By Carla Branch
On Saturday, the Alexandria City Council voted to hold a public hearing on whether to move local elections from May to November, approved a $1.44 million bridge loan for the Glebe Park redevelopment, upheld the Board of Architectural Review’s approval of an addition to a home on Princess Street and codified fee increases that were approved during budget deliberations.
When Council approved a new hamburger joint on King Street and agreed to allow an existing restaurant on S. Pickett Street to serve alcohol, Councilman Paul Smedberg raised the issue of a consistent policy on charging for landscaping. “Sometimes we charge a tree fee of $250 and sometimes we don’t,” Smedberg said. “I have been told that it isn’t just about whether there are dead trees in front of the business, but whether there is a need to replace trees within a block of the business. Either we should charge the fee for every business or we should not charge it at all, it’s the same thing as the trash can replacement fee.”
Barbara Ross responded for the Planning and Zoning Department. “We have been applying the assessment of the fee consistently. We check with Parks and Recreation and, if they feel that there is a need to replace trees within a block of the business, we assess the fee. We can do something differently if you want, but we have been pretty consistent,” she said.
Council also approved ordinances that raise parking meter fees in Zone Three from $1 per hour to $1.25 per hour. Also, people who do not pay their parking tickets in the allotted time will face a 20-percent surcharge. Council reduced the amount of money that is dedicated for the housing trust fund from one cent per hundred dollars of all real estate taxes to .007 cents, with the remaining .003 cents going to the open space trust fund.
“There is about $8 million in the Housing Trust Fund, and that includes the funds that were set aside for the purchase of Gunston Hall,” said Assistant City Manager for Finance, Mark Jinks, responding to a question from Smedberg.
Moving May Elections To November
Once again, Council debated the efficacy of moving local elections from May to November, which the Virginia General Assembly has agreed to allow. “We must do something to increase voter turnout,” said Councilman Justin Wilson. “We have gone from a 41-percent turnout for local elections in 1976 to 15 percent last week. We must do something.”
Vice Mayor Del Pepper disagreed. “If we move local elections to November, we will have to go to four-year terms, and I have always opposed this, feeling that we need to be closer to the voters. Also, moving our elections to November would mean that they would be held during some presidential elections and gubernatorial elections and would get lost,” she said.
Councilman Ludwig Gaines agreed. “We must determine why there is such low voter turnout before we can fix it,” he said.
Mayor Bill Euille, just back from a trip to Saudi Arabia, “I am going to vote to move this forward to a public hearing on June 13. That’s all we are doing here today,” he said.
Smedberg spoke about staggering terms. “I have always been on the fence about moving local elections from May to November but support staggering terms,” he said. “I am going to support holding a public hearing, however.”
New City Attorney, James L. Banks, clarified what Council can consider at the June public hearing. “Council can move the elections from May to November. If you want to do anything else regarding elections, you will have to go back to the General Assembly and request a charter change next year,” he said.
The public will have an opportunity to speak on the matter, again, on June 13. A bipartisan commission rejected the same proposal in 2007.
Glebe Park Redevelopment Bridge Loan
City Housing staff requested that Council provide $1.44 million through the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority to EYA, ARHA’s development partner on the Glebe Park project, to purchase property from ARHA. “The purpose of this loan is to build the 84 public housing units at Glebe Park,” said a member of the Housing staff.
The loan will allow EYA to purchase land from ARHA on which they will build ten work-force and eight market-rate housing units. The 84 public housing units will be built using Low Income Tax Credit financing, which ARHA obtained through the Virginia Development Housing Authority. However, if EYA does not obtain funding for the 18 work-force and market-rate units, the rest of the project cannot move forward.
“We understand that the City does not want to set a precedent of loaning a private developer money, even though that has happened in other places around the country,” said A. Melvin Miller, chairman of ARHA’s Board. “We are willing to be a conduit for that loan, we just wanted to make certain that it is clear the loan is for EYA to purchase our property.”
Councilman Rob Krupicka encouraged Miller and Roy Priest, ARHA’s executive director, to talk to the Glebe Park Redevelopment group about these matters. “Just keep them informed,” Krupicka said. “If you communicate with them, they could provide support.”
Miller responded. “While I agree with you, I hope that you are encouraging those same people to attend our public meetings. We discuss these matters at those meetings and don’t have the staff to reach out to everyone on every subject that is discussed at those meetings,” Miller said.
Council approved the loan and demolition of the existing buildings will begin this summer.
Council Approves Home Addition On Princess Street
When residents of Alexandria’s Old and Historic District want to modify their homes, they must seek approval from the Old and Historic District’s Board of Architectural Review and, often, their neighbors. When the home is not historic, the issues are even more complicated.
The home, in this case, is located at 113 Princess Street, and was built in the 1970s, not historic by any applicable standard. The homeowners wish to raise the roof and add a sunroom. They also want to add an Elevette, to allow for mobility from one floor to the next. The BAR approved the addition and issued a Certificate of Appropriateness and approved demolition and encapsulation.
“This is a modest addition compared to many of those we have approved,” said Arthur Kellehur, speaking on behalf of the BAR. “We asked the applicants not to modify the front of the home and, we believe, they have complied with all requests we have made.”
Neighbors complained that the addition was not modest. “It will increase the amount of living space by one-third,” one neighbor said.
Another neighbor complained that, “it will block our views and irrevocably alter the line of 60-foot garden spaces behind all of our townhouses.”
Another neighbor, who works at home, said, “it will make it nearly impossible for me to do my work at home. The noise during construction will be extremely disruptive to my livelihood and the pile driving to extend the basement, could cause structural damage to my home, which is immediately adjacent.”
Many members of Council sympathized but, “there are only certain issues, statutorily, that the BAR and this Council can consider,” said Gaines. “Because we are bound by those statutes, we cannot consider construction issues. Those are for other agencies. Therefore, I support the decision of the BAR.”
Pepper disagreed. “This is not a modest addition and it will interfere with the character of this neighborhood. Therefore, I am voting to reverse the BAR and grant the appeal,” she said.
Euille had the last word. “Like my colleagues, I sympathize with many of the issues that the neighbors have brought forward here today. However, those issues are not the purview of the BAR or this Council. As you have heard, those issues will be monitored by Transportation and Environmental Services and Code Enforcement staff as this project moves forward. I urge the property owners to work closely with their neighbors to resolve these issues. After all, they are going to have to live with them,” he said.