Opinion

Van’s comments before the Planning Commission regarding the Robinson Terminal South redevelopment | Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

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Members of the Planning Commission:

After numerous sessions before the BAR, it was obvious that EYA had from the very start solidly anchored-in its architectural position and has held firm on the egregious mass, scale, flat roofs and overall inappropriateness of this particular development. Two members of the BAR understood that and voted against accepting it.

The proposed design is definitely not appropriate for Old Town’s historic waterfront. Its large buildings will conceivably loom over a very constrained waterfront area. Viewing the three monolithic condo buildings from the river or the Wilson Bridge will seriously detract from the current charm of the river-scape, vividly highlighting the fact that this development has absolutely no relevance or connectivity to anything in the Old and Historic District.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, six blocks of Alexandria’s Old and Historic District were razed under an urban renewal program, and they were replaced by modern buildings that are in no way connected to the historic district. We residents now fear that Alexandria’s Old and Historic District is again under siege starting with this totally out of place development.

The mass and scale of some of the new structures in this project visibly dwarf adjacent historic structures. It is imperative that new structures that are not historic in nature fit-in and connect to the Old and Historic District of Alexandria. They need not look historic, but they should not detract from what is currently in place. When one compares the careful stewardship of Charleston, South Carolina, to Alexandria’s reckless squandering of the historic nature of Old Town it is apparent that Alexandria is in for a long and slow process of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

The three massive condo buildings should be broken up in size, and should contain features using local materials. Additionally, the buildings should somehow connect with the rest of the Old and Historic District, which they currently do not.  A good example of this connection principal is the Harborside development, a well-designed and well-built development that fits in nicely with the rest of the historic community.  If one were to juxtapose a picture showing Harborside on the south side of Wolfe Street and the proposed 190 foot EYA building directly across the street, it is a stark and ugly contrast despite the fact that EYA threw a bone to the Harborside residents by “tweaking” a few setbacks on the upper floors of their Wolfe Street Condo.

Additionally, no parking reduction should be approved for this development and tenants should not be permitted to obtain District 1 parking stickers if EYA maintains adequate parking on site. Each condo should have two parking spaces and an area designated for visitor parking making up an additional 15-20% of the total tenant parking spaces. In addition you must spell out in writing that the parking ratios you approved for new developments on Tuesday night will not apply to this nor to any other new developments on the waterfront.

Quite frankly there may also be flooding issues not only with the parking garage but also on Union and Wolfe Streets possibly even spilling over to both the Waterford and Harborside developments. These need to be critically assessed.

Chuck Trozzo’s letter to you requesting the use of seismic monitors also needs to be mandated. As a resident in Tobacco Key from 1988-1994 I witnessed first hand what occurred to several houses a few years after the Steelworkers building (now the Oronoco) was built. The latent destruction from the pile driving cost the residents a bundle.

The Edmondson Plaza on upper Duke Street is essentially the only all-glass building in the Old Town area. However, it appears to have served as EYA’s and the BAR’s model for the use of glass on many of our future developments on the waterfront, especially at the two Robinson Terminals both North and South. The extensive use of glass in the three massive condo buildings give this development a look that might serve well in Miami Beach, or even our own Del Ray. Why are the EYA architects and City Staff so fixated and obsessed with glass in the historic area?

On South Union and Duke Streets, twenty-six town houses are to be aggregated into six town house groupings.  However, the groupings are redundant, and without any real historic architectural merit. They resemble the Lofts development across from the Wythe Post Office, and provide no connectivity to the historic waterfront or historic district.

If these kinds of development trends continue, in due course, the Old and Historic district will become a meaningless jumble of buildings that few will want to visit. It is most ironic that recently there was a television documentary “Discovering Alexandria: the early years” which highlighted the historic nature of Alexandria VA, when at the same time forces in the city are attempting to further denigrate and eradicate it.

The aura and charm of this historic community needs to live on, so that a century from now, the citizens of Alexandria will applaud our efforts to preserve the history and charm of this unique city, and not ask themselves “what were they thinking?”

EYA needs to regroup and give us something that we can all be proud of. Currently, the only building that looks like it belongs is the historic building at 2 Duke Street.

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