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.
- Five arrested after shots fired in Old Town North
- Eviction moratorium extended for Alexandria
- Monte Durham wants to film TV show out of his Old Town hair salon
- Development on West End lot could signal the start of Mark Center overhaul
- Former ACPS administrator Tammy Ignacio says experience matters in School Board bid
- Alexandria midfielder Eryk Williamson plays in U.S. 1-0 upset over Mexico in the 2021 Gold Cup
- Child neglect suspect arrested after evading Alexandria police for six months
- City plans commemoration for lynched Black Alexandrian
- ALX Community opening third coworking space in Old Town
- Woman arrested for sending threatening texts and attacking roommate in Landmark area
- Fingerprints lead to 7-Eleven robbery suspect already jailed after DNA linked him to separate 7-Eleven incident
- Mount Vernon Trail widening project gets funding
- Parks Department braces for strain on system when Minnie Howard field closes down
- Alexandria reports 204 COVID-19 cases in July, a big jump over last month
- Alexandria City High School to host Olympics watch party to cheer on alumnus Noah Lyles
- ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
- GoFundMe launched for Will Nichols, retiring manager of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray
- With ACPS expecting enrollment increase, Alexandria Mayor explains where kids come from
- Report details life of Black Alexandrians post-Civil War in home slated for redevelopment
- Noah Lyles to race for gold medal in 200 meters at Tokyo Olympics
- 18-year-old arrested for firing gunshots at West End apartment building
- EXCLUSIVE: Halal slaughterhouse opens, gives away free chickens for first two days in business
- Heritage project skirts denial at Board of Architectural Review meeting
Have a safe weekend!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
(Updated 5/20) A stretch of vacant land and parking lots in the Parker-Gray could soon become a five-story, multi-family residential development with a redesign meant to evoke the neighborhood’s unique heritage.
The development is headed to its second Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting tomorrow (Wednesday). The building underwent a slight redesign after a February meeting when the board scolded the architect for trying to make an industrial waterfront-style building in lieu of respecting the historically Black neighborhood’s own unique — and distinctly not Old Town — aesthetics and style.
“The character of the three-story portion of the building has been modified to be more reminiscent of the historic Parker Gray school… than the industrial buildings more commonly found at the waterfront,” a city staff report noted.
The building went through a few more visual updates to bring it more in-line with other buildings in the neighborhood, like replacing glass balconies with black iron-railing.
The new building would be immediately adjacent to the Holiday Inn Express currently under development.
“Staff recommends that the BAR endorse the proposed design direction for the project,” staff said in the report, “shifting the tallest part of the building towards the east side of the site and revising the architectural character to make it more compatible with the immediate neighborhood.”
Images via City of Alexandria
It was quite a week in Alexandria.
The week was full of big news. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg announced her candidacy against Mayor Justin Wilson for the June 8 Democratic primary, and ALXnow has learned that the Del Ray Business Association is planning a debate.
One of our favorite stories this week was on Tobi, the Alexandria dog without front legs who needed a new $2,350 wheelchair. Within a day of posting the story, Tobi’s GoFundMe goal was reached. The fundraiser has since raised $3,590, and Tobi’s owner says the excess funds will be donated to help another disabled pet get a wheelchair.
As of noon Friday, our unscientific poll on mayoral candidates had 1,111 votes, but only 537 views. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg trailed by a large percentage for the first several hours, but she later received a surge of votes that led to her getting 589 votes, or 53%, to Wilson’s 432 votes, or 39%. Republican candidate Annetta Catchings, who also announced her mayoral candidacy this week, got 90 votes, or 8%.
Other important stories:
- Bennett-Parker says Grandmother, not campaign for Delegate, behind move to 45th District in December
- Police review board moves forward, but questions about confidentiality remain
- School Board hopes for pool at Alexandria high school dampened by budget concerns
- New federal funding could help combat flooding, among other city priorities
ALXnow’s top stories:
- BREAKING: Man rams car into Verizon Store near Potomac Yard
- Waterfront Commission tries to avert ‘Disneyland-like’ development in Old Town
- Flight attendant Annetta Catchings running for Alexandria mayor as a Republican
- Chadwicks going double-decker on outdoor dining at upcoming BAR meeting
- BREAKING: Former Mayor Silberberg rematch as she enters democratic primary for mayor
- City Councilman Seifeldein quits meeting after argument with mayor
- Three men tied up and robbed in West End
- GoFundMe launched to get wheelchair for Tobi, an Alexandria dog with no front legs
- Just Sold in Alexandria: March 23, 2021
- Republican J.D. Maddox announces run for 45th District seat
- Al’s Steak House to endure under new management
Have a safe weekend!
Move over Meghan Markle, there’s a Princess scandal in town.
The applicant is hoping to build three new single family dwellings on three small parcels, but the lot has sat empty since 1893 and nearby neighbors are pushing back against a development they say is crowding in.
The resident of 1403 Princess Street spoke at an earlier public hearing to describe how the new development would be pressed up against the front door of his house — built on the side of the building under the erroneous assumption that the parcel next door wouldn’t be developed.
The project made some changes as a result of earlier input from the Board of Architectural Review but the core design of the project remains intact as it heads to public review later this month.
Staff are recommending approval of the project.
Images via City of Alexandria
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.
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