The Board of Architectural Review for the city’s Old and Historic District on Wednesday night listened to a bevy of opinions and suggestions about a on the riverside.
Of the 27 public commenters, 23 criticized the plan generally for what they characterized as its large size and density, but for other reasons too.
Rust Orling is the architect of the project at 220 S. Union St. proposed by developer Carr Hospitality. It has the challenge of honoring the city’s guidelines asking that these waterfront developments reflect the area’s historic warehouse district without making the building look too much like a boxy, dense warehouse.
“This portion of the waterfront needs to be porous—not private enclaves,” said BAR member Chip Carlin.
BAR Chairman Thomas Hulfish said he’s “totally opposed” to the project’s current size and mass, adding that other U.S. waterside communities such as Nantucket, Mass., Newport, R.I., and Charleston, S.C. have created development reflecting the regions’ maritime histories.
“This could be Oshkosh [or] Des Moines,” said Hulfish about the proposal before him. “This doesn’t say anything about the waterfront.”
BAR member Oscar Fitzgerald said after the public comment period that mostly he had heard that the proposal’s structure was too big.
“That’s a political decision,” he said. “If citizens want it to look like warehouses, the design has merit.”
Some residents suggested the architects take a short trip over to local boutique hotel to review its ability to blend into a neighborhood and embrace green space.
“I want something that doesn’t look like a warehouse or prison,” said Old Town resident Julie Van Fleet, adding that the Morrison House is speciously attractive, and manages to be inviting because of its use of open space.
Old Town Civic Association Past President John Gosling said: “The plan is missing an opportunity to make something visually interesting.”
Alexandrian Lynn Hampton supported the project but agreed with others that opening up the courtyard “would be an improvement.”
One of the current proposals offers green space in the form of a courtyard but some residents said such a walled space would be uninviting to the public and would only benefit hotel guests, similar to the courtyard at the .
Nate Macek, chairman of the Alexandria Waterfront Commission, noted that this project sets a precedent for future waterfront development proposals.
“Generally, I’m supportive of the design for this hotel,” he said. “It is consistent with what the Waterfront Small Area Plan proposes.”
However, Macek said he is in favor of a proposal that opens an alley way to The Strand and provides for open access to proposed parkland.
“A courtyard would be too private. A courtyard like within the Monaco is not really a public space,” he said, adding that the architects could consider activating the backside of the building near the water, which may ultimately act like the front-door as people gravitate to the waterside and interact with the building that way.
David Olinger, a member of the now phased-out Waterfront Plan Work Group, criticized the design as “faux warehouse.”
“No one is suggesting we build wigwams although Indians once lived” by the riverside, he said.
Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront Co-Chairman Mark Mueller read a statement by Beth Gibney, who was absent and is currently suing the city over its intent to allow hotels on the waterfront.
“With Carr’s plan, river vistas will be the hotel’s trash alley,” according to her statement. “Rats and 18-wheelers are not included in the hotel’s plans.”
Cameron Street resident Kathryn Papp asked that the building honor Old Town’s history and uniqueness. She said visitors to Alexandria don’t come for “Eisenhower Valley, Arlandria or Del Ray” but to experience the unique character of Old Town.
After the architect and developer modifies the plan, it is expected to go before the Planning Commission.