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Alexandria Council Approves Waterfront Hotel

Critics say hotel project sets wrong tone for waterfront redevelopment.

A conceptual drawing of the Union Street hotel. The project remains subject to a final architectural review.
A conceptual drawing of the Union Street hotel. The project remains subject to a final architectural review.

Alexandria City Council approved plans Saturday for a five-story, 120-room hotel from Carr City Centers in the 200 block of S. Union Street, a tone-setting development as the city moves forward with its waterfront overhaul.

Nearby residents expressed concerns about parking and congestion issues, the size and scale of the project as well as its architectural design.

The proposal, three years in the making, has been subject to three concept assessments from the city’s Old and Historic District Board of Architectural review. A final architectural review is scheduled before the project is finalized.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said many of the architectural issues have been addressed—including some concerns on roof and window design—an will still be tweaked some more at the final review.  

Councilmembers gave specific directions on building materials for the brick, steel and stone building that McGuireWoods attorney Ken Wire, representing Carr, said “will be a high-quality building that will be around for 100 years to come.”

Carr will make a $675,000 contribution to waterfront amenities. Council deleted a $20,000 bikeshare contribution, cut back deliveries to the earlier hour of 8 p.m. and added a condition to require conformity in the building’s lighting plan.   

Critics of the project said the hotel was setting some poor precedents on the waterfront.

“This does not set the tone, in fact, it doesn’t even come close,” said Old Town resident Bert Ely.

Old Town resident Bob Wood was critical of how the city’s planning commission recommended approval on the project in early January without tackling issues of appropriate use and neighborhood impacts.

“They could only achieve good, not great as an outcome for this project,” Wood said. “How many ways can a project can scream wrong answer to our city and city leaders? What a depressing early end to our aspirations for a word-class waterfront in this very first instance of development.”

He encouraged council to send the project back to planning commission to come up with a plan that “someone other than city staff” would recommend.

Euille said many of the issues opponents brought up were not specific to the project but of the city’s waterfront zoning as a whole.

“It’s the master plan [people are taking issue with],” Euille said. “That’s already been determined and decided.”

After zero speakers spoke in favor of the hotel at the planning commission hearing, officials from the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Waterfront Commission spoke in favor of the project.

“You can’t keep a vibrant city unless you keep moving forward,” said Lisa Schumaier, an artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

The hotel plan includes a 5,000-square-foot courtyard accessible to the public, an underground, valet-controlled parking garage and a restaurant.

The plan was approved by council on a 6-0 vote. Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg did not attend Saturday's hearing to attend to a family medical issue. 

McBrinn January 26, 2014 at 03:48 PM
I wish Euille would head to Richmond already. What kind of guy destroys his own hometown?
David L. January 26, 2014 at 04:20 PM
Unfortunately Kum Ba Yah moments in American politics - and in Alexandria - are rare when it comes to Old Town, I think. But the City will move on. This decision is not going to turn Alexandria into Rosslyn or Arlington or National Harbor. And Old Town will continue to be a delightful place to live. The City will continue to evolve and change - and it's great to see all the debate as to how to shape that change, with intelligent people on all sides. And now to move onto the next set of issues - and there are plenty out there coming up - the Robinson Terminal properties, the bus garage development plans, the City's financial commitment to the Potomac Yards metro station, the ongoing issues about the schools, the storm water system upgrades, and on and on.
Katy Cannady January 26, 2014 at 07:41 PM
I attended the hearing on the hotel yesterday. The lawyer for the project spent a long time showing pictures of the one story warehouse on the site now and commenting on how ugly it was. That was a waste of everyone's time. There was never any possibility that the 20th century building would remain much longer. Whatever might replace it would be much larger and very different. But all the irrelevant time wasting talk made me realize that that lawyer did not have much faith in the attractiveness of his building. If he had any such faith, we would have heard more about the new building and less about the one that was always going to be torn down.
jon.wallman January 27, 2014 at 03:26 PM
I moved to Old Town 20 years ago. It seems that the arguments over what to do with the waterfront were already old and well seasoned, but nothing has happenned since then. Now finally, something will change. That is a good thing. Old Town will continue to be Old Town, only better.

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