Despite the fact that these are supposed to be the dog days of August, various issues are coming forward in the City, and there are a few updates I want to pass along.
There will be a virtual ACPS Community meeting regarding the DSUP for the construction of the new MacArthur School. This meeting will be held on Thursday, August 27th from 6-7 p.m. The Zoom information for this meeting is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81786497994?pwd=aFJCc2h6bk1CWnRNcEpIem9jTmxSUT09
The reason for the virtual Community meeting regarding MacArthur is that the DSUP for this project is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on September 1st. I think it is accurate to say that representatives to the Advisory Committee have not been fully satisfied with the process ACPS and its architects have used as far as transparency for this effort. Committee members did not see the final plans for the school until they were released to the public as part of the Planning Commission docket, and had struggled to obtain information on plans to modify the building footprint, the massing, and the exterior design elements, but were not informed about the final details and design until it was released to the public by means of the Planning Commission docket. Members have voiced concerns about the lack of appropriate and robust engagement of both the public and the Advisory Committee, and I assume we will hear that voiced in testimony before the Planning Commission. If you would like to see the DSUP, here is the link: http://alexandria.legistar.com/gateway.aspx?M=F&ID=a6539c67-5fc3-4b8e-9588-3c260932cc8f.pdf.
At the same Planning Commission meeting on September 1st, the Commission will consider a zoning text amendment being put forward by city staff that will increase the by-right Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of city schools to .60, instead of the FAR requirements governing the residential zone in which schools are located, which are substantially lower than .60. For example, MacArthur is in the R-20 zone, which has a maximum FAR of .25. The R-12 zone has a maximum FAR of .30, and the R-8 zone has a maximum of .35. This amendment would thus allow a school in the R-20 zone, such as MacArthur, to exceed the FAR otherwise required in the R-20 zone by more than 100%, without any review under the SUP process. In the R-12 zone, the increase would be 100%, and in the R-8 zone, the allowed increase would be 70%, both without any SUP requirement. As a point of reference, the FAR for the new Patrick Henry School is .26. FAR ratios higher than .60 (as will be the case at MacArthur) would still require an SUP process, but residents should be concerned that there is no maximum FAR limit that could be requested with an SUP. Experience has taught us that the vast majority of SUPs are approved by the City, so the lack of a maximum FAR in this text amendment does not seem reasonable and will likely be opposed by a number of civic associations. Height limits will remain capped at 60 feet.
The city's justification for such a zoning amendment is to allow ACPS to build larger schools for our increased population without having to go through the more thorough process of applying for a spot rezoning of their properties. One effect of this proposed change is to lessen the requirement for public input into the design and building of such substantially larger school buildings. We need to recognize that this amendment represents major deviations from the density and scale currently allowed in the city's residential neighborhoods, and residents will lose the protections afforded by the SUP process on a case-by-case basis. Other civic associations, such as North Ridge, are taking the lead to oppose this change, and the board of SHA will study this issue and make a decision about our position. The board welcomes the input from all our residents about this proposed zoning text amendment, so please let us know if you have any comments about this proposal.
You may have been aware of an effort to request that the School Board reconsider the site plan for the Parker-Gray Stadium renovation in order to save an oak tree that has been estimated to be over 100 years old. The tree is the last tree remaining on the site from when an African-American community owned the property before the City took the land to build the new TC Williams High School. A petition containing more than 2,500 signatures of Alexandria residents was presented, but in a virtual meeting on August 17th, ACPS officials stated that their plans for the concession stand, bathroom, and equipment storage facility require the removal of this tree, and so it will not be saved. Residents asked if the building could be broken apart and spread out in order to save the tree, but school officials stated that was not possible due to the very tight site upon which TC Williams is built. Construction is anticipated to begin at the end of this month and continue for the next several months. Due to pending litigation, the poles for the stadium lights will not be constructed at this time.
Our next SHA board meeting will be a virtual meeting on Thursday, September 10th at 7:30 p.m. Information about the Zoom link will be posted closer to the date. It is very unfortunate that the City decided to bring this text amendment forward so quickly when they are aware that many civic associations do not meet in August. The amendment will be voted on by the Planning Commission on September 1st prior to the consideration of the DSUP for MacArthur since MacArthur needs the greatly increased FAR for the approval of their site plan. I think we can thus predict the result of the Planning Commission's vote on the text amendment since the approval of the MacArthur plan is scheduled just minutes later on their agenda.
I hope you are enjoying the last of your Covid summer "vacations" and have remained healthy. I look forward to hearing from you regarding your views on the Zoning Text Amendment to increase density for ACPS. I encourage you to participate in the virtual meetings of the Planning Commission and City Council if possible in order to learn more about the zoning text amendment and the MacArthur School site plan approval. Thank you for your interest in SHA.
Carter Flemming, President, Seminary Hill Association