By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
At its public hearing Saturday, city council unanimously approved a development at The Strand that furthers the waterfront plan and a restaurant on King Street that will dish out Mexican food and noise concerns. Council also passed regulations regarding Floor Area Ratios that encourage parking to go underground.
In addition, council voted to renew a lease with the Charles Houston Recreation Center, partnering with the non-profit Fight for Children, that will enable the Alexandria Boxing Club to continue using the center. Several boxing coaches, athletes and community members testified in support of the club.
The Strand development
In a project that was billed as helping to fulfill the city’s waterfront vision, council approved a development on The Strand that includes 18 new residential units and three ground floor retail spaces.
The site is made up of about two thirds of an acre between Hotel Indigo and Chadwicks and includes 203, 205 and 211 Strand St. The project will also incorporate two pedestrian-only alleys connecting The Strand and Union Street. The Chadwicks property, 203 Strand St., will be acquired as part of the development site, but the building itself will not be altered, and the restaurant will remain as it is.
Ryan Price, a planner with the Department of Planning & Zoning, said the applicant was bringing forward two restaurant Special Use Permits as part of the project’s plan. Specific restaurants have yet to be identified, but Price said the retail spaces total about 4,000 square feet and are small enough to be best suited for cafés, candy stores or ice cream shop-type businesses.
The site will provide 36 parking spaces for residential use and zero for the retail. Each of the 18 residential units will be allocated two parking spaces. Ten of the units will have tandem spaces, meaning two cars will be stacked in one spot.
Price said the developer has been working with residents and local organizations for the past two years in carrying out the plan. In addition to its waterfront contribution, the developer has offered contributions to the city’s affordable housing and public art funds.
Kenneth Wire, the attorney for the developer The IDI Stand LC, said the plan mirrored exactly what was proposed in the waterfront plan. He also applauded the smooth community engagement process.
Yvonne Callahan, former president of the Old Town Civic Association, said the plan met the organization’s approval and agreed that the process had been inclusive.
“This is the way it ought to be. This is how we can come to you and say, ‘We like it because we were listened to,’” Callahan said. “We think this is the best project here on the waterfront.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the development.
In another restaurant-related decision, council voted unanimously to approve an SUP at 116 King St. for a new Mexican restaurant, Urbano 116. In its discussion, council focused on the possible parking and noise concerns that the project will create.
Regarding parking, the city staff report specified that the restaurant is required to have a parking management plan. In addition, restaurant employees are required to use off street parking.
The only resident to come forward during the public hearing period was Phil Matyas, a neighbor who lives at 219 N. Pitt St.
“How does the city enforce that the employees don’t park on the residential streets?” Matyas asked.
Councilor Paul Smedberg also expressed skepticism for the parking plan, saying that restaurant employees would be able to get around parking regulations by parking on the streets in specific areas at certain times.
Matyas also brought up noise concerns, despite city code establishing that it is illegal for music from the restaurant to be heard at the property line. Matyas said he was concerned Urbano 116 would follow in the footsteps of its would-be neighbor, Two Nineteen Restaurant, and violate the noise code requirement.
Councilor John Chapman said the city would continue following its processes to crack down on code violators.
“While we don’t want a raucous, loud, rowdy main street, I think we all up here would agree that we do want some vibrancy to it,” he said.
Chapman also said the city needs to adjust to a changing restaurant scene.
“Restaurants are changing to become much more of an experience,” he said, “so I think we need to understand that, start to talk to the community about that, and when cases like this come down to it, understand what we’re looking at here. From what I see from this project, they’re looking to be that full experience, and we should be able to welcome that.”
Staff’s report established that restaurant owners intend for the live music to be an acoustic guitar soloist. There is no language, however, barring other forms of live entertainment or amplification.
“The noise can’t be heard at the property line regardless of how loud it is inside, so I don’t care if they amplify it or not amplify it, as long as they comply with the city code,” Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said.
Director of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz said city staff was not opposed to implementing a condition that would ban amplification.
However, he said he didn’t think it was necessary. Despite his proposal, council voted to approve the SUP as it was, with no additional restraints on noise other than the city code.
Chad Sparrow, a member of the restaurant’s ownership group, told the Times after council’s vote that he was excited about bringing Urbano 116 to Old Town.
Regarding parking, Sparrow said the restaurant has a parking management plan in place that includes paying for employees to take public transit or reimbursing off street parking fees. In response to noise concerns, Sparrow said it will be confined to the space.
“We’ll follow the code and we’ll follow the rules, but we’re trying to increase and make Old Town more fun and more exciting,” Sparrow said. “I think we have a concept and a place that’s really going to do that.”
In yet another unanimous vote, council approved a text amendment to the Floor Area Ratio regulations in city’s zoning ordinance. FAR regulations control the maximum amount of building square footage that can be developed on a property based on lot size, according to the staff report.
Mayor Allison Silberberg suggested that the text amendment could be divided into two categories: first, addressing architectural design elements like building overhangs and attic heights, and second, updating regulations for above ground parking garages.
According to the staff report, the FAR updates were meant to clarify ambiguities and inconsistencies in the current regulations. In addition to clarifying language, the updated regulations would encourage certain architectural designs, according to the staff report.
Some significant regulation updates would exclude certain areas within a size constraint from a building’s FAR, including lavatories, spaces under balconies, awnings and low ceilings.
The second part of the updated regulations addresses above ground parking. At the public hearing, this topic warranted clarification and concern from several city councilors.
The updated regulations establish that all above ground parking garages would count toward a development’s FAR. As per the old regulations, only above ground parking garages with ceilings higher than 7 feet 6 inches counted toward FAR. In both the old and the new regulations, underground garages do not count toward FAR.
Moritz said the reason behind the parking garage updates was to encourage new developments to put parking underground and to discourage the construction of parking garages with low ceilings.
Silberberg expressed concern about the impact the regulations would have on parking, a topic in the city that is often contentious, especially since council recently passed new parking standards that reduce the amount of parking businesses are required to provide.
“What is the intent and what are the consequences?” Silberberg said. “If you’re counting a parking garage toward FAR, that would discourage a developer from providing some parking.”
Moritz said the regulations would not have an impact on the amount of parking developments provide since that is established by the city’s parking standards.
“We want parking to go underground. That’s a better use of space in an urban area,” Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said. “The last thing I think we should be doing is trying to provide an incentive for developers to put unsightly parking above ground versus underground. We want them to bear that cost to put them underground.”
Moritz said P&Z has looked at the areas in the city that are expecting development; they don’t anticipate the requirements having a negative impact. He said if developers for some reason couldn’t put parking underground and the above ground parking would exceed FAR, they could request an exception.
He also said there were certain exceptions for existing above ground garages and planned above ground garages that have been approved but not yet built, so as not to blindside developments that are already underway.
Silberberg expressed concern about unintended consequences the regulations might have, but echoed fellow councilors that she wanted to see more underground parking.
Council voted unanimously to approve the text amendment.