Contentious 301 N. Fairfax St. project deferred

Contentious 301 N. Fairfax St. project deferred
301 N. Fairfax St.’s fate is deferred until a January 20 public hearing. (Photo/City of Alexandria)

By Caitlyn Meisner |

City Council deferred action on the redevelopment proposal for 301 N. Fairfax St. at Saturday’s public hearing. Action on the project was pushed back to January 20 per a request by the applicant’s lawyer, M. Catharine Puskar.

This request followed a protest petition from local residents that necessitated a supermajority vote of support from Council for approval. Her request was passed unanimously.

“At this point, I’m planning to not support this project going forward,” Councilor John Taylor Chapman said in the hearing. “As I understand it, not having the full Council here and having a protest petition, the applicant would need all six votes.”

The full Council was not physically present at the public hearing, as Councilor Alyia Gaskins had a personal conflict and Councilor R. Kirk McPike joined via Zoom. Chapman said in an interview with the Times that McPike’s votes count as if he was present in the City Hall chambers.

There is a petition of nearly 900 signatures in opposition to the development, which according to the city’s zoning ordinance Section 11-808, mandates that the Council cannot approve a proposed amendment “except by an affirmative vote of three-fourths of its members.”

Chapman also said to the Times that without Gaskins present, Puskar did not have the votes to pass the redevelopment application. Deferring until January 20 ensures that each member of Council is present and six votes can be secured. Since six of seven members were present Saturday and Chapman plans to disapprove, this made it impossible for Puskar to push through the application.

Chapman also said to the Times his “eyebrows were raised” when he saw the Planning Commission was split 4-3 in approving the redevelopment. He said he was particularly concerned about the planning of the entire block.

“For the property to the north, we have no clue what they’re going to do,” Chapman said. “I think I want to look at this as if I am planning that entire block and what would I want to see? I would want to see some ground-floor, open-space buildings not built right next to each other.

“While there is the expansion of a building – and I’m fine with that – doing it to the property line where it could possibly be brought together with another building, I don’t think is appropriate,” Chapman said.

He also said he was hesitant to approve the redevelopment because of a possibility this would create a single wall of development on North Fairfax Street.

“If they both go to the property line, that would be kind of a connected building [and] would stretch the entire block,” Chapman said. “I wanted to hedge that off by requesting this development leave some room between the end of their site and their building, and they were not willing to do that.”

Chapman acknowledged the oddity of speaking up in notifying the chambers of the deferral, but said he wanted to tell those who had come to speak beforehand in an act of transparency.

Puskar did not respond to requests for comment.