The docket was long but City Council listened to the Eisenhower-Duke Connector concerns again, even though it was not on last weekend’s public hearing agenda.
The story in last week’s Gazette noted that the May task force meeting minutes reflected that there was a consensus to take no votes until Sept. 18. While that was discussed at the meeting and a number of members felt that there was consensus, the discussion was not reflected in the minutes.
Converse West came to Saturday’s public hearing to set the record straight. “I certainly felt that I was given assurances that no vote would be taken,” West said. “Clearly that wasn’t a commitment. Nonetheless, I would like to say that I would have voted against the motion to change the process at this time.”
Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper, who voted in favor of the change in the process, responded to West’s comments. “I certainly did not mean to make you feel that your vote doesn’t count,” she said.
Officer Kammy Knox spoke in favor of a connector. She is a patrol officer with the Alexandria Police Department, working the evening shift. “When there is an emergency, there is no way for us to get out of the Valley,” she said. “The evening shift is our busiest shift and we frequently have to use the bike trail through the park to get from one side of the city to the other. The fire department isn’t able to do that because their trucks won’t fit: our cruisers barely fit. It is fortunate that there aren’t many people using the trail at night because I am concerned that we will be responding to an emergency and won’t see a citizen on a bicycle or jogging. We have to have a better way to get from the Eisenhower Valley to other parts of the city,” she said.
Officer Barry Schiftic agreed. “There are times when we cannot get past Holland Lane because of the traffic,” he said. “I have had to return to the police station and cancel appointments with people I needed to interview because of traffic. Then I wait an hour or so and try again. Something must be done,” he said.
PEPPER SUGGESTED discussing public safety access as a separate item. “I think that we should discuss this separately,” she said. “After we have decided about a connector, we can look at the feasibility of building something so that our public safety officers can have better access to and from the Valley. I have been confronted with a police cruiser coming through the park when I have been on my bicycle so I know that they use it. I just don’t want to look at this issue while we are considering the connector.”
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein asked for a clarification. “You are suggesting that we need to build a road,” she said to Pepper. “I mean, you aren’t suggesting lifting police vehicles out of the Valley by helicopter?”
Mayor Kerry J. Donley also wanted to be clear. “You are saying that after we have voted on whether to build a connector or not and if we chose not to build one, we should then go back and look at the feasibility of building a road that could only be used by our public safety personnel,” he asked.
Pepper indicated that this was what she was suggesting. “This is an important issue but, I believe, we should look at it separately."
The task force will vote on what recommendations it will make to City Council on Sept. 18, and will finalize its report to Council on Sept. 26.
<ro>Mixed Use at Mill Race
<bt>The Mill Race development will be 71 percent residential and the remainder office/commercial and retail. The two issues that raised negative comment were the amount of office parking and open space.
“You have a development that is on top of a Metro station and yet you are providing 372 parking spaces for office use that will encourage people to drive into the neighborhood to park,” said John Wilbur, speaking on behalf of the Old Town Civic Association.
Most of those who spoke were in favor of the project. “We wholeheartedly support this project,” said Allan Rudd, the president of the Carlyle-Eisenhower Civic Association. “It is the kind of vital, mixed use development that we want in the Eisenhower Valley. It will bring people seven days a week.”
Jonathan Raq, representing the developers said, “We feel that we have made substantial concessions and think that, through citizen input and by working with the planning staff, we have a better development than we did two years ago.”
Donley agreed. “Many benefits are accruing to the citizens that the city does not have to pay for,” he said. “We are getting substantial sewer infrastructure improvements, we have sidewalks that are, in many instances, up to 30 feet wide; we have a public plaza and a commitment to pay into an open space fund and we have an affordable housing component. This is exactly the kind of development that we want to encourage.”
THE DEVELOPER will provide 15 affordable rental units and 13 affordable sale units or will pay $2.3 million into the housing trust fund, nearly double the amount that is requested per square foot from developers under most circumstances. Raq indicated that either was acceptable to the developer.
Although the project has some public open space, the Planning Commission required the developer to pay $325,000 that will go into an open space fund. “I’m not quite sure that I understand how we got to this amount,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson. “What exactly will this buy?”
