Plan for Harris Teeter, housing complex in Old Town Alexandria passes

June 29, 2011

The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Saturday to approve a new Harris Teeter grocery store and four stories of residential housing.

The seven-member council approved a 52,000-square-foot grocery store and a 175-unit building for the 700 blocks of North St. Asaph and Pitt streets. The vote followed a denial of a petition in opposition to the project.

“Change is going to happen. It is going to occur,” said Mayor William D. Euille (D). “Things take a long time to happen. This is a good start with a site that has been an eyesore for many, many years.”

Residents at Alexandria House condominiums, located across from the proposed building at 400 Madison St., gathered petition signatures against the project in an attempt to force the proposal to pass by a supermajority, a tactic they thought would stymie the discussion. But their petition was denied by city planners for a lack of signatures, and in the end, it did not matter — the council passed the measure unanimously.

Opponents are concerned about the size of the project as well as traffic problems they fear the grocery store will bring.

“The plot is an eyesore, no question about that,” said David Weinman, president of the Alexandria House condominium board. “It doesn’t mean you move in the biggest thing you can get.”

The board thought the relocation of the loading docks to Pitt Street and the dock having enough space to hold an entire 18-wheeler and cab were positive, but they are wary of the residential and customer parking garage entrances’ location across from their building.

Weinman and his neighbors also expressed concern over emergency vehicles’ access to their area and pedestrian safety.

Traffic planners said that the worst increase in traffic will be on Pitt Street, which 4,900 cars use each day. Once the store and housing is built, that number is expected to rise to 7,300 cars.

For comparison, about 7,100 cars use Prince Street between West Street and Route 1 daily. About 30,000 use Washington Street.

The future of Pitt Street “is not a highly congested street,” said Gwen Wright, a division chief for the city’s planning department. “It is not going to be the kind of thing where you have 20 cars backed up and an ambulance blocked to get into the front door of Alexandria House,” she said.

Other Alexandria residents welcomed the project, saying that it would liven up North Old Town.

“I think it will be a welcome addition to the community to bring more residents in the area,” said Cathleen Curtain, a 20-year resident. She said the traffic concerns were “exaggerated” and that more people would want to walk and take public transit to and from the site.

Other positive comments about the site included the store creating 150 jobs, increased commercial tax revenue for the city, a 24-hour pharmacy and better shopping options.

This store was proposed “entirely to serve the residents of Alexandria, and I think that is important,” said council member Rob Krupicka (D).

The council required the store to monitor traffic on a regular basis and hire someone to direct traffic on high-volume shopping days, such as Thanksgiving or weekends. If traffic problems arise, the council will review the plan with the owners in one year.

The developers are also giving $40,000 toward either a bike-sharing program or local transportation management, $100,000 for improvements at Montgomery Park and contributing to the affordable housing fund, among other conditions for approval.

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