King Street Gateway receives mixed BAR reaction

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By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)

The Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District gave the King Street Gateway project tentative sup- port at a meeting last month, contingent on refinements to the building’s design.

Located between 1604 and 1616 King St. on the western edge of Old Town, the proposal by developer Dechantal Associates LLC and designed by Winstanley Architects and Planners would add a 53-unit residential building behind the existing townhouses on the property.

A glass building would sit behind five of the townhouses — also owned by Dechantal — while the sixth would be demolished to make way for an entrance into the new building.

At the BAR’s meeting on December 21, principal architect Michael Winstanley said he was open to demolishing the structure outright, or re- constructing it in some form after the new building is built.

In conjunction with constructing the new building on the 17,480 square foot site, the developer would demolish the rear ells of the existing townhouses. A proposal for the site first came before the BAR in 2014, but the staff re- port for the project notes that the architectural character has evolved since then.

Five of the townhouses were built in 1912, with the sixth — at 1614 King St. — built in 1918 to mimic the existing homes. Dechantal bought the property in 1986, but since then has struggled with a fluctuating economy and the home at 1614 King St. being the site of an arson in 1999.

The developer proposed removing that house because, the application reads, “it is not structurally sound enough to be retained.” Instead, the application offered a complete demolition or retention of the facade on the second floor and using the ground floor as an entrance.

During the December work session to review the design concept of the project, resident Kiley Larson raised concerns about the project’s appearance relative to the rest of the buildings in Old Town.

“We have a vested interest and we wanted to share a perspective that seems to be a minority perspective because we’re millennials,” he said. “What really drew us to Old Town was the character and the history of the buildings and really the feel. We wanted to start a family here. We really feel like this building’s design is antithetical to that aesthetic.”

BAR members Christine Roberts and Margaret Miller voiced similar reservations about the project, especially since the architecture in the rest of Old Town is dominated by red brick and has very few glass buildings.

“I find the design jarring,” Roberts said. “You say that it’s frenetic in order that you don’t focus on any singular design, but what I end up focusing on is the frenzy. And it makes me uncomfortable, just on paper. And going to the neighborhood and seeing how outside this is of what’s there and outside of any precedent in Old Town makes me uncomfortable as a member of the BAR.”

“I’d like to see something a little contextual with the community than that,” Miller agreed. “I understand that the use of so much glass is to help have the building fade into the skyline, but I would like to see a little something more in keeping with Old Town but certainly not in any way a replica of traditional.”

Winstanley said the glass to be used on the building was from a prior recommendation, and is clear with slight reflectivity to allow it to blend into the sky and not hover over adjacent properties.

Board member John Goebel said that the architects must be careful in their use of brick, which is mixed alongside the other materials to match the existing townhouses.

“There’s sort of a fine line, I think, between the modernistic approach and the preservation aspect of this,” Goebel said. “It’s a little muddy right now in terms of the amount of brick and its usage at this point…It feels just a little bit shoehorned in, perhaps.”

But other board members spoke highly of the project. Board member Robert Adams said he was inclined to be more “adventurous” with the architecture and materials used given the site’s proximity to the King Street Metro station, and its location on the western edge of the Old and Historic District.

“I think it would be a good addition,” said board member Slade Elkins. “I think it would be something that would liven up this part of Old Town and I do appreciate that there would be condo residential units where people would live and be invested in the community.”

The board voted in favor of demolishing the rear ells of the townhouses, but deferred a decision on the possible demolition of 1614 King St. for further study and refinement of the design. The board also voted in support of the project’s height, mass and scale, and asked the architects to further work on its elevation and general architectural character.

Hearings on the project’s development special use permit will be held by the planning commission and city council in the future, after further refinement of the design.

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