An Alexandria fable

An Alexandria fable

To the editor: 

Once upon a time in the kingdom of Alexandria, there was a parcel of land, known as 301 N. Fairfax St. This parcel was located in a very historic neighborhood and for many years had provided office space for people who lived in and around the community. 

The residents who lived around this parcel were very nice people. Many had bought their homes because of the charm and small scale of the historic district neighborhood. 

Over time, the kingdom had studied and planned and then zoned this parcel of land as a commercial use and then later, they further protected it by placing it in the waterfront overlay district. Many, many people over the years had worked together, developing plans and zoning requirements for this parcel of land and the whole neighborhood happily coexisted. 

There came a time in the kingdom when a developer realized that the spirit of the kingdom had changed. The new spirit was considered by many to scorn both the historical character and the zoning code in favor of dense development. The many years of planning reflected in small area plans was ignored and the focus was on development for tax dollars at all costs. 

Knowing the kingdom’s mentality, the developer looked at this parcel and decided to construct a building many times the size of the existing building and many times the size permitted by the zoning classification. The developer knew he could make the most profit by making his proposed new building all residential. 

The developer could not accomplish this under the current well-planned zoning, so he decided to fit a much larger structure on the property by demanding a rezoning. The developer had a problem however. His proposal was so out of proportion that no zone could accommodate the density, or floor area ratio, he wanted. 

Knowing that the kingdom Council members were eager for any residential use, the developer concocted a plan to sway Council into approving his proposal. The developer asked that the parcel be zoned commercial residential mixed-use high and he be granted a 2.5 FAR. 

Now everyone knows under the clear language of the zoning code that the CRMU-H only allows a 2.5 FAR if you are a mixed use. For all residential use, the highest FAR is 1.25; however the developer knew that some of the Council members often ignored the zoning code requirements – and rather than reading the clear language of the code themselves, they pretended that it was too complicated to understand and needed further legal “interpretation” so as to support development at all costs. 

Thus, the developer skipped over the plain meaning of the code which stated, in section 5-305 (A), that if the development is for a single residential, the maximum FAR is 1.25. 

The kind neighbors watched with disbelief because even with the illegal FAR grant the developer could still not fit his massive project on the parcel! To further mock the kingdom’s well established zoning plans for this parcel, the developer further demanded five modifications to allow his building to be erected. 

The people in the kingdom were shocked at the audacity of the developer and quickly organized to protect their neighborhood, the historic district and their kingdom. 

The developer next tried to ram the proposal through the Board of Architectural Review, but the BAR is smart and they looked at the mass and scale and sent the developer back to the drawing board. The developer refused to reduce the mass and scale and after two unsuccessful attempts with the smart BAR, he refused to continue to work with the BAR on his concept plan and walked away. 

Confronted with a code that stated one thing and the developer demanding another, the neighbors sought out the Planning Director’s opinion on the illegal rezoning classification, paid $500 and filed a formal opinion request, but the Planning Director refused to answer their question. 

The developer next went to the Planning Commission, whose chair berated the BAR for doing their job of considering mass and scale, which is within the BAR perview. The chair also refused to acknowledge the four – not three votes, watch the tape of the vote – to recommend denial of the rezoning. He then signed an erroneously worded resolution to Council. 

The concerned neighbors were undaunted by the Commission chair’s actions and bravely went into the community and gathered the signatures of 89 property owners within 300 feet of the parcel to formally protest what could be called the greedy attempt to ruin the kingdom. 

Stunned by the audacity of the good neighbors to file a protest and the expressed concerns of one of the wise kingdom Council members, the developer postponed the hearing a month and began further appeals to the kingdom Council members to approve the too-dense project. 

Alas, dear reader, I am unable to tell you the ending of this tale as it will be decided on January 20 at the kingdom Council meeting. If you wish to help your neighbors, please attend the meeting and speak. Please write Council and please vote this November for only kingdom rulers that support neighborhood and historic preservation. 

The end (or not). 

-Barbara Beach, Alexandria