’ve heard over and over again tonight are concerns about mass, scale, and lack of fit with the historic nature of Old Town,” said BAR member Lynn Neihardt. “I’ve asked numerous times that this monolithic building be divided into separate buildings. Was told that couldn’t happen because it was too expensive to build a separate lobby. A while back this board sent back a small residential project in Old Town four times for not embracing the opportunity to be creative. We’ve deferred this one several times as well, and I haven’t seen much creativity with each rendition.”

BAR member James Spencer said the building shares little with the design of other buildings in Old Town.

“I wanted to see an architecture that was about place, and I don’t think this reflects that,” Spencer said. “Designs shown so far snags this from here or that from there, but you’ve never told us what feels special from this place. This feels like something from another part of D.C., like I can see this almost anywhere else. Because of the size and mass, I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a point where we’re all going to be happy with this.”

Several members of the BAR said that the project has already gone through several rounds of feedback and seen little change, though chair Christine Roberts noted it was the first time the project was put forward for a certificate of appropriateness from the BAR.

Roberts said the BAR is usually lenient in allowing for a deferral for an applicant’s first review, and that the BAR would be exceeding their existing precedent if they struck it down without giving The Heritage developers a chance to review criticism from the board.

Early in the discussion, Neihardt said that some members of the BAR seemed to be holding back criticisms of the project for fear that the City Council — which unanimously approved permitting for the project in February — would just overturn their vote anyway. Neihardt’s concern bore some fruit by the end of the meeting, where the decision not to deny the the Heritage application was heavily influenced by concerns that the BAR would be abdicating their responsibility if they to use their leverage at this stage to make more changes to the project.

“The City Council can still approve it, but then we never see it again,” said BAR member Purvi Irwin. “If we deny it right now, we’ve thrown ourselves out of the discussion and I do not agree with that at all.”

The applicant’s request for deferral had been struck down earlier in the meeting, but by the end of the discussion the option of deferring game up again and was approved — giving the developer a chance to come back down the road with changes.

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The Heritage stirred up significant community uproar in the lead up to its approval in February, and now the project is coming back to public review for its design phase.

The project, once described by some on the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) as “Lipstick on a Pig“, is comprised of three new apartment buildings in southeast Old Town along S Patrick and Washington Streets. Each of the buildings scale from three and four stories up to seven stories in parts.

Block 2 of the project, between S Columbus Street and S Alfred Street, is located entirely within the Old and Historic District boundary. Block 1 is half-inside the boundary. Block 4, and a potential future development site labeled Block 3, are entirely outside of the Old and Historic District.

Borders of Old and Historic District as it runs through the Heritage project, image via City of Alexandria

In a presentation prepared for the BAR, the applicant said there were some redesigns to Block 1, including greater variation in heights and efforts to adjust windows and details to be more in keeping with Old Town’s historic feeling. Renderings show these alterations to be minor to the point of being almost indistinguishable.

Minor adjustments to Block 1 of The Heritage project, image via City of Alexandria

The application noted similar alterations for Block 2 of the project: revised brick detailing and window types, added balconies, and some changes to building material coloration.

Minor adjustments to Block 2 of The Heritage project, image via City of Alexandria

While the project was unanimously approved at the City Council, several on the Council expressed reservations about the building’s size and impact on the neighborhood density. But each member of the City Council ultimately said the promise of almost 200 affordable housing units was too much to pass up.

The project is scheduled to be reviewed at the Wednesday, July 21, BAR meeting.

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The Basilica of Saint Mary in Old Town is looking for city permission to make some expansions to the church grounds and make parts of the property more accessible.

The designs for a new bridge are headed to review at the Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, July 21, as part of a broader process of adding to the Basilica School of Saint Mary. The church is hoping to add a new new library and media center to the campus, and install a connecting bridge that will help make the different parts of the facility more connected.

“The proposed addition consists of a two-story bridge connection between the main building and Stephen’s Hall,” the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said in its application. “The addition was initially presented to the BAR for concept review on April 3, 2019, while review of the associated development special use permit and preliminary site plan was underway.”

The BAR at the time endorsed the change and the DSUP for the site was approved by the City Council in April this year. The Catholic Diocese said in the application the goal of the addition is to

“The connection will provide a secure, interior path for students and faculty to walk between the buildings,” the applicant said. The proposed addition will provide the school with additional space to accommodate and enhance the experience of its students.”

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Within the rather obscure confines of the Board and Architectural Review staff report this week resurfaced a long-simmering discussion: what is the cultural identity of the Parker-Gray neighborhood in 2021.

For years a historically Black neighborhood, Parker-Gray draws its name from the the Parker-Gray School that educated the city’s Black children when the the city’s school system was still divided by segregation.

But another identity for the area has slipped into colloquial use over the last few decades: the Braddock neighborhood, or sometimes the Braddock Metro neighborhood after the nearby Metro station and the adjacent, eponymous road. With the Metro station as a common point of reference, rather than a school over 40-years demolished, Braddock has also become a more popular name for the area for developers.

But as noted in the Board of Architectural Review report, there’s a risk that new development can erase more than just the name Parker-Gray, but the distinct cultural legacy of the neighborhood, particularly with developments capitalizing on the more common red brick appeal of Old Town to the south. “Braddock” is increasingly worked into the names of local developments, like the controversial (for other, non-name reasons) Braddock West development.

While much of the district is still listed as Parker-Gray in city documents — officially called the Parker-Gray Historic District — city records also refer to the area as the Braddock Metro neighborhood, specifically in regards to the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan. Outlets like the Washington Post have referred to the area as both the Braddock neighborhood and Parker-Gray neighborhood as well. ALXnow is likewise guilty of using both.

Are the names interchangeable to you or do they refer to different places/contexts within the area? Vote below and sound off in the comments.

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