Frustrated Property Owner Sends A Giant “Screw You” To All Of Alexandria, Virginiaby Doug Mataconis
Anyone who has dealt with the pettiness that often finds itself residing in zoning boards is likely to understand this one completely:
To many in Old Town Alexandria, the sex shop that opened recently on King Street is nothing short of scandalous, a historical desecration just blocks from the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee.
But to Michael Zarlenga, it’s justice.
Zarlenga spent $350,000 on plans to expand his hunting and fishing store, the Trophy Room. He worked with city officials for almost two years and thought he had their support — until the architectural review board told him he couldn’t alter the historic property.
Furious and out of money, Zarlenga rented the space to its newest occupant, Le Tache, which is French for “the spot.”
“I can’t say I didn’t know it would ruffle feathers,” said Zarlenga, 41. “Actually, I was hoping for a fast-food chain because I thought that would be more annoying to the city.”
As you can imagine, this has ruffled the feathers of quite a few people in Alexandria and has even sent the local prosecutor on a pornography hunt in an effort to find some way to shut the business down.
Considering the way they treated Zarlenga, though, it’s pretty clear that the City of Alexandria has nobody to blame but itself:
Zarlenga’s saga with the building dates to 2001, when he opened his hunting and fishing store. In 2006, he bought the building with the idea of renovating and expanding it to include more retail space, a bathroom and an elevator.
He hired a Washington architectural firm, which created eight designs for the project. The final one included plans to raise the roof on the back of the building and demolish a small section of a historic brick wall that was built about 1800. Most of the back wall would have been incorporated into the renovation.
Zarlenga said he consulted Alexandria’s historical preservation staff along the way to be sure everyone was on board with his plans. He said he relied heavily on the advice of Peter Smith, who at the time was the principal staff member of the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
Zarlenga said he felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under him. He appealed to the City Council but lost in September 2007. Council members suggested he go back to the staff of the architectural review board and submit new plans.
For Zarlenga, it was the final straw. He choked back tears as he told the council he was finished: “I have no faith in the staff. . . . They have completely taken the integrity, as I see it, out of the system. . . . The simple fact is there’s no money left, okay?”
And so, he rented the space out to a business sure to ruffle feathers and piss people off, and he’s not done yet:
[T]here’s another piece of Zarlenga real estate that might start causing buzz. He owns a shuttered, dilapidated building several blocks away at Princess and Royal streets. Some of the broken windows have been patched with duct tape.
“As far as I’m concerned, that corner will always be an eyesore,” Zarlenga said. “That’s a little slice of revenge.”
As far as I see it, they have nobody to blame but themselves.