Heritage redevelopment returns to the BAR

Heritage redevelopment returns to the BAR
The design for the southwest facing corner of the project as presented at at the Sept. 2 BAR hearing (left) and the Oct. 21 hearing (right). (Courtesy Photos)

By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

The controversial Heritage redevelopment project returned to the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review for its third concept review on Oct. 21.

The Heritage, located at 413 S. Columbus St., currently spans three blocks and 136,800 square feet in the southwest quadrant of Old Town. The proposed development involves demolishing the existing 244-unit Heritage apartment complex and rebuilding a 750-unit complex in its place.

The BAR has already approved a permit to demolish the existing buildings, and this month, City Council denied an appeal of the decision that had been filed by nearby residents, allowing the developer to move forward with the demolition.

The design for one the South Columbus Street-facing buildings as presented at at the Sept. 2 BAR hearing (left) and the Oct. 21 hearing (right). (Courtesy Photos)

In the next steps of the project, the developer, Asland Capital Partners, will request a certificate of appropriateness from the BAR and a development special use permit from City Council.

The concept reviews are voluntary phases of the process, during which the developer requests feedback from the BAR on the height, mass, scale and architectural character of the design plans. The last concept review on Sept. 2 got heated after BAR members expressed disapproval of almost every element of the project and BAR Chair Christine Roberts likened the designs to putting “lipstick on a pig.”

The Oct. 21 concept review was much more civil. BAR members continued to repeat previous assertions that the proposed buildings are too tall and modern-looking in places, but several members said that the designs are moving in the right direction.

Several residents who have adamantly opposed the project, largely because of its size, spoke again at the meeting to express their opposition.

“You’re being asked to give a green light to a project that has mostly dolled up the front colored bricks. It’s like changing the color of the lipstick on the pig,” Yvonne Callahan, vice president of the Old Town Civic Association, said.

During the meeting, representatives from Hord Coplan Macht, the project’s architect, presented what had changed since the previous meeting.

The architect tweaked the appearance of several of the proposed buildings, but the buildings are still up to seven stories tall in locations, and despite decreasing from 777 to 750 units, the project is largely of the same scale that it was during the first concept review in July.

While the BAR members had very specific feedback about each of the buildings, an overarching theme they suggested was more separation between buildings.

“I think we could really solve a lot of problems here if we didn’t have continuous buildings,” BAR Member Lynn Neihardt said of a portion of the project that faces South Patrick Street. “That is a three-block continuous building and … it’s not something that is appropriate or reads to the context of our area.”

Neihardt and her colleagues also recommended that the architect reduce the height of the buildings to five or six stories in certain areas where it remains seven stories tall.

There were several locations where BAR members said they liked past designs better than new designs, such as the east side of the block facing South Columbus Street, where the architect reconfigured a building façade that BAR members had previously deemed “too fussy.”

“I think they went too far in scaling this back, and I agree that the original was very fussy, but I think this one is too stark in the other direction,” BAR member James Spencer said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the developer’s attorney, Cathy Puskar, thanked the BAR for the feedback, but expressed some concern about the notes that they’d given.

“I think I’ve gotten individual direction from seven different people,” Puskar said. “… The last time we were told you didn’t like the last version at all, and now we’re being told you like the last version. It’s just a little bit confusing, but we’ll take it and go from there.”