City council clears North Columbus Street development

City council clears North Columbus Street development

By Derrick Perkins (Image/City of Alexandria)

It took a few procedural — and mental — jumping jacks on the city council’s part Saturday, but developer William Cromley saw the last roadblock to his 300-block N. Columbus St. project removed.

The local businessman earned the approval of the board of architectural review and planning commission earlier this year to replace a rundown parking lot with five townhouses. But the design irked neighbors.

Instead of pushing ahead, Cromley opted to sit down with residents during the summer and rework the project.

It worked, as the redesign was met with rave reviews just a few weeks ago. The overhaul makes the townhomes more closely resemble the neighboring houses architecturally and it lowers their height from 39 feet to 34.5 feet.

“We are more comfortable with this design; we feel it integrates better into the historic character of our neighborhood,” Linda Bogaczyk testified Saturday. “We don’t feel the buildings are overwhelming or competing with our homes. … We’re looking forward to having the construction begin.”

Still, Cromley had one obstacle left: an appeal filed with city council back when many flatly opposed the project.

Because 30 residents signed the appeal, it could not be simply withdrawn — even though many have embraced Cromley’s reworked proposal. Instead, city councilors denied the appeal while simultaneously approving the developer’s new vision for the parking lot, which is adjacent to the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library.

“This is extremely unusual,” Al Cox, the city’s top preservationist, told city councilors before they made the unanimous decision. “In my 22 years, we’ve never run across a case quite like this.”

It’s also a case that neighbors like David Lamb — a one-time critic of the project — have held up as an example to follow for others grappling with land-use and development disagreements.

“When we first saw the design that the developer had put forth, there was universal opposition on the street. Nobody liked it,” Lamb said Saturday. “He really listened to our concerns [and] came up with a design that the whole neighborhood supports now.”