Welcome to June with the buzzing cicadas and what looks like some summer weather for us.  I have several items to bring to your attention today.

Last Wednesday afternoon I attended the funeral of long-time SHA board member, Richard Hobson. It would be hard to put into words all that Dick meant to Seminary Hill over decades.  I don’t think there was any major decision our Association made without Dick’s legal advice and guidance. He was fiercely proud and protective of our neighborhood.  He will be missed, but his contributions will live on in the foundation he created for us. SHA is so fortunate to have residents, like Dick, who are willing to give their time and their talents to our Association.

I want to give you an update on the Planning Commission’s meeting last Tuesday night regarding the Inova Hospital Master Plan Amendment and Re-Zoning application for their Seminary Road site. I apologize if this report is rather complicated, because it is indeed a complex proposal. The hospital will not move until their new facility is built at Landmark Mall, and that is estimated to be in 2028. As you may remember, SHA challenged the rationale for Inova’s original request for RA zoning, which would have permitted multi-family buildings. At SHA’s request, Inova agreed to change their application to RB zoning, which permits only single- family homes and townhomes.

At the meeting, Planning Commissioner Dave Brown raised questions about the simultaneous application for a Master Plan Amendment and a zoning change, as this is not the normal application procedure. A developer usually comes forward with a firm Developmental Special Use Permit (DSUP) that shows exactly what a developer wants to build. Since Inova will not be the developer, and will be selling the property to a developer who will then create a plan for how many homes will go on the site, there is no DSUP with a site plan, so we do not know what will be proposed in the years ahead. The estimates range from about 312 homes to 380 homes, depending upon the mix of single family and townhomes.

The Environmental Council of Alexandria submitted a letter to the Planning Commission asking that they require that the extensive forest in the rear of the property be protected. It is currently under a protective easement, but that easement will be removed when the hospital leaves. There was discussion of this at the Planning Commission meeting, but no requirement was placed to ensure this forest will not be developed. For those of you have never walked the entire property (and I was one of those people until a couple of months ago), it is an amazing stretch of undisturbed woodland that runs behind the hospital property down to the Foxchase community.  Once again, we run into the issue that while Inova states that they would not intend to build on most of this forest, that decision will be made in a few years by whomever purchases the property, and they will not be bound by any of Inova’s intentions.

If granted now, the rezoning would not trigger the legal requirement for a DSUP from the developer. In response to concerns from Planning Commission members, Inova’s attorney, Cathy Puskar, offered a proffer to the proposed amendment to state that they would agree to requiring the developer to submit a DSUP that would indicate their preference for cluster zoning in order to preserve as much of the forest as possible, and allow the community more input into the process.  Commissioner Brown stated, this moved the Inova proposal in his mind “from an F to a C.”  A number of commissioners stated that they hoped the city would now find time to revise the 1992 Small Area Plan for Strawberry Hill/Seminary Hill, since it needs updating. Commissioner Brown continued to assert that if the city is not doing planning now before the re-zoning on such a large site that is not under time constraints because the property will not be sold and begin the planning process for at least 5 years, when would the city ever decide to do it? The comment was made that the only reason to rush into this process is that the applicant, Inova, wants to lock down the value of this property before going ahead with the Landmark planning process, and that should not be a driving force that sacrifices good planning on this site.  In the end, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the Master Plan Amendment and the re-zoning application.

It is important to point out that while the RB zone will increase the density of this site, there are some in the city who do not support limiting the development to only townhomes and single-family homes. A couple of these voices spoke at the Planning Commission hearing stating that a different zone needs to be approved that would allow much more density with multifamily apartment buildings to provide needed affordable housing. At the Alexandria Housing Affordability Advisory Committee meeting last week, this issue was again raised with the statement that this zoning is not done, and conversations need to happen so housing advocates can understand what different zoning might be possible to allow for more density and housing types on the 33-acre site.

This application will be heard by City Council at their Saturday Public Hearing meeting on June 19th. SHA will continue to follow this and our board will be discussing this matter at our upcoming board meeting on June 10th. We welcome any thoughts you might wish to share about this matter.

The proposed AHDC affordable housing development on Seminary Road is moving forward.  They have submitted their Concept 2 plan to the city and are awaiting comments on it.  They have made modifications of the apartment building to lower a section of it by a floor to lessen the bulk of the structure to nearby neighbors. AHDC anticipates going before the Planning Commission and City Council in November or December of this year.  If approved, demolition of the existing 2 homes and construction of the new homes would begin in the Spring of 2022. There are still questions about the zoning change they will request due to a prohibition against congregate housing in residential zones, though the current Sheltered Homes of Alexandria home on this site is operating under an exemption, as are other such homes located throughout the city.  SHA will be closely monitoring this project as it moves forward in the coming months.

I attended a Zoom meeting last week with Episcopal High School regarding their project to build a Wellness Center and a dormitory in the center of their campus where the soccer field used to be and has been moved to the Braddock Road side of their campus. Their team went over the planned construction, which is scheduled to begin about the 3rd week of this month and will take until July of 2022 to be completed. They will use the campus entrance by the football stadium for construction vehicles. Signs will be posted on N. Early Street reminding truck drivers that no construction traffic can use N. Early Street for a haul route. Since the building site is basically flat, there is not much earth to be moved from the site so that will lessen the impact to neighbors. The construction will occur during normal permitted hours in the city (7 a.m. – 6 p.m.). Monday – Friday.  The construction team does not anticipate working on Saturdays unless the project falls behind schedule due to weather.

A neighbor asked when the Episcopal campus might be open for the public to walk, as was the case before the pandemic. School officials said they expect the Braddock Road gate to open very shortly, but walkers will be directed to turn right and go toward the new track, rather than going to the center of the campus where the construction activities will be taking place.

Our final SHA board meeting before our summer recess will be Thursday, June 10th at 7:00 p.m. Hopefully, this will be our last totally virtual meeting, though we hope to offer this option when we meet in person in the fall. Our speaker will be Mark Schnaufer, who is the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Program Manager for the city’s Duke Street Transitway. The city has procured and signed the contract for their “Civic Engagement” team to handle the community outreach, which will begin this summer. The firm they have hired is Rhodeside Harwell. They will be launching a kick-off week on June 21st, which will include pop-up events along the corridor, an interactive webinar (both live and available on-line for later viewing), and focus group meetings.  They are still planning the details of the kick-off week, but we should see more on their project webpage by June 11th.  The rest of the year will include outreach to different organizations, including civic associations, to get input on what the future of the corridor should look like. 

I contacted Mr. Schnaufer and explained to him that most civic associations do not meet in the summer, so it was not a good time to launch community outreach and SHA would like him to come present to us this month. He quickly agreed, and so we will hear from him on the 10th.  The Zoom link to our meeting is at the end of this message.

Finally, in regard to the Duke Street Transitway, Transportation and Environmental Services Director, Yon Lambert, spoke to the Federation of Civic Associations last week. Questions were asked about the Duke Street BRT and the need to address the nightmare choke point at the ramp to Telegraph Road. Mr. Lambert stated that the City has “no plans to address road capacity at Telegraph Road”, and went on to say that cities have to make a fundamental choice between road capacity and transit, and “Alexandria has made the choice for transit”. I think this statement might come as quite a shock to many residents who were not aware that our city has no plans to invest in road capacity in the future according to our Transportation Director.

Here is the link to our board meeting on Thursday night the 10th.  I hope many of you will join us for that meeting.  As always, we welcome your input on any issues of concern to you.

Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association

Topic: Seminary Hill Zoom Meeting

Time: Jun 10, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Meeting ID: 849 5509 8001

Passcode: 413183

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