By Jackie Fishman
Residential issues, DASH bus routes and use of public right-of-way space were front and center at City Council’s Saturday public meeting.
At the top of the meeting, resident Kara Fast brought up the DASH bus 34 route change reconsideration since it impacts those living on North Pitt Street and is very close to their doors and windows. It also reduces transit proximity for low-income residents and seniors, she said. Resident Jim Murphy presented a similar viewpoint on the same issue.
The first item on the docket was a request for outdoor dining space at Nando’s Restaurant, located at 462 Mandeville Lane. This request included an encroachment and related structures into the public right-of-way at 2462 Mandeville Lane was unanimously approved.
The item that created the most discussion involved a special use permit request for 1225 King St. King Street Apts LLC, represented by land use attorney Duncan Blair requested consideration of a request for a SUP for a floor area ratio of up to 2.5 with an open space modification for the conversion from nonresidential to residential use for the upper floors of an existing building.
During discussion, Councilor Alyia Gaskins requested that in general, requests like this one should encompass both planning and affordable housing goals. She advocated for looking at these issues comprehensively as a housing master plan update, and urged that council take clear guidance from staff as to how these plans are studied, both as the way a conversion is managed and how this process should occur.
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson stated that there are only 9,000 to10,000 accredited affordable housing square feet in this project and not the generally approved, but voluntary 19,000 square feet. She said that Alexandria does not always have to agree to every invitation to reinvent the use of a piece of property. She stated that she was not happy about this conversion, but would vote for it. Jackson emphasized the importance of ensuring that spaces like this are used and don’t sit empty, but said Alexandria should get more affordable housing when these permits are approved.
Councilor John Chapman mentioned that the affordable housing commission has not been forthcoming on these kinds of requests. He said he was unsure of how to pull together the affordable housing requirements for all activity in the city.
Gaskins confirmed this need but explained that she wanted to narrow the lens to individual projects in order to make the issue more manageable. She advocated looking at contributions policy as it relates to conversions.
Steve Malone, a representative for the Old Town Civic Association, said his association seeks to amend this SUP to include an assurance that the future residents know they will not be granted parking permits as part of this permit. According to city parking policy, residents in communities of more than ten units do not receive parking permits if their property is not located in a residential parking area. Fifty percent of the total square foot usage is nonresidential. He requested that the future tenants are made aware of this limitation. He also stated that he believes the affordable housing units in this SUP are inadequate both because this development is not in a Residential Parking Permit district and because the project lacks adequate open space.
It was pointed out these residents would not be situated in a RPP district, so the parking conditions would not be applicable and these residents would automatically be denied street parking.
Blair explained that this project is engaged in the due diligence period with respect to affordable housing and that his clients are looking at how to use excess garage parking spaces.
Councilor Sarah Bagley opined that this project contributes positively to the community and adds vitality but said if this percentage of affordable housing contributions is a trend, this overall trend should be reexamined. Bagley said she does not want individual projects like this one to be the “fall guy” for the affordable housing situation. Bagley also indicated that while it is nice to fill these vacant spaces, she wants to ensure that the city is getting more out of these projects.
Chapman said that he wants to ensure the affordable housing council is initially more involved in looking at proposed projects and creating guidelines for them.
Mayor Justin Wilson mentioned a previous project in Eisenhower Valley and its impact on sewer connection fee issues as an example of how council wanted to alignhousing communities with the aims and needs of the city. Wilson reminded council that these units will actually be affordable market rate units due to their size. He emphasized this project is important and will be providing housing in a jobrich environment. He also explained that he did not feel this project even merited a council discussion because of these parameters and because it’s a small project.
Bagley pointed out that these considerations are often the result of previous and historic building decisions and situations because of unique reasons. She spoke to the need for all different size housing within the city. She deferred to Sam Shelby, a principal planner with the City of Alexandria, about why this conversion is currently before council. He described how the commercial zone is now being converted to residential which is why the hearing is required in this instance.
Council closed the discussion and voted to approve the project.
The final item was the public hearing for a zoning project at Stevenson Avenue – Edgewood Towns.
This hearing was intended to consider the requests for a change to the official zoning map of this piece of property from a townhouse zone to a high density apartment zone in order to allow for the construction of a subdivision of seven townhomes with a shared and adjoining driveway leading to parking access and parking spaces.
The applicant, Old Creek Homes LLC, was represented by Duncan Blair. Bill Cook, a representative from the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said that the “modest increase in density” might be the only concern to be considered and that this vacant lot had been neglected for 15 years.
He said that if this project did not go through, the rezoning is not transferable. The Planning Commission had previously approved this rezoning during its earlier January meeting. Blair said it is good for the community to have this property redeveloped after 15 years of not being used.
After some discussion, council passed the proposal unanimously.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jim Murphy and Kara Fast.