Waterfront hotel proposal resurfaces

By Derrick Perkins (Image/City of Alexandria)

Carr Hospitality is back at it again more than a year after the company floated — and then promptly shelved — a plan for turning a waterfront warehouse into a boutique hotel.

Earlier this month planning department staff received the company’s reincarnated design for 220 S. Union St. Changes include an uncovered alleyway between the proposed hotel and the neighboring property as well as decreasing the number of rooms to 120.

“We had spent a lot of time soliciting feedback from the community, and we wanted to make sure we were responsive to [resident concerns],” said Austin Flajser of Carr Hospitality. “That’s really what we’ve been doing, reworking the plan.”

The company’s initial proposal came six months after city council voted to approve the controversial waterfront redevelopment plan last year. It also reignited the simmering feud between a vocal group of residents adamantly opposed to the roadmap — which paves the way for hotels along the Potomac shoreline — and City Hall along with plan supporters.

The possibility of hotels on the waterfront has been a lightning rod in the community during the years-long effort to re-imagine the shoreline. Debate over hotel size, related traffic issues and whether the plan pushed Old Town in the direction of nearby National Harbor often took the forefront of discussion.

While the previous zoning of the shoreline prevented developers from building hotels, the city council has voted twice — once last year and then, with a supermajority vote, again in the spring — to make way for future lodging houses. And the waterfront plan explicitly outlines City Hall’s hope for one or two boutique hotels on the riverfront.

But Carr Hospitality’s latest proposal, even with alterations, will receive a familiar greeting from waterfront plan opponents. Bert Ely, an outspoken critic of the redevelopment proposal and spokesman for Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront, called a hotel wrong for the 200 block of S. Union St.

“It’s still, fundamentally, the same proposal, and there’s no reason why [Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront] or any of its supporters are going to be any more supportive,” Ely said. “It still has all of the same problems — it’s just an inappropriate use for that land.”

And then there’s the wild card: The Virginia Supreme Court is slated to rule on a case stemming from the original city council vote last year in approval of the redevelopment plan. The trio of Old Town residents behind the lawsuit believes a last-minute effort to derail the vote should have postponed the council decision until the board of zoning appeals could weigh in.

The subsequent city council vote and the revote in March could be nullified, said attorney Roy Shannon, who represents the three Old Town residents.

Of course, the city’s top attorney, Jim Banks, has said the city gave plan opponents exactly what they wanted when the council approved the plan a second time, 6-1, in favor of the zoning changes earlier this year: a supermajority vote.

Like other redevelopment plan opponents, Ely believes the state’s highest court could send the city back to square one as soon as this fall and negate the work that Carr Hospitality has done in the intervening months.

“That’s a big question mark out there; the Virginia Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the [residents’] appeal,” he said. “Depending on how it turns out, that decision may throw a roadblock or two in the way of the proposal.”

News of Carr Hospitality’s proposal broke shortly before The Washington Post Co. announced the sale of its newspaper of the same name. While the deal includes the Robinson Terminal Co., The Post Co. is retaining ownership of the similarly named warehouses along the Potomac. Both of those properties are targeted for redevelopment under the city waterfront plan.

If Carr Hospitality’s redesign continues moving forward, it could go before the board of architectural review as early as next month, slating the proposal for approval — or rejection — by the planning commission and city council early next year.

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