New apartment development in the Old City is angering nearby residents
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A new development planned for Old Town is sparking community frustration over height and density.
A Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting last week turned into a bitter argument between architecture firm Winstanley Architects, developer attorneys Hoffman and Associates, and nearby residents who say the plans don’t fit in with the neighborhood.
Hoffman & Associates hopes to build a new four-story residential project at 301 N. Fairfax Street — two blocks west of Founders Park and two blocks north of City Hall.
During public comment, nearby residents said the proposed building was too large for the neighborhood.
“The current building at 301 N. Fairfax has a gross floor area of 30,459 square feet,” said Tom Foley, a local resident. “The proposed development requires a gross floor area of 98,465 square feet, three times the size of the existing structure.”
Foley said he and other residents feel the size and scale of the new building does not fit in with the neighborhood.
“I’m at a loss as to how a talented and respected architecture firm like Winstanley couldn’t come up with a design that matches the historic ambience and style of the historic buildings in our Old Town,” said Jana McCaig, Foley’s wife.
But specific concerns about square footage also gave way to broader concerns about the changing character of the Old City.
“Setting a precedent that makes 301 N. Fairfax an emphatic, first-of-its-kind statement that demonstrates to Hoffman and every developer coming behind them that attractive new construction can speak to our colonial history and still meet the appropriate size and number of units that will respect what our neighborhood can realistically accommodate,” “This is sacred ground,” Anna Bergman pleaded with the bar.
Others accused the developer of lying to the neighboring community and ignoring public feedback, and threatened to fight the developer tooth and nail throughout the process.
“We will not allow you to tamper with our rights and protect the city,” Anne Shaak said. “With your attitude of complete defiance despite our efforts, we are now forced to meet you face to face. If you decide to continue on this chosen path, even though you already know that you are not adhering to city regulations and requirements, know that many of our residents are attorneys.” We’ll force you to spend money before you put a single shovel in the ground.
Attorney Cathy Puskar, of Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh, represented the developer.
“I carry this water bottle with me a lot, it says spread the good,” Puskar said. “I do this to remind myself when I hear false facts, accusations, and outright threats directed at me, my client, and the architect, that I need to keep my cool because that’s not what this is about.”
The project received a mixed reception from BAR.
“I think you made a lot of changes from the first (proposal); I thought the first one wasn’t appropriate,” said BAR member Michael Lyons. “I still think it seems a little out of place. It has definitely become 70% more than it was before.
BAR member Andrew Scott said he would mostly approve of the project — if there was a change in building materials.
“I think this is a really beautiful piece of work,” Scott said. “It’s really nice… I don’t think fiber cement is an appropriate material for this street, and you wouldn’t get my vote with fiber cement.”
Scott said, contrary to some comments from the public, he does not see the BAR’s role as maintaining the status quo of Old Town.
“It is not our job to prevent change in neighborhoods,” Scott said. “It’s, ‘Does this building complement the neighborhood?’ And my opinion, as someone who has seen a lot of this stuff… I think this is quite appropriate.
Others were less enthusiastic about the project.
“(It’s) an improvement, but given this height and the size of the buildings nearby, I think it’s too huge,” Bar Association member Teresa Del Nino said. “I will not be able to support this proposal with the current crowd.”
Others said the development was out of place in the historic Old Town.
“This building belongs on the north end of Old Town,” said Bar member Margaret Miller. “If I lived across the street from him, I would have stopped, too.”
After multiple work sessions with the BAR, Puskar said the developer was planning to take the project to the Planning Commission and City Council rather than continue with reviews.
“We will come back if the suitability certificate is approved (in the city council),” Pushkar said. “There are a lot of details between now and then that we think will further improve the building.”
(tags for translation)Architectural Review Board