By Erich Wagner (Image/City of Alexandria)
Long-standing plans to redevelop the land west of the Hunting Point apartment complex finally kicked into gear earlier this month.
After residents and city leaders soundly rejected multiple design proposals over the years, city council voted unanimously April 12 in favor of a plan to build two five-story apartment complexes at the 1199 S. Washington St. property. The previous property owner, IDI Group, unsuccessfully sought permission to redevelop the site in 2008 and 2012.
Hunting Terrace, now owned by regional developer Foulger-Pratt, would boast 443 apartments and an underground garage with more than 600 parking spots. Although city staff said the design is in line with the Old Town historic district, residents and officials still fear last-minute changes could mar an otherwise promising architectural project.
City planner Dirk Garetz said residents speaking at a March planning commission hearing felt burned by other development projects in the city, where builders changed materials at the last minute to cut costs. One resident argued that in a few cases, it led to an inferior final product.
“A concern was raised by a citizen that sometimes the projects that get built don’t reflect what was approved,” Garetz said. “That the builder or the developer cut back on the quality of materials. I can tell you we take this very seriously.”
At Saturday’s city council meeting, resident Poul Hertel offered up a condition — later included in the approved plan — requiring “materials and detailing” to be of similar quality to those in the proposal. He and City Councilor Paul Smedberg saw the hiring of a new architect as a potential portent of the cost-cutting seen in the redevelopment of the James Bland public housing project.
“If you’ve hired another architect already … we know what that means, that the value-engineering is already taking place,” Smedberg said. “But it really is important here. We have a similar situation up by north Old Town where we have one much better building in terms of the Belle Pre [on Henry Street], where the materials, the windows and all of the little architectural details that make all the difference. But a block away, we have a very plain, not so great building.”
Cathy Puskar, a development attorney representing Foulger-Pratt, assured residents and officials that the original architects are staying on board to see the project through.
“While it is true that there is another architect we hired to do the construction documents, [design architects] John Rust and Scott Fleming are still involved in the project,” she said. “They’re going to be working with the other architect to make sure the details evolve through the board of architectural review process.”
Another aspect of the project that garnered attention Saturday was the affordable housing contribution component. The developer agreed to set aside 24 units deemed affordable and make a roughly $500,000 contribution to the city housing trust fund.
City Councilor John Chapman questioned the low figures, given the recent update to the city’s housing master plan. But Jon Frederick of the city’s office of housing said the new regulations only affect developments proposed after the plan was passed in January.
“This project was first submitted through its concept plan in April 2013, and we had had a number of conversations prior to that with this property owner about what the [affordable housing] calculations would be,” Frederick said. “[This] plan was clearly in the works prior to the passing of the master plan.”
The project must receive final site plan approval from the borad of architectural review before work can begin, and Puskar said the company hopes to break ground next year.