Council approves Ramsey Homes redevelopment

Council approves Ramsey Homes redevelopment
A Ramsey Homes rendering from 2016 (File photo)

By Chris Teale (File photo)

City councilors unanimously approved the redevelopment of the historic yet dilapidated Ramsey Homes Saturday, marking the end of a long and at times contentious debate about the site.

Under the plan submitted by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the four buildings that currently house 15 affordable units at 699 N. Patrick St. will be demolished and replaced by one four-story building that will contain 52 mixed-income units.

“Did anybody think we’d see this day?” asked City Councilor Del Pepper after the vote.

Previously, city councilors and planning commissioners had spoken of their desire to preserve at least one of the current Ramsey Homes buildings due to the site’s history as temporary housing built for black defense workers during World War II.

But in June, city council approved a plan to demolish all four of the buildings and replace them with one, which would be moved to the north side of the property to allow for ground-level open space at the corner of Pendleton and North Patrick streets.

The Ramsey Homes had been a major source of contention between affordable housing and historic preservation activists as ARHA sought to redevelop the site. Its permit to demolish the current property was initially rejected by the Parker-Gray Board of Architectural Review in April 2015 but then overturned by council in September 2015.

ARHA presented a plan at that time that would have amended the Braddock East Master Plan, rezoned the property from a townhouse zone to mixed-use and built 53 units in two multi-family buildings.

Last February, the planning commission rejected the plan and council failed to approve the rezoning and master plan amendment following a protest petition from neighbors requiring a supermajority of six votes. Council rescinded that vote days later.

After those decisions, city council and ARHA approved a joint work group and joint work plan in March to foster greater cooperation at all levels, including between staff. Council then approved a proposal to rezone the property and amend the master plan that month.

Since then, the group worked in conjunction with local residents and other stakeholders to produce the final version.

“This has been a long time coming, but I must say I’m proud of the outcome,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg. “It’s a lot of people coming together, finding that common ground, [with] great input from the neighborhood, the Parker-Gray BAR as well as the board of ARHA … and the staff of ARHA and our staff.”

Under ARHA’s plan, 15 of the units would be available to residents whose income is 30 percent of area median income, with the other 37 available to those making between 30 and 60 percent of area median income.

Current Ramsey Homes resident Marian Mealing praised city councilors and other stakeholders for the work they have done on this project.

“Having done that shows growth, determination and commitment to those of us who already live in affordable housing in the city,” she said.

But councilors were perturbed by a condition of the approval which means new residents will not be eligible for on-street parking spaces unless city council approves a comprehensive policy on granting permits for new developments.

City Councilor Paul Smedberg said a policy must be formed and put into practice, and he decried the current practice of considering such a condition on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve talked about this for years,” he said. “It is not equitable, it is not fair, and until we have an actual policy in place, I do not think we should be making these individual, one- off determinations.”

Smedberg also raised concerns about the quality of materials used in the construction of the new property, and said he hoped it would live up to the renderings produced by the architects.

“These sites are very high-profile in the ARHA portfolio, and I would really hate to see this type of architecture that we’re shown and the level of expectation of windows and other types of materials, and immediately it’s value-engineered like it was in the adjacent project,” he said. “I really hope that isn’t done beginning Monday morning, which is typically what happens.”

Council also approved a loan of $1.1 million to ARHA from the city’s Housing Opportunities Fund, to be used for various infrastructure improvements that are standard in such a redevelopment project.

At council’s November 9 legislative meeting, city housing director Helen McIlvaine said the source of the loan is proceeds from ARHA’s repayment of the loan it received for the redevelopment of its Glebe Park property.

On Saturday, ARHA president and CEO Roy Priest hand- ed City Manager Mark Jinks a check for over $480,000 as part of that repayment, and said an additional payment of $5.8 million will be forthcoming once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approves the sum.

The project will return to the Parker-Gray Board of Architectural Review, which will refine the project’s architecture, ahead of granting a certificate of appropriateness to allow it to proceed. Nathan Imm, an official with the department of planning and zoning, said the city’s landlord-tenant relations board will hold a public hearing in December to consider ARHA’s proposed relocation plan for current residents of the property.