Alexandria City Council held a public hearing and a legislative meeting this week to discuss a teen center, affordable housing initiatives, land use issues and development in the Eisenhower Valley.
During Council's monthly public hearing the Inova Alexandria Hospital’s planned expansion was approved unanimously.
“This is an example of what can happen when everyone works together,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “This could have been very controversial and wasn’t. I wish to commend the neighbors and the hospital.”
What was withdrawn from the Council docket was almost as significant as what was on it. Clairmont Cove LLC. withdrew their appeal on a project that was denied unanimously by the Planning Commission.
The 500 unit residential development was proposed for the old VDOT site near the railroad tracks off Clairmont Ave. in the western end of Eisenhower Ave. Eileen Fogarty, the city’s director of planning, explained the issues.
“There were several problems with this particular development,” said Fogarty. “First, the site is zoned commercial/industrial. Much of it is in a protected natural resources area as well. Approval would have required rezoning and a waiver of the restrictions on building in a natural resource protection area. Also, the density was a concern. Staff opposed the project for these and other reasons. This is also not the use that the residents at Cameron Station envisioned for this site.”
To save the project, the applicant offered to include 200 affordable housing units. “Every smart developer is going to offer to include affordable housing units in a project if that will assure approval,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein. “That doesn’t make the site appropriate. If not this, then what? It is zoned industrial so we should wait for an appropriate industrial proposal or until we have a comprehensive plan for the west end of the Eisenhower Valley.”
Fogarty agreed. “If we keep the zoning commercial/industrial, we can decide to place office buildings there at some point in the future if there is no industrial proposal,” she said. “If, however, we put a residential development there, it will remain residential.”
Councilman Bill Euille asked that the city manager have staff work with the applicant to try and come up with a project that would be more acceptable. “
THE TEEN CENTER
During budget discussions in May, 2001, Council set aside $50,000 for studying the feasibility of a teen center in Alexandria. Councilwoman Joyce Woodson has held meetings with teens and adults in the community to discuss the concept. The matter came before Council at the Feb. 26 meeting.
“So far, we have accomplished a lot without expending funds,” Woodson said. “Now, however, we want to conduct a survey and do some other things that will require funding.”
Woodson asked that the mayor and city manager appoint an ad hoc working group to design the survey, look at potential sites for a teen center, talk with for-profit and non-profit entities about running the center as a public/private partnership and develop a preliminary business plan.
“A youth survey is very important because I don’t want to design a program that teens won’t attend,” Donley said.
“That is exactly why we need to have the young people involved in all aspects of planning this project,” Woodson said.
Councilman David Speck expressed concern about funding for the project. “I want to make it very clear that this is simply a feasibility study,” Speck said. “I don’t want those who invest time in this project to believe that this is a done deal. I am very cautious about committing to things without knowing how much they are going to cost.”
The teen center is separate from the comprehensive needs assessment that the Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities is conducting. “We do have one question about the need for a teen center and we will make sure that the working group is aware of the results of that question,” said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the recreation department.
Woodson will serve as the council representative to the working group that will include youth representatives, community representatives and staff. Woodson had hoped that the group could finish their report by the June Council meeting but because of time and staffing constraints, City Manager Philip Sunderland said that the work would be completed as soon as possible, at the latest, by early fall.
SALES TAX REFERENDUM
Legislative Director Bernard Caton, returned from Richmond to give Council a status report on bills of interest to Alexandria.
“Sales tax increases for education and transportation bills change by the hour,” Caton said. “The House does not want a tax increase that includes education but the Senate bill still has that as one of the components. The formula for the transportation tax increase would give Alexandria 50 cents on the dollar and that is the floor that Council has given the legislative delegation regarding what you can support.”
Governor Mark Warner has expressed his support for a bill that would include both transportation and education and has said that if he receives legislation that does not include both items, he may make changes and return the matter to the legislature during a veto session in April. In the meantime, Caton will return to Richmond and report back to Council at the end of the week. The General Assembly is slated to adjourn on March 9.
The city manager asked that council set aside money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to pay for affordable housing. A combination of local and federal funds will be set aside to be used to defray the cost of developing affordable rental and sales housing. This would include $400,000 from the Housing Trust Fund.
Also, the city will increase the amount that can now be paid in subsidies to senior citizens and those with disabilities. “I am very pleased that we are going to do something about this, in particular,” said Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “These are some of our most vulnerable citizens and we need to do more to help them.”
Council also agreed to cap the amount of Housing Trust Fund money that can be used to subsidize the redevelopment of the Samuel Madden Homes to $2 million. The cap on all city funds that can be used for this project will be $3.5 million.
“All of these are recommendations from the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee,” Sunderland said.
Donley agreed that it was important for council to take these steps but also talked about a coordinated regional effort. “These are very important steps for the city to take but we must also look at what the entire region can do in terms of affordable housing,” he said. “Alexandria cannot do it alone.”