Like a small businessman scorned:
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.L
Furious and out of money, Zarlenga rented the space to its newest occupant, Le Tache.
“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.”***
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.
But when the project came before the review board in 2007, it was rejected partly on Smith’s recommendation that it would cause an “unreasonable loss of historic fabric.” Zarlenga said Smith did not explain to him why he changed his mind. Smith has since died.***
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 there’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.”
I can’t say I didn’t laugh at Zarlenga’s revenge, but what else could he do? They ran him into the ground. At any rate, this dovetails nicely with this Matt Yglesias post from the other day pointing out that most of the things that annoy libertarians and small-government types happen at the local level, yet the debate and the fights about things are always at the federal level.