Controversial Del Ray project denied after months of delay

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Controversial Del Ray project denied after months of delay
A rendering of the now-denied special use permit home at 404A East Alexandria Ave. (Rendering/City of Alexandria)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

City Council voted unanimously to deny a special use permit for 404A East Alexandria Ave. at the Tuesday legislative meeting, ending months of back-and-forth between the applicant, city and neighbors.

Eric Teran, the applicant who is an architect and Alexandria resident, said he was disappointed the SUP was denied.

“We’re going to talk to staff and see if there are any other options,” Teran said. “This is not the end. … I think that everyone has my email and phone number.”

Teran said moving forward, he hopes neighbors would reach out to discuss further changes that can be made to the property, and that he’s aware of the concerns being raised. He also said Council may have been swayed by public comments in its rejection of the proposal.

Council’s consideration of the project had been delayed twice due to city mistakes: once in January due to uploading the wrong version of a docket item and once in February for not reaching out to neighbors in time for the hearing. Wilson said the city is conducting reviews to the process to make sure similar “administrative snafus” don’t happen again.

This SUP was heard at a legislative meeting at Teran’s request because he had a travel conflict with Saturday’s public hearing. SUP applications are typically heard during public hearing meetings.

The application for 404A East Alexandria Ave. is for a 1,174 square foot, two-story home on a substandard lot with minimal street frontage. Teran said he planned on utilizing the home as a long-term rental for now, but could see him and his wife moving there in the future.

The SUP discussion started with a staff presentation, followed by a lengthy public hearing and discussion between Council members. Fifteen people spoke in opposition to the SUP and construction itself, citing the issues with street frontage, design, adherence to neighborhood character and stormwater drainage. Many of the speakers were brief, having already spoken or sent in letters when the SUP was to be voted on in January and February.

Teran also spoke for a few moments before the public hearing closed and was followed by a lengthy discussion between councilors and Mayor Justin Wilson.

“It should be a product of its own time and not a replica of its historic past,” Teran said of the design, which has been a contentious topic throughout the SUP process.

Councilors Alyia Gaskins and Sarah Bagley, along with Wilson, were among the most vocal throughout the debate. Wilson said the street frontage gave him the most pause and he was hesitant to set a precedent.

“With any exception we grant, there’s going to be a precedent that we set and consistency that we have to apply going forward,” Wilson said.

Gaskins said she had difficulty reconciling the fact that staff continued to mention how different this home would be in the neighborhood, saying it’s the “first of its kind.”

“If it has that many differences than what we’ve seen in this neighborhood, how it [does it] still fit the comparable test?” Gaskins asked.

Gaskins moved to deny the SUP, stating it was not compatible with the neighborhood’s character, which was seconded by Vice Mayor Amy Jackson.

Council had a bit of a back-and-forth on the reason for the motion to deny, as not all were seemingly in agreement with Gaskins that the design of the home was the issue.

Bagley stated Council has expressed a desire for housing diversity in the city in addition to more housing stock.

“I don’t want us to undermine what is the larger goal because a particular project doesn’t produce four, eight, 10 units,” Bagley said. “I appreciate all the concerns, but, for me, in terms of this vote and future, potential votes, all building types will ultimately be welcome for consideration.”

Gaskins said she agreed, but the staff report did not convince her this would be a good fit for the neighborhood. Wilson said he did not have an issue with the architectural design, saying many other substandard lots are “darn ugly.”

Councilor John Taylor Chapman and Jackson did not voice concerns, but ultimately voted to deny the SUP with the rest of Council.

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