Ramsey Homes redevelopment to undergo public scrutiny

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Ramsey Homes redevelopment to undergo public scrutiny
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s proposed redevelopment plan for the Ramsey Homes at 699 N. Patrick St. will come before the planning commission on February 4 for a public hearing and discussion, fewer than five months after city council approved tearing down the current units and reversed an earlier decision by the Parker-Gray Board of Architectural Review to prevent the demolition.

Currently, the property is made up of 15 units, built between 1941 and 1942 by the federal government to house black defense workers. They are close to the original site of the former Parker-Gray High School and on the same block as the Robinson Library, both of which are significant in the history of blacks in Alexandria. The homes are also close to the Alexandria Black History Museum on Wythe Street.

The plan submitted to the city proposes 53 multi-family residential units in two buildings, with a courtyard in the middle of the property. ARHA also is requesting an increase in floor area ratio to 2.0 and a rezoning of the property from RB townhouse zone, to CRMU-M, a mixed-use zone.

In an application filed with the city’s department of planning and zoning, ARHA says the plans are in keeping with both the Braddock East master plan and the Braddock Metro neighborhood plan. Roy Priest, ARHA CEO, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Promoting a diverse residential population is consistent with the Braddock East Master Plan and the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan as well as highly desirable to the health, social resiliency and vibrancy of the community,” the application reads. “The design reflects the scale, rhythm and color palette of its neighbors and in that manner seeks to support the fabric and integrity of the community.”

The new buildings would be three stories in height, which ARHA says is compliant with the Braddock East master plan.

“The three-story height is also consistent with the BEMP in that it recognizes the suggestion that new buildings should be generally no more than one story higher than adjacent buildings, while providing flexibility in the unit mix,” the application reads.

Current residents would be given the right to return to the new property according to ARHA’s application, with the additional 38 units to be priced at income levels up to workforce housing limits. ARHA said in its application that the mix of income levels would help sustain public housing residents and support the community.

But as the proposal makes its way through the city bureaucracy, a lawsuit has been brought contesting city council’s decision to allow demolition. Filed in Alexandria Circuit Court on October 9, 2015 as “Sadusky, Ninette v. City of Alexandria et al,” the complaint includes a petition signed by property owners on nearby Pendleton Street and asks the four existing homes to be saved and rehabilitated for historic reasons.

“As a property owner within the historic Parker-Gray district, [the plaintiff] has interest in any development, including demolition of the Ramsey Homes, that negatively impacts the historic district,” the complaint reads. “The approval of the demolition of the Ramsey Homes by city council negatively impacts her expectation of living in a historic district and impacts her property value negatively.”

The complaint also criticizes council’s deliberations at its public hearing on the matter on September 12, which it alleges was not solely focused on the six criteria set forth in the city’s zoning ordinance to determine whether buildings or structures can be demolished in the district.

The complaint also cites a memo from City Manager Mark Jinks on September 11 outlining proposed future uses after demolition and a September 9 email regarding the option to fully redevelop the Ramsey Homes, and says both communications were improper. It accuses the city of not following its own guidelines on appeals of BAR decisions, which it says must be held within 75 days of the application of appeal being received by the city clerk. The complaint says that the hearing was scheduled 136 days after the appeal was received.

In a response filed on November 9, the city, represented by city attorney James Banks, says the 75-day guideline is “merely directory” and questions whether it is appropriate grounds for a city council decision to be reversed.

“Under the petitioner’s argument, an appealing party could lose its right to appeal by the mere inadvertence of the city clerk,” the response reads. “In addition, an appealing party could also lose its right to appeal if, for whatever reason, a public hearing scheduled to be conducted within 75 days was postponed or canceled, for example, due to an error in the advertisement, inclement weather, or failure to have a quorum.”

The city’s response went on to criticize the initial filing for not including ARHA as a party, and that the City of Alexandria is not an appropriate or proper party to file against. It also took issue with the complaint’s allegations of negative impacts on the historic fabric of the neighborhood and said they were not specific enough to demonstrate any harm caused.

A status conference for the suit is scheduled for 9 a.m. on February 8 at the city courthouse, while ARHA’s application with the city for redevelopment is ongoing.

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