City council approves King Street assisted living facility

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City council approves King Street assisted living facility
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By Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)

With an impending snow storm threatening to disrupt last weekend’s city council hearing, 50 resolute supporters and opponents of the proposed Alexandria Memory Care project waited more than seven hours to speak before councilors voted 6-1 to approve the 75,000 square-foot assisted living facility on the 2800 block of King Street.

The site of the controversial project is situated between Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare and Ivy Hill Cemetery. The area is zoned as single-family residential land, but developer 2811 King Street LLC requested permission to construct a 66-unit facility for the memory impaired. The city planning commission approved the project earlier this month.

Catharine Puskar, an attorney representing the developer, outlined potential benefits of the center, including 49 new jobs and more than $200,000 in annual tax revenue for the city. She stressed the agreement included proffers stating the building would be used as a memory care facility and the development of the property would be in conformance with the approved development plan.

More than 260 residents wrote letters in support of the center, but city planning director Karl Moritz said a protest petition had been filed against the application, requiring a super majority, or six votes, for councilors to approve the project.

Lindsay Paris, a 30-year resident and president of the board of directors for Kings Cloister, a development of large upscale homes directly across King Street from the site, said all but two of the 25 homes there opposed the project.

“BRAC has had an unbelievable impact on our traffic and has slowed it down,” Paris said. “And then we have the bicycle lanes that have also slowed it down, and the additional traffic signal on the down slope to King Street.”

Jack Sullivan of the Seminary Hill Association opposed the project as well.

“This proposal is the clearest case of spot zoning in my memory and the worst kind because of the precedent it sets,” he said. “It would negate the protections that many of us thought were insured in 1992 in the small area plans.”

Resident Martha Harris also opposed the development and felt the process unfair.

“Residents have been dismissed as irrelevant by the planning commission,” she said.

But area businessman Jack Taylor defended the need for a memory care facility.

“You know I have Parkinson’s,” Taylor choked up.

“Take your time Jack,” Mayor Bill Euille reassured him.

“They say Parkinson’s can lead to dementia and of course, that’s a concern of mine,” Taylor continued. “I’m not down yet. … I heard on the radio there are 5,000,000 people who have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is going up. There’s a huge demand for these homes.”

Janet Barnett, executive director of Senior Services of Alexandria, said her experiences living directly across the street from a comparable facility, Inova Alexandria Hospital, have been positive and referred to the facility as her “beloved neighbors.”

Barnett cited statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association that every 67 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s and the disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Although Timber Branch Parkway resident Kitty Porterfield said her backyard will abut the new facility, she welcomed the facility.

“Alexandria needs these beds to support our aging population,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Vice Mayor Alison Silberberg was the only opposing vote. She said she felt the building design could have been better and said the drawings looked like something out of East Germany.

“For me, it’s too large a building for too little a spot and the zoning question is paramount,” she said. “It’s a very tough vote.”

City Councilor Tim Lovain empathized with those opposing the development.

“I understand why people are anxious about what the potential impact could be,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s a very valuable facility. It’s not an ideal site for it, but it’s something we really need.”

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