To the editor:
In Old Town’s southwest quadrant, New York real estate developer Asland Capital Management and their Arlington-based legal representative Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh submitted an application on April 20, 2020 to demolish three The Heritage at Old Town properties to enable the new construction of three seven-story buildings for a total of 777 apartment units.
The redevelopment of these properties is part of the city’s “South Patrick Street Housing Affordability Strategy” adopted by the City Council on Sept. 15, 2018. The properties are only three of nine buildings proposed by the strategy “to guide the preservation of housing along South Patrick Street.” On Sept. 2, 2020, the Board of Architectural Review approved Asland’s application to demolish the Heritage properties.
However, the BAR’s September decision was a deferred July decision since the Walsh representative revealed they had not fully informed all Heritage tenants that their homes would be demolished after Sept. 1, 2021. At the same September hearing, the BAR rejected Asland’s concept review of plans for the three seven-story buildings since the plans did not “meet the BAR’s expectations of height, mass, scale, and architectural character.”
Less than ten days after the BAR’s decision, the city clerk received 215 signatures from Old and Historic Alexandria District property owners to oppose Asland’s demolition permit. The residents’ appeal of the BAR decision will be heard by the City Council on Oct. 17, 2020. Per city policies, Asland would be responsible for relocating Heritage tenants and in- forming the tenants at least eight months in advance of the proposed demolition in September 2021.
However, would City Council actually endorse the relocation of these tenants during a COVID-19 pandemic? The city extended its “Declaration of Local Emergency” until March 31, 2021 which would be three months after Asland would be required to inform Heritage tenants of their relocation in January 2021. As of Oct. 7, the City of Alexandria has had nearly 4,000 COVID-19 infections, and those figures will undoubtedly continue to rise.
City Council should place a moratorium on Asland’s demolition request until the city can re-assess the pandemic at the end of next March. As Mark Twain once said, “To do good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler – and no trouble.”
City Council should be the noble teacher, and delay Asland’s demolition plans until a viable vaccine is publicly distributed and the safety of Heritage tenants is assured.
-Stafford A. Ward, advisor, Citizens Association of the Southwest Quadrant; Yvonne Callahan, vice president, Old Town Civic Association