The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously last night to refuse a zoning request that would have permitted construction of a high-rise apartment building for the elderly adjacent to historic Fort Ward Park.
The council action was a rejection of a recommendation by the city's planning commission, which last month voted approval of the request by Goodwin House Inc. to rezone a 5.2-acre tract on the western edge of Fort Ward Park to allow a 10-story building that would house 350 elderly residents.
The park, located in the 4000 block of West Braddock Road, includes a Civil War museum and a restored fort. The original fort was used more than a century ago in the defense of Washington during the Civil War.
Supporters of the rezoning argued that the high-rise would bring jobs and money to the area. Opponents, including Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr., maintained that the apartment building would be an "unforgivable intrusion."
"It would destroy the park as a historic site," Beatley said shortly after the council vote, which included an amendment by Vice Mayor James P. Moran Jr. to assist the Goodwin group in finding an alternate site for the project.
"It's a lovely park," said Beatley, who, as president of the Seminary Hill Civic Association, was instrumental in creating the park in the late 1950s. "We should not allow this intrusion."
The property, adjacent to and owned by the financially troubled Ascension Academy, was to be sold by the school to raise additional operating funds, according to planning records. Council member Margaret Inman suggested that the city also explore ways to assist the school.
Several dozen Seminary Hills residents, representing both sides of the issue, sat quietly as the council rendered its decision. One of them, Fredrick Grant, stood and began to leave as soon as he heard the vote.
"The city has to get a realistic view," he said, explaining that the high-rise would have been an economic benefit to the people living in the neighborhood.
Grtraud Haupt, however, was relieved by the council's decision. "I could never understand how anyone would be for building it," she said of the project. "It would certainly destroy the park."
In other action, the council voted 6 to 1 to approve a resolution permitting the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority to begin issuing up to $2.7 million in city revenue bonds to rehabilitate 111 units of the George Parker Homes, a public housing project located near Old Town Alexandria's north waterfront.
The renovation is expected to start in August, housing authority officials said. Moran voted against the bond issue, saying the money would not cover the estimated $17,000 rehabilitation cost per unit.