In Marathon Session: It Was Clean Water Vs. Affordable Housing

In Marathon Session: It Was Clean Water Vs. Affordable Housing

Planning Commission upholds city's position on development. Hospital expansion gets approval nod.

Chalk one up for the Chesapeake Bay and the preservation of open space.

That was the outcome of a five hour meeting of the Alexandria Planning Commission Tuesday night when they voted unanimously to support City Transportation and Environmental Services Director Richard Baier, in his dispute with Clermont Industries, LLC.

In opening the discussion on the disputed use of a 15.58 acre development parcel to be known as Clermont Cove, Commission Chairman Eric R. Wagner, noted, "This is the first of its kind." He was referring to the Commission sitting, in affect, as an appellant adjudication body.

Although there were four items on the agenda pertaining to the proposed 487 unit apartment complex, Wagner said that the appeal by Clermont Industries from the decision by Baier to deny a waiver of the Resource Protection Area [RPA] buffer requirements, "will be heard separately and the rest would not be heard unless the appeal was resolved in favor of the applicant."

The dispute centered around the fact that the proposed development parcel contains streams and wetlands protected by the Chesapeake Bay Act and the Alexandria Zoning Ordinance. Clermont requested a waiver from the requirements pertaining to encroachments in those documents. Baier denied their request.

The parcel extends west from Clermont Avenue, at the Eisenhower Connector/Eisenhower Avenue intersection, to the Army Material Command building. It is sandwiched between the railroad tracks and the rear of the existing buildings on Eisenhower Avenue. There are five streams and wetlands on the parcel upon which the debate focused.

In pleading the case for Clermont Industries, Scott Copeland, RST Development, of Rockville, Maryland, emphasized that of the 487 planned units, 149 will be dedicated to affordable housing with no cost to the city for 30 years. At that point Wagner stopped Copeland's presentation saying, "This discussion is only on the appeal, not on the development."


Copeland admitted, "No development can take place on that parcel without an exception being granted to the RPA." He noted, "The PTO [Patent and Trademark Office] did not build on that site because of the RPA."

He then went on to claim, "This development would actually help the Chesapeake Bay by making the run off water cleaner." This would be due to purification procedures Clermont would initiate at the site as part of their development plans, according to Copeland.

At that point Copeland turned the floor over to William Ellison, an environmental engineer, representing Clermont Industries. That is when the discussion moved from clear cut environmental pros and cons to esoteric hairsplitting concerning the definition of the word "contiguous" and when is a stream a stream and when is it a ditch that holds water only when it rains.

Ellison's presentation, in which he compared the five streams and their watershed size to balls ranging from a beachball to a golf ball, and his reliance on the Corps of Engineers definition of "contiguous", in determining whether or not the site was subject to the RPA requirements, seemed to confuse and irritate Commission members.

Commissioner J. Lawrence Robinson, armed with a dictionary, read the definition of contiguous. Commissioner Donna Fossum pushed Ellison on whether or not the Corps had determined if the area was "a wetland or not." Ellison did not give a definitive answer.


Following Clermont's presentation the Commission turned to Baier to explain his denial of the request for an RPA waiver. He summarized his decision in five brief points concluding with, "The intent of the code is to promote water resource conservation."

He further challenged Clermont's position by stating, "I disagree with their comparison of big streams and little streams, whether some are important and others are not. Mitigation is not a valid process in this case. I believe very strongly that encroachment is significant."

Baier's position in denying the waiver was fully supported by the City's Planning and Zoning staff. In their report to the Commission they stated, "The protection of RPA's from development encroachments is done to preserve and restore water quality to our streams and rivers.

"If encroachments are allowed into our water features and stormwater run off ... the water features will become degraded. The ultimate goal to protect the Chesapeake Bay can only be reached when each municipality protects water quality.

This position was endorsed, without exception, by 25 citizen speakers who rose to testify in favor of the denial. Although each made their appeal on various points, the common thread of their arguments was that Clermont's claim that this development would actually improve water quality in the Bay was specious.

As one speaker stated, "I've never heard of building a housing development to protect the Bay. It's an interesting concept. Perhaps you [Clermont] could present a paper on the subject."

Several speakers also questioned Clermont's motives in dangling the opportunity for affordable housing before the Commission. They saw it as a ploy to get approval for the RPA waiver. They also questioned whether the site is suitable for any housing, affordable or otherwise.

In the final analysis the Commission, on a motion made by Commissioner W. Stewart Dunn, Jr., and seconded by Fossum, voted unanimously to support the Director. Dunn said, "The determination of the director is more consistent with the intention of the code and protecting the water."

That vote stops the proposed development by Clermont Industries. However, the Commission noted the decision can be appealed to City Council and/or to the courts. As pointed out, the latter route would probably rely on the premise that they were being denied use of the land without compensation.


The other primary topic of the night was the proposed additions to Inova Alexandria Hospital. After presentations by representatives of the hospital, civic associations, and Director of Planning and Zoning, Eileen Fogarty, the Commission gave their unanimous approval.

J. Howard Middleton, Jr., attorney for the hospital noted that hospital Vice President and Administrator Kenneth Kozloff, had attended more than 40 meetings over the past year to gain the support of nearby residents. "Twenty organizations now support the proposed expansion," Middleton said.

Primary to approval of the civic groups and the Commission was the fact that the hospital has agreed not to seek further expansion approval for the next 25 years. However, as explained at the meeting, this could be waived if all parties agreed at some future date based on the circumstances of the time.

The only real debate was whether the hospital should be subject to making the customary contribution to the Affordable Housing Fund tacked on to most development in the city. The prime question was whether the Commission had the authority to waive this or whether it was up to City Council.

Vice Chairman Richard Leibach argued that it was not the role of the Commission to take such action. "If the Council wants to waive the requirement that is their right. It is not up to us," he insisted.

Mildrilyn Davis, Director, Alexandria Office of Housing, testified that the Affordable Housing Task Force was recommending a waiver based on the hospital's contribution to the city. She explained that such decisions are made on individual cases based on the Task Force's analysis of the applicant's contribution to the overall welfare of the City.

Commissioner John Komoroske noted that adding $40,000 onto the cost of the hospital expansion seemed counterproductive. The Commission voted five to two to exempt the hospital.

The proposed expansion includes a four level parking garage and a four level addition to the hospital itself. Both structures will have one level underground.

The 85,990-square-foot addition, located on the southeastern portion of the existing hospital building, now occupied by the helipad and a surface parking lot, will provide space for a new and enlarged emergency room area, more single room possibilities, additional laboratory facilities, and a roof top helipad.