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Council Debates Upcoming Media Invasion

Topics not on docket at City Council meeting prompt more discussion than those that were.

Where will the media be for the terrorist trials?

City Councilman William D. Euille raised the issue at the last City Council meeting because of concerns he has heard from the residents of Carlyle Towers, a condominium complex near the federal courthouse where the trials are scheduled to be held. According to city officials, between 50 and 100 media representatives are expected on any given day at the trials.

“Can’t we find another place to put the media?” Euille asked. “There is so much going on over there with the construction at PTO and all of the added security around the courthouse. It’s just too much.”

A proposed lease could be the answer to Euille’s question. The city is proposing to lease some land from Norfolk Southern for a media “compound.” The area would be reserved for satellite trucks and other large vehicles that will be required to transmit information to the world about the trials.

“If we don’t place some controls on them, it will become a circus,” City Manager Philip Sunderland said. “We’re just trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.”

Councilwoman Joyce Woodson was concerned. “This entire matter defies discussion,” she said. “Why do these trials have to be here? I do not believe that it is our patriotic duty to support the decision to have them here. There are too many things going on over there. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Mayor Kerry Donley was sympathetic to the concerns of residents but also understands the need to have the trials here. “This is going to be disruptive,” he said. “There’s no doubt of that.

But this will not be the first terrorist trial in a major urban center. “The first World Trade Center bombers were tried in Manhattan and they coped,” Donley said. “This was not our decision and now we have to do what we can to make the best of it.”

VICE MAYOR BILL CLEVELAND, a Capitol police officer who lives in Carlyle, was concerned about the security at the trials.

“I work in an armed camp at the Capitol,” he said. “I do not want to live in one. This is an impossible situation. With the construction vehicles going in and out all of the time, there’s no way to insure security; there’s just no way.”

The city has filed a special use permit application for the media compound.

The matter will be heard at Planning Commission on June 4, and by Council at a June 15, public hearing. “I just want to make it clear to staff and everyone else so they won’t be too disappointed when we reject this application that I’m not going to support this,” Euille said. “We need to find an alternative site for the media.”

THE COUNCIL SCHEDULED an April 13 public hearing on the controversial and costly Windmill Hill Park plan.

The plan has been widely criticized for not making the park open and inviting to all of Alexandria’s citizens. Among the most controversial elements of the plan is a lack of parking, and there would be no building or pavilion where school instruction could be conducted. The plan does include an off-leash dog park, where dogs can have free access to the Potomac River.

The plan includes educational markers, a volleyball and basketball court, a tot lot and some picnic tables. The plan also calls for the removal of the old pilings at the Old Town Yacht Basin and the reinforcement of the crumbling sea wall.

“I think that it’s important for all of us to separate ourselves from some of the public comments that have been made and look at the plan on its merits,” said Donley.

The cost is estimated at well over $1 million, money that is not currently in the city’s budget. For the park to become a reality, then, the city would need federal dollars; dollars that U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) says he is reluctant to provide.

“There will be no federal dollars for a park that is not open and easily accessible to all of our citizens,” he told Council at a work session last month. “I am very disturbed at some of the comments I have heard from neighborhood residents.”

The neighbors have insisted that the park remain free of structures and that there be no off street parking or public restroom facilities. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the plan at the April 13 public hearing. Council will vote on the plan on May 14.

SCHOOL REDISTRICTING ALSO came up for council discussion. City Manager Sunderland asked for guidance from Council.

“At the work session in January, the consensus of Council was that we should proceed to look at three School Board districts, with three elected Board members in each,” Sunderland said. “At the public hearing last week, we were asked to look at scenarios that take us away from this concept.”

One of those concepts is the creation of a majority/minority district. “You’ve had that request for at least two weeks,” Woodson said. “I don’t see why we don’t have more information on that option than we do.”

If the council considers such an option, it would require the redrawing of precinct lines, something that Council. Such redistricting would require seeking permission from the U.S. Justice Department once again.

“If we’re going to consider it, we should do it now rather than waiting until after the public hearing,” Euille said.

The city will buy appropriate software, then, and look at an array of options for new School Board districts.