Tension between neighborhood residents and businesses is an old issue that plays out all over Alexandria and around the country. In our city, often it is Old Town residents speaking out against potential new businesses, usually with concerns about parking and late-night street noise.
The current conflict is in Del Ray, between a potential new restaurant called Hog Thaid and residents opposed to some of the provisions the new restaurant is seeking in its special use permit. While the specifics of this case differ from some others, the basic issue remains the same: How to find a balance between the needs of residents in our more urban neighborhoods and the businesses that add to the character of those districts.
On one hand, being able to walk to restaurants and shops such as St. Elmo’s, Cheesetique and Evening Star in Del Ray, or Landini Brothers and The Hour in Old Town is an essential ingredient in the eclectic appeal of those neighborhoods. Alexandria needs healthy, thriving businesses both for tax revenues and quality of life.
On the other hand, denizens who bought homes in neighborhoods like Del Ray did so in the good faith that the
city would protect their interests. Issues such as availability of street parking are very real to residents who wind up parking six blocks from their homes. Anyone who’s ever slept in a bedroom facing the street in Old Town or Del Ray knows that late night noise from revelers returning from bars and restaurants can be a huge aggravation.
Still, both residential homes and businesses are needed, which is why Alexandria has processes to resolve conflicts such as the current one. Potential neighbors have raised numerous concerns about Hog Thaid’s SUP application, the two most significant being hours of operation and air quality. Hog Thaid’s owner, Mike Anderson (who owns several other Alexandria restaurants), wanted to create a restaurant and bar that would provide something unique to Del Ray: A place to get a late night meal. Anderson requested operating hours until 2 a.m., seven days a week. He also planned to utilize a smoker for preparing barbeque that would produce more smoke than most restaurants.
Many neighbors were rightfully concerned about the impact of a weeknight closing of 2 a.m. on their sleep, their safety and their property values. Other residents expressed concern about the smoke and odor that would come from a restaurant both smoking foods and cooking with Asian (high heat) infusion.
Many residents, though much quieter than those who have issues with the special use permit, welcome the restaurant as-is.
Anderson has been responsive, voluntarily meeting with neighborhood groups in an effort to reach a compromise that everyone could live with. He has also voluntarily moved the potential closing time to midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends, and is willing to install an expensive air ventilation system that would send exhaust high into the air so that it could dissipate over a larger area.
Like most negotiations, this one seems to have left both sides feeling that they have made concessions, while neither side is completely satisfied. The May 4 Planning Commission meeting, at which Hog Thaid’s SUP request will be considered, promises to be lively. Fortunately, both Anderson and Del Ray residents seem to be making good faith efforts to resolve their differences, with the city which will be the ultimate arbiter of any issues keeping a watchful eye on the process. Hopefully, in the end, Del Ray residents will be able to get a late-night pork sandwich and a good night’s sleep.