City makes second mistake in public engagement process for 404A East Alexandria Ave.

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City makes second mistake in public engagement process for 404A East Alexandria Ave.
A rendering of the front of the 404A East Alexandria Ave. home proposal. (Rendering/Eric Teran)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

The 404A East Alexandria Ave. project has been deferred for the second time by the Planning & Zoning Department. The proposed home construction was slated to be a docket item for Saturday’s public hearing, but has been deferred until March 12.

The decision to defer came just before 5 p.m. Tuesday after city staffers spoke to neighbors of the property over the weekend. P&Z could not get 100% approval from neighbors to proceed with the hearing.

Karl Moritz, planning director, said section 11-301 of the zoning ordinance requires a specific process for notifications: newspaper notice, placards and then letters to abutting neighbors.

“Our failure this time was in not getting the letters out to the neighbors in the required more than 10 days before the hearing,” Moritz said.

Since the notice was not given in time, Moritz said the city then went to neighbors to ask their willingness to waive the right to challenge the “validity of the proceedings based on a failure to receive such written notice,” as the zoning code states.

Moritz said the city could not get ahold of all 12 of the abutting neighbors of the property and, as of Monday, at least half stated a willingness to sign the waiver. According to neighbors and the applicant, one neighbor is said to be out of state.

The proposal is for a 1,174 square foot, two-story home with a basement and detached auxiliary dwelling unit. Eric Teran, the architect and Alexandria resident, said he and his wife plan on using this home as a long-term rental right now, but can see themselves moving into the home once their young children have moved out.

“We do not want to do short-term rentals at this property,” Teran said. “Hopefully we get maybe a military family that rents for three or four years while they’re in this area. … If we build it and somebody offers us a ridiculous amount of money, then maybe we sell it. Maybe we have moved to Ecuador for some reason. … Many things can happen.”

Neighbors of the Del Ray lot have pushed back against the project for many reasons, including the size of the lot, the proposed design, inconvenience of construction and a lack of communication from the city and applicant.

“My house was built in 1939 … and there’s going to be a lot of shock and vibration and heavy equipment moving back there, excavating,” Matthew Kaim, a resident of Mount Vernon Avenue, said. “I’m really concerned about the structural damage impacts on my foundation, my house, my walls. My property is already [at] the lowest elevation of all surrounding homes and the backyard floods rapidly.”

Kaim also said he was concerned about the logistics of construction.

“Where are they going to put the building materials? How are they going to maneuver the equipment?” Kaim said. “I mean, the trash trucks, the utility trucks have a really difficult time getting back there as it stands.”

Mark Lim, a resident of Mount Vernon Avenue, wrote a letter to City Council ahead of the Saturday public hearing stating that the city’s public engagement process has been lackluster. He wrote that he and several neighbors were ready to discuss the matter at the January 20 public hearing, only to learn the project was delayed due to a clerical error.

“Upon learning about the delay, we all met in the overflow room to discuss next steps. The applicant entered the room, saw all of us and instead of joining the discussion, left the room to consult with Mr. Sam Shelby of the Department of Planning and Zoning,” Lim wrote. “The door to the overflow room is glass and we were at the entrance, so they could not have missed us as I clearly saw them in discussion. But, both left without saying a word, missing an opportunity for transparent discussion and furthering concerns that city staff sides with the applicant and are not interested in talking with us.”

The next outreach for public engagement, according to Lim and other residents, came on February 16 after 5 p.m., causing several to change their weekend plans to accommodate the door-to-door meetings.

“This outreach, one week prior to the City Council Public Hearing, three weeks after Mayor [Justin] Wilson’s recommendation and after 5 p.m. on the Friday before a three-day weekend, can be seen as nothing but devious,” Lim said. “This furthers speculation that this was a last-minute and insincere attempt to ‘check the box’ on engaging the community a week before the postponed public hearing.”

This decision to defer was met with frustration by both the neighbors and Teran.

“I mean, it’s just ridiculous,” Kaim said. “I don’t know why we’re getting the run- around here.”

Teran expressed frustration with the city having to defer the project once again. He said he was the one who originally caught the clerical error in January. He also said he was not aware he had to contact neighbors to discuss contentions.

“[P&Z] had asked me if anybody had reached out to me [on February 16] … and nobody reached out to me,” Teran said. “They started scrambling because they realized they were supposed to reach out to me to tell me to do that.”

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