The short answer was very little. “We hope to establish an open space fund and this money would go into that fund and be used, along with other contributions, to purchase open space in the Eisenhower Valley,” said Barbara Ross, the deputy director of the department of Planning and Zoning.
Councilman David Speck did not remember establishing such a fund. “Did we already establish this fund,” he asked. When the answer was “not yet,” he was concerned. “How can we be collecting money for something that is not yet established,” he asked. “I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with this until we have a discussion about such a fund and keeping these contributions to be used solely for open space in the valley.”
Speck suggested eliminating the contribution but the motion died for lack of a second. In the end, the contribution was reduced from $325,000 to $160,000. Three hundred and seventy-two office parking spaces and 94 short-term spaces were also approved. “If the developer and the city agree at some later time, some of these office spaces can be converted into short-term parking spaces,” said Councilman William D. Euille. This was reflected in the motion that passed unanimously.
WIDESPREAD SUPPORT for the Whole Foods store was evident. “It is exactly the kind of grocery store that we want at Carlyle,” said Allan Rudd, speaking about the store that will occupy the first floor and will have condominum units above. Most of the parking will be underground and the site will be extensively landscaped. The one major concern was whether the plans must be approved by the Carlyle Design Review Board, a process that is normally required for buildings that fall within the Carlyle boundaries. Mill Race is being subjected to review by the DRB but only for review and comment not approval.
“This puts a level of uncertainty into the process that is of great concern to us,” said Harry “Bud” Hart, representing the developer. “We don’t object to review and comment but we do not want this to be held up because we can’t get approval from the DRB.”
Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland is a member of the DRB. “I don’t remember the DRB ever holding up a project,” he said. “The director of planning is on that board as are two very well respected architects. We are usually able to meet very quickly and the process doesn’t add any time. I think this is important because it gives us one more opportunity to look at final plans,” he said.
In the end, Council voted unanimously to approve the project and to require the developer to go through the review and approval process with DRB so long as approval is obtained by Oct. 4. If that date passes without DRB approval, the design must be “to the satisfaction of the director of the department of Planning and Zoning.”
<ro>Skateboard Park Approved
<bt>Alexandria will have a skateboard park at Luckett Field. The 12,000-square-foot park will be built near the baseball field, across Duke Street from the intersection of Duke and Quaker Lane. A number of young skateboarders spoke in favor of the park, while residents of Quaker Village spoke against it.
“Right now, we get thrown out of almost everywhere that we skate,” said Johnathan Freeman, a student at Minnie Howard. “We need some place to skateboard that is not on the streets and closer than Vans (at Potomac Mills in Prince William County). If you could give us this park, it would be great,” he said.
Jack Taylor has been a supporter of the skateboard park from the beginning. “We need to give these young people a place where they can skateboard safely, in this city,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of public/private partnership that the city should be encouraging.”
The city will spend $200,000 of public funds to build the park and the private sector will raise the remainder of the money.
THE NEIGHBORS are concerned about noise and safety. Diane ----- and her husband live at Quaker Village. The complex is on the north side of Duke Street to the west of Quaker Lane. “This is a very busy intersection,” she said. “I am just very concerned that some child, going to Wendy’s or McDonalds is going to be seriously injured. I support a skateboard park but just not in this location,” she said.
The department of Transportation and Environmental Services has taken noise levels at the intersection of Duke and Quaker and found that the decibel levels are nearly twice that of what is expected in a skateboard park. However, City Council members were sensitive to having reasonable opening and closing hours for the park.
“Like any other developer, the city is applying for a special use permit,” Speck said. “We have to have some certainty in this.”
City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa said that the city faces liability only if the park is open after dark since there are no lights. There was a lengthy discussion about dark and when it occurred. In the end, the approval was granted for the park to be closed between sunset and 9 a.m. with hours to be posted seasonally by the director of the department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities.
COUNCIL PASSED a number of smaller items as well. The residents of Jamestown Village will be permitted to add 35 parking spaces and a clubhouse in their complex, despite the loss of green space. Also, the clubhouse which houses a day treatment program for those with mental health diagnoses, will be co-located with the new Department of Health near the outer edge of the city on King Street.