Hours before the Alexandria City Council voted early yesterday morning to reconstitute the board that reviews building designs for the city's Old and Historic District, Daniel R. Bairley, an architect and a member of that board, sat in the rear of the council chambers, chuckling nervously.
"I wonder what a Greek Revival bus shelter would look like," Bairley said under his breath as he began to sketch out his answer with pen and ink.
It was Bairley's design for a contemporary office building in Old Town that ignited a controversy about the 37-year-old board and its role as the guardian of traditional architecture. Yesterday, at 1:10 a.m., the debate ended. The council voted 6-1 to dissolve the nine-member Board of Architectural Review, which reserves seats for three architects, and agreed to replace it with a seven-member board, with two architects.
For months, city officials and some influential civic leaders had been calling for the reorganization of the board because it approved contemporary designs in an area set aside to preserve older architectual styles. Bairley, like most of the local architectual community, argued that the city would be esthetically richer by blending the old and new in the historic district.
Council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr. voted against changing the makeup of the board.
"I fail to personally see the emergency," said Ring, "and I also found it difficult to appreciate fully the reason why we must terminate the services of nine people to make adjustments in the board. . . . ."
New board members are expected to be selected by the council in September.
"I don't think we had any choice," said Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. "Once we started down this route there was no return. Positions were hardening."
Beatley, who is currently serving in his fifth term as mayor, said he has noticed through the years of board decisions that the current board "has a certain kind of chemistry" that has resulted in confusing and disquieting buildings in the square-mile historical district in downtown Alexandria.
"It's been something that has been coming at us for a long time," said council member Margaret B. Inman, who in March sponsored a guideline that urges the review board to take particular interest in designs that incorporate Georgian, Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian periods.
She said prospective board members will be judged on how well they think they can adhere to the guideline.
Andrea Dimond, president of the influential Old Town Civic Association, summed up the sentiments of citizens urging the board's reorganization: "Most of us who live here like the early look." she said. The Old and Historic District "is a small area and for other styles there are other areas," Dimond said.
Backers of the nine-member board presented a 500-signature petition supporting the current composition of the board because "this township remains not a museum frozen at one point in time. . . . ."
In other action, the council unanimously approved a modification of the design of the southernmost building in Old Town's waterfront Torpedo Factory development at King and Union streets to recess its first floor to create a better view of the Potomac River from lower King Street.
The council also granted permission to the Washington Boat Lines to use the Torpedo Factory North Pier to pick up and discharge passengers for a proposed twice-a-day commuter service on the Potomac River, linking Alexandria with Southwest Washington.