Developer and city reach stalemate on Hunting Creek project

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The citys Planning Commission voted 5 to 1 in favor of deferring a vote that, if passed, would have commenced development of the 361-unit Hunting Creek Plaza and rehabilitation of Hunting Towers across the street. The commission adjourned at 1:15 am after nearly six hours of discussion among city staff, IDI representatives and 53 scheduled speakers.

Preserving affordable housing and maintaining a physical faade consistent with Old Towns buildings were the main issues anchoring the indecision, which came after hours of intense and often emotional debate.

The developer, IDI Group, has agreed to acquire and preserve 530 units at Hunting Towers in order to sustain the current affordable housing at the sight. The agreement is meant to create housing for the city and public workforce, most of whom cannot afford to live in the city where they work. The agreement would also counteract the high-priced luxury condominiums replacing Hunting Terrace across the street.

Despite Office of Housing Director Mildrilyn Davis calling the number of affordable housing unprecedented, the staff recommended denying the proposal, as disagreements on the definition of affordable housing ensued. This is not only a development project, commission member Donna Fossum said. Its also a preservation project.

Under IDIs proposal, tenants at Hunting Towers would be offered to buy their apartments for a price falling into a three-tiered payment plan: Tenants who established residency in the building before Dec. 15, 2005 would pay the least $125,000 to $240,000, depending on the units size; those arriving later and the City Workforce belong to the middle tier ($140,000 to $330,000); and the Public Workforce would pay anywhere from $145,000 to $355,000 to purchase a unit.
Sitty-one percent of units that sold in Alexandria were under the price of 340,000, and the median price of those sold seemed to be around 296,000, Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner said. So I ask myself, What is it were really creating here? Were creating market-priced units. I struggle with how that is affordable.

Davis said that the Department of Real Estate Assessment researched units comparable to Hunting Towers and found that for a two-bedroom unit, the average market price was $390,000.

These prices do not include condo fees, property tax or mortgage insurance, according to a Hunting Towers resident who spoke with the Times and wished to remain anonymous. He said he currently pays just over $1,000 to rent his efficiency.

This is not affordable housing, Commission member Donna Fossum said. Dont even think about it.

But there were numerous citizens Hunting Towers residents, educators, firemen, veterans whom lauded the proposal, even if many loathed it. Many Hunting Towers residents spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that the alternative for some was to be out on the streets.

Ardith Dentzer, who has lived in Hunting Towers since 1997, said she  is behind IGIs project and said it is necessary to preserve housing for her and her neighbors. I know every ones worried about preserving the history of Alexandria but I also believe in human beings lives and people having a roof over their head.

Giuseppe Cecchi,  IDIs chairman, called it the only opportunity for affordable housing. It is privately financed and doesnt require any taxpayer money, he said.

Aside from affordable housing questions, the commission and citizens worried that the historical integrity of the Old Town neighborhood was at stake. According to the Washington Street Standards, new buildings must be compatible with the character of others on the street not characteristic of the proposed design, according to the commission.

Cecchi stated that if the board does not approve the permit for the project, the city will forever lose this unique opportunity.

Though IDI has not made contractual agreement with VDOT to buy Hunting Towers, they have reached an oral agreement, said Howard Middleton, IDIs attorney.

The commission deferred the vote until next month, indicating an agreement between VDOT and IDI would generate progress.

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