Council approves street name changes, 301 N. Fairfax St. development

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Council approves street name changes, 301 N. Fairfax St. development
The proposed redevelopment site map for 301 N. Fairfax St. (Photo/City of Alexandria)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

City Council approved the renaming and rededication of streets named for Confederate soldiers and generals and also passed the 301 N. Fairfax St. redevelopment at Saturday’s public hearing.

The meeting, which lasted almost eight hours, covered several special use permit applications, master plan amendments and heard from dozens of residents. Council unanimously approved redevelopment of The Ladrey and extended the special use permit for Del Ray Service Center at 1601 Mount Vernon Ave.

Council was unable to vote on a redevelopment proposal 404A East Alexandria Ave. in Del Ray because of an administrative error. The wrong version of the application was uploaded to the final public docket.

City Attorney Cheran Ivery said while state code does not require Council to defer, it was recommended by staff to do so in an effort to remain transparent. She also said the applicant was made aware of the issue and agreed to defer.

“This should never happen,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “This is a mistake that we cannot allow to happen and we’ve had too many of these. Administrative mistakes should not cause an action to be altered. We need to have a conversation internally to understand how this one happened and how we can prevent it from happening in the future.”

Wilson encouraged the applicant and the site’s neighbors to continue discussions and potentially rectify some disagreements on their own. Council unanimously agreed to defer this item until the February 24 public hearing.

Council voted unanimously on Saturday to rename and rededicate a group of four streets, which had been named for Confederates in the 1950s as part of the “massive resistance” to integration.

Alexandria’s first foray into renaming streets named for Confederates took place in September 2015 when an advisory group was formed as part of a nationwide focus on Confederate symbols after a white supremacist shot nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, there have been contentious Council meetings and a lack of movement on street name changes due to lack of residents signing renaming petitions, which were previously required.

During the past nine years, some changes have taken place, such as the renaming of the portion of Route 1 in Alexandria that used to bear the name “Jefferson Davis Highway” and the removal of the Appomattox statue from the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets.

The streets that were considered at Saturday’s public hearing were North Breckinridge Place, North and South Early Streets, North and South Jordan Streets, Jordan Court and Forrest Street.

These were among Alexandria’s streets that were named following the passage of a 1953 ordinance, which ruled that all streets running North-South directions had to be named in honor of Confederates. Councilor John Chapman made the motion, which Councilor Canek Aguirre seconded, to rededicate and rename the following streets, effective June 20:

  • Rename North Breckinridge Place to Harriet Jacobs Place;
  • Rename Early Street to Earley Street for Charity Adams Earley;
  • Rename Forrest Street to Forest Street and;
  • Rededicate Jordan Court and North and South Jordan Streets in honor of Thomasina Jordan.

While discussion on Confederate street renaming took less than 40 minutes, Council spent just over three hours on Saturday considering the 301 N. Fairfax St. redevelopment. Daniel Welles, an urban planner for the city, gave a brief presentation on the project. Welles reviewed the location, architecture of the building, land use requests, considerations and benefits of the project.

The new development being proposed is a 48-unit residential multi-family building with one level of underground parking and more than 10,000 square feet of private open space. The front entrance to the building would be on Queen Street. This residential building would replace a 1970s office building. In a December 2023 Planning Commission meeting, a 4-3 vote moved the project along to Council to hear later that month, but was deferred until Saturday.

A total of 27 residents spoke in opposition to the proposed redevelopment, with just one voicing support. Many of those opposed shared similar sentiments and urged Council to vote against the development.

“Please ask yourselves: ‘Is this building good for Alexandria? Is it good for Old Town?’” Steve Davidson, a resident of Old Town, said. “[The neighborhood] has special charms. It has a look and a character that makes it special. The building is completely out of character with the residences in the area.”

Brian Branton, a board trustee for the Historic Alexandria Foundation, said this threatens to disrupt the community.

“It ignores the architecture of the community with the building design that’s devoid of any respectful reference to our colonial and 19th century architectural history,” Branton said. “Our city deserves respect for its heritage, and a development of this magnitude would overshadow the very essence that makes Old Town so distinct.”

The sole speaker in support of the redevelopment was Alex Goyette, the primary Alexandria lead for the YIMBYs of NoVA.

“This project should be a slam dunk, but it’s gone through the ringer of reviews and delays,” Goyette said. “Speakers here today – who are already comfortably housed in Old Town – have opposed the project on what are fundamentally aesthetic grounds. I agree: Aesthetics and our history are incredibly important. … Old Town is also a living neighborhood that should be treated as more than a museum for tourists and people already lucky enough to live there.”

M. Catharine Puskar, the applicant’s land use attorney, spoke next and discussed the changes that were made in the last month and showed a presentation to contrast what residents said with specifics on the project.

There was then a long back-and-forth between Councilors, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and Wilson with staff and Puskar. Councilor Alyia Gaskins thanked residents for their input on the project and said that feedback improved the end result.

“I really do feel that the way residents have mobilized around this project has resulted in some actual changes. What was before us in December would have been a hard no,” Gaskins said. “That would not have happened without residents pushing back.”

Gaskins said she believes the process surrounding the approval process for 301 N. Fairfax St. provides a path forward for development in Alexandria’s Old and Historic District.

“It shows that there is a way to develop and change that still allows us to protect the heart of the historic district. And the buildings that we have deemed and built and said ‘These are what makes Old Town special’ that still allows organic development around it that should not affect that,” Gaskins said.

Councilor R. Kirk McPike motioned to approve the redevelopment and Gaskins seconded the motion. It passed 6-1 with Chapman dissenting.

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