The Alexandria City Council turned down, on a technicality, a request to convert the pre-Civil War "slave pen" into expensive condominiums.
"I don't care what happens to it," said Nelson E. Greene Sr., the council's only black member. "Burn it down, destroy it. It doesn't matter. I've lived with this all my life. It's time we learned to forget about slavery and try to live with each other."
Attorney Thomas Stanton argued that the owners, the Franklin and Armfield Ltd. Partnership, should be permitted to convert the aging apartments to seven condominium units without having to pay $35,000 to a special parking fund.
Under a city ordinance, the money was required as a substitute for seven parking spaces at the building. The funds would be used to construct a nearby garage.
Council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr. backed Stanton and the condo conversion, saying, "Slavery is a blot on American history . . . but gas chambers and concentration camps have been preserved as reminders of the sin of man. . . . They remind us of our shame."
Council member James P. Moran Jr. opposed the conversion, saying it was made possible only because of the 1976 Tax Reform Act, which permits lucrative tax benefits when developers preserve and restore historic structures.
"The building is a dump," Moran said. "It's not a good example of pre-Civil War architecture."
Stanton countered that the designation of the building at 1315 Duke St. as a National Historic Landmark was made before the current owners acquired it.
The building was originally used as holding area for slaves about to be sold or transported to new owners when the port of Alexandria was a flourishing center for the slave trade.
Stanton added that if the owners chose to develop the property as offices they would legally be entitled to bring in far more cars without a permit than would be required under the special use permit.
However, the council voted 4-to-2 against waiving the parking requirement, in effect killing the condo proposal.
Council member Ring and Vice Mayor Robert L. Calhoun voted to approve the parking permit. Council members Greene, Moran, Donald C. Casey and Marlee Inman voted against it. Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. removed himself from the room during the discussion and did not vote because his son, Chris Beatley, is Stanton's law partner.
The decision can be appealed to the Alexandria Circuit Court. However, Stanton said he was not sure if his clients would appeal.