A developer who planned a four-story office building in the heart of Old Town Alexandria that its critics say is out of keeping with its antique surroundings bowed last night to pressure from the City Council and agreed to submit new plans.
The contemporary design of the building planned for the 100 block of South Alfred Street, featuring a reddish brown brick facade, expansive bay windows and double-deck balconies, had been called bold and fresh by some, but insulting and "a ridiculous structure of boxes on stilts" by those who claimed it paid too little respect to the city's 18th and 19th century heritage.
At last night's City Council meeting, Mayor Charles E. Beatley aligned himself with the critics of the design. "I really couldn't live with this office building myself," he said, complaining that it would overshadow the almost-150-year-old Friendship Firehouse across the street.
Developer Robert E. Morrison's agreement to scrap the original architecture came after a 20-minute discussion between Morrison and his attorneys and the council. Morrison had requested a $5 million industrial revenue bond from the city to finance construction of a 140-car parking garage beneath his planned office building and a 48-room hotel next door.
Beatley and several council members told Morrison that the bond issue could not be settled until the controversy surrounding the office building was resolved.
Morrison protested the council's insistence on linking his bond request to what he said was the unrelated issue of the building, but gave in and promised to have the building "substantially" redesigned.
"We will bring the design back," he said. "We are not going to satisfy everyone."
"All you have to do is satisfy seven of us," said Beatley, referring to the seven-member council.
The council then approved Morrison's request for the industrial revenue bonds.
The architect who produced the contemporary design for the office building, Daniel R. Bairley, who had called it a "fine planning solution," said last night he was disappointed. The design "was never really understood," he said.
The Alfred Street building had become the focus of a larger debate: how Alexandria can accommodate the growing demand for new office structures in Old Town with the existing old buildings there, many of them of federal, Greek revival, Victorian or colonial architectural styles. City regulations require new buildings in Old Town, off the city's Potomac waterfront, to preserve the area's architectural heritage.
To Bairley, a member of the city's Board of Architectural Review, and a number of other critics, the city's strict interpretation of those rules is foolish and outmoded. Forcing architects to use, for example, early 18th century colonial architecture for an eight-story office building or a shopping complex is ludicrous, he contends: "There weren't any such buildings in the 1700s."
"Alexandria is a city made of many styles of architecture . . . and combinations of those styles," Bairley says. "If we had limited styles 100 years ago, we would have lost a lot of fine buildings."
Early today, several hours after Morrison agreed to revise the building's design, the council unanimously passed a resolution proposed by council member Margaret B. Inman telling the architectural review board that each new building in Old Town "must be harmonious with and not incongruent to the old and historic aspect of its surroundings." The resolution says that proposed architecture "must be in the style of the period at least 100 years earlier."
The hotel that Morrison plans, also designed by Bairley, is cast in the federal style with a liberal use of small windows, wooden shutters and other structural touches, circa 1810.
Andrea Diamon, former chairman of the city tourist council and a leading voice against the contemporary design of the office building, said, "we have no quarrel" with the design of the hotel. "We think it's lovely. But the harshly modern lines of the office building are not compatible with the old stylings ."
"We are very happy with the council's decision," Diamon said last night.