Commission Approves Historic Changes

Commission Approves Historic Changes

Lee Street site to be divided; Old Club restaurant to be redeveloped.

<bt>Significant changes to two historic sites in Old Town Alexandria were recently approved by the Planning Commission. One is residential and the other is commercial.

A request to subdivide the property at 619 S. Lee St., once owned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, was approved subject to concurrence by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The portion to be subdivided from the Manor House property fronts on Franklin Street and presently contains the original carriage house and additions.

According to the staff report, the property, originally built in 1800 by Thomas Vowell, Jr., a prominent Alexandria merchant, was purchased by Justice Black in 1939. He lived in the manor house on the property until his death in 1971.

"In 1969, Justice Black granted the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission an easement over the property," staff said. As an open space easement, it carried the "right to restrict the use of the property" and prohibited further development on the property.

However, it was amended in 1973 to allow construction of a swimming pool. And in 1976, with the approval of the commission, the carriage house was enlarged and converted to a residence, according to the staff report.

"The easement also includes a clause which specifically prohibits the subdivision of the property," staff said. Therefore, if the present subdivision is approved by the DHR the easement would again need to be amended. The DHR has indicated "they would be willing to amend the easement if the subdivision meets city ... requirements," staff stated.

THE PRESENT OWNER of the property, David Ginsburg, is proposing to subdivide the lot to allow "separate owners for the property instead of one owner and a tenant" staff explained in their report to the commission. "Approving the subdivision continues a physical arrangement and uses that have long existed," they said.

It was also noted that, "At the time that the easement was created, the carriage house was already physically separated from the rest of the property by a fence" and "just seven years after the easement ... the carriage house was converted to a residence." That conversion, according to staff, "was approved by both the Alexandria Old and Historic District BAR and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission."

Staff concluded, "The use of the property as two separate residences will not change, and the proposed subdivision does not permit additional buildings or allow a change in the historic resources of the property."

Due to the fact that the entrance to the carriage house and additional structure face Franklin Street and carry the address of 207 Franklin St., "the proposed subdivision does not compromise" the original goals of the easement to "respect and protect the historic character of the buildings on the site, and to preserve open space ... and the historic ‘campus’ of the manor house."

THE SECOND CASE involved the potential redevelopment of the Old Club Restaurant at 555 S. Washington St. As with all properties fronting on Washington Street any changes are the concern not only of the city but also of the National Park Service because Washington Street is considered an element of the George Washington Memorial Parkway within the city limits.

In this case, the applicant Ryan-Corcoran, LLC/Linda St. Pierre, was requesting approval for the redevelopment of the restaurant building and the adjacent site to include four condominium units in the existing building and construction of four new townhouses with detached garages on Gibbon Street. Addresses of the new additions are 711-715 Gibbon St. and 798 Wilkes St.

The Old Club building has been vacant for approximately 22 years, according to staff. Over that period "the city has had numerous proposals ranging from rezoning to demolishing part of the Old Club, none of which ever became formal applications because of lack of support by the city or community."

It had been operated as a restaurant from 1939 to 1980 when it closed. The present owners, Clyde's, "purchased the property in 1980 with the intent of opening a restaurant." That has not come to fruition.

SINCE THE SITE is located within the Old and Historic District, "any development must comply with the Washington Street Standards, as well as be approved by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR)," staff noted in their report. BAR "approved in concept the additions with the new garages and the four townhouses with garages," according to staff.

In recommending approval, Planning and Zoning staff, said, "The current residential proposal is permitted with the current zoning, retains and restores the Old Club building, retains the open space and trees on the corner of Washington and Gibbon streets ...." They further emphasized, "The proposal will retain the existing character and scale of the Old Club building" which are "defining elements and contribute to the memorial character of the George Washington Memorial Parkway."

Staff said their approval recommendation was ultimately based on "the desirable urban design and site characteristics such as retention and restoration of the existing Old Club building, orientation of the townhouses to the public street, usable rear yards and the conversion of a vacant parking lot to a residential use."

In the final analysis, they found the site plan and redevelopment proposal to be "compatible with the adjoining neighborhood." Both the Old Club proposal and the Lee Street subdivision proposal passed unanimously.