Old Colony Inn redevelopment unanimously approved by city council

Old Colony Inn redevelopment unanimously approved by city council

By Chris Teale (File photo)

City council unanimously approved the redevelopment of the Old Colony Inn in North Old Town, although it added several conditions to ease concerns about parking and landscaping among others.

In their approval, councilors narrowed loading times at the site on 1101 N. Washington St. to from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and added a condition that the applicant must provide enhanced landscaping and maintenance of the rear alleyway, subject to consent of the Canal Way Home Owners Association. The alleyway also will be allowed to be reduced in width from 26 feet to a minimum of 22 feet to allow for additional landscaping, subject to association consent.

Other conditions include restricting the hours of operation of the hotel restaurant entrance on Second Street to from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The applicant also made a commitment to find additional parking spaces as close to the hotel as possible. Bus drop-off is also restricted, while parking spaces at the hotel rear must be clearly marked for hotel use and publicized as such at the front desk.

“I think that the neighbors’ input has undoubtedly helped push the process and make the building fit in better and be more respectful towards the neighborhood,” Mayor Allison Silberberg said after the vote.

Under the proposal by managing partners Rebecca Pelino and Stephen Bannister of CIA Colony Inn LLC, two stories would be added to the two-story building, as well as a 60-seat restaurant. Within that restaurant is a proposed 20-seat meeting area that can be incorporated into the general eating space.

The expansion would increase the number of rooms available from 49 to 104, and would include 62 on-site parking spaces with 13 located off-site on Slaters Lane and connected to the hotel by shuttle buses.

Michael Swidrak, an urban planner in the city department of planning and zoning, said the Board of Architectural Review and its staff found that the proposal conformed to the Washington Street standards and the North Old Town urban design guidelines. Those standards are outlined in a 1929 memorandum of agreement between Alexandria and the federal government.

Staff later noted that the National Park Service had said that the proposal had been refined to take into account previous concerns, but that it was not formally supporting the project. City
planning director Karl Moritz explained that typically, NPS does not give projects the green
light, but instead makes recommendations and gives opinions.

Those 13 off-site parking spaces may be located closer, according to the applicant’s attorney Cathy Puskar. She said there was an agreement in principle with the Armed Forces Benefit Association to use its parking lot on evenings and weekends, but that needed to be firmed up later on.

Several neighbors who testified at the public hearing raised concerns about the off-site parking lot and the impact on on-street spaces, which would be connected by a shuttle bus across Washington Street if it is located on Slaters Lane.

“Overflow parkers are much more likely to park on neighboring streets than to use such a remote option,” said resident Elizabeth Chimento.

Neighbors also criticized the height of the proposed building and the waiver of the transition setback requirement. The applicant requested to modify the requirement in the zoning ordinance for a zone transition setback and have some of the floors on the east side encroach onto that zone. City staff determined the encroachment was minimal, but residents said it would be detrimental to their quality of life.

“The proposed hotel is too big for this less-than one acre site, and your zoning ordinances make that clear,” said local resident Jim Herring.

Several speakers said that it was possible to follow the zoning ordinance’s setback requirement, primarily if one of the hotel’s stories was removed but also through architectural amendments.

“We maintain that an architect wouldn’t merely lop off the offending section, but would have to design the hotel to remain within the setback,” said local resident Andrea Haslinger.

Silberberg said the neighbors’ qualms about the building’s size weighed heavily on her decision, while resident Elizabeth Sproul said the ordinance was designed to prevent such waivers being granted.

“If it doesn’t apply in this instance, [we are] not sure what instance it would apply to,” she said.

Council’s approval means the hotel redevelopment can go ahead after more than a year of planning and community engagement. Puskar said that given its longevity at the site, a reboot was necessary to help it keep up with the demand for hotel rooms in the city.

“This has been a hotel since 1968,” she said. “It is time for an upgrade. It is time for a revision.”