Future of former nursery school shrouded in mystery

By Derrick Perkins

William Cromley has a secret — and he’s not sharing.

For the past few years, the developer has been part of a tug-of-war over the future of the former Carver Nursery School in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. Cromley bought the 200 block N. Fayette St. property with plans to demolish the ramshackle building and replace it with condominiums.

Neighbors and activists, citing the building’s history as a school for black children as well as an American Legion post, campaigned against the project. A little more than two years ago, preservationists settled with Cromley and city officials — who approved the demolition — sparking a multiyear search for a buyer who would save the building.

But when the deadline passed earlier this year, a buyer was nowhere to be found and control of the site’s future reverted to Cromley. Neighborhood activists — including notable residents Boyd Walker as well as Ferdinand Day and his daughter, Gwendolyn Day-Fuller — worried he would carry out the already city-sanctioned demolition.

Cromley, though, had given up on his original plans for the building. Instead, he too wanted a buyer with preservation in mind.

Last month, he successfully petitioned the board of architectural review for permission to expand the building — a move that Cromley said makes the property more palatable to potential buyers. The longtime developer implied he was in talks with an interested party but kept mum on the specifics.

And he’s still not talking.

“There’s a good reason. It’s not me, it’s the potential purchasers,” he said. “It would be absolutely the best thing that ever happened to the building and its history. It’s almost too good to be true, which is why I’m knocking on wood.”

Cromley, a former BAR member, told the board about the same. Despite the only-hinted at future use — it will be commercial — board members unanimously approved his request.

Neighborhood activists likewise supported Cromley’s enigmatic fix. Day-Fuller called the developer’s efforts as a victory for all involved in the lengthy tussle.

“This single act … will affect the history of the Parker-Gray area and of Alexandria, Va., for decades to come,” she said. “I think that it will really be a win-win situation for everyone.”

Walker, who previously launched a campaign to save the Old Town Theater from becoming a retail shop, also praised Cromley.

“We have come a long way — from going to demolish this building to going to expand this building,” he said.

The project has raised concerns from a few neighbors. Several worried commercial use would increase traffic congestion and make parking more difficult. Others fretted about potential noise pollution.

Cromley said he has tried to alleviate any anxieties about the project.

“I also assured the neighbors that this is my neighborhood as well as theirs, and I wouldn’t allow some inappropriate use,” he said.

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