After several hours of explanations, public speakers, questions, and debate, Alexandria Planning Commission Tuesday night deferred any decision on a proposal to build 227 townhomes on the 36.6 acre parcel known as Potomac Greens.
Tucked between the south bound lanes of the George Washington Parkway and the Metrorail tracks, the site stretches from just North of Slaters Lane to where the Parkway and Metro rails nearly converge. It is the first of nine sites within the total Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens plan.
Eileen Fogarty, director, Department of Planning and Zoning said before the public hearing, "The community has raised specific questions about the plan and the applicant has agreed to some changes within the past two days." Apparently there were a lot of questions remaining evidenced by the fact that 40 speakers had registered to speak at the meeting.
Jonathan P. Rak, attorney for the developers kicked off the explanation of the project with a lengthy description of how it is designed to comply with the Potomac Yards Coordinated Development District (CDD) and provide more than the required preservation of open space.
He was followed by Robert Youngentob representing one of the dual development partners, Eakin/Youngentob. They are partnered with Elm Street Developers which has projects throughout Northern Virginia, according to Rak. Together, they constitute the development applicant, Potomac Greens Associates, LLC.
Eakin/Youngentob has developed a series of projects in Alexandria such as The Lofts. They have also been selected as the developer for the Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown) project known as The Berg.
IN RECOMMENDING approval of the project, city planning staff noted, "The CDD zone and Guidelines were adopted by Council in 1999 after nearly two years of planning effort and numerous meetings with adjoining residents and Civic Associations. The project complies with the intent of the Guidelines and CDD conditions."
During his presentation, Rak placed particular emphasis on the dedication of open space within the project. He noted, "There is a 16 acre park that will be dedicated to the city as a public park. There are also a series of neighborhood parks throughout the site so that no home is more than a block from an open space area."
At the northwestern portion of the site, land will be subject to a city easement to accommodate a future Metro station, according to staff.
"If a station is built in the future, this area would provide a secondary entrance" to the primary entrance being located on the main portion of the Potomac Yard development, the staff synopsis explained.
MANY OF THE OBJECTIONS to the development have centered around environmental concerns. As stated by staff in their analysis, "Although the site is quite large, significant portions... cannot be developed due to environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, floodplains..."
Staff and various speakers cited a series of environmental reservations. Based on the site's prior use as an industrial/rail area and its proximity to Metrorail, Reagan National Airport, and the parkway, these included the possibility of soil and groundwater contamination caused by unknown underground storage tanks, drums, or containers, the potential for fly-ash residue from the use of coal and excessive noise requiring the applicant to prepare a noise study identifying the levels of noise to which future residents would be exposed.
As one of the 100 conditions for approval specified by the planning staff was the requirement that the applicant present a disclosure statement to potential buyers disclosing the environmental conditions of the site to the satisfaction of the Directors of P&Z, T&ES, and the city attorney.
Other concerns addressed by speakers were open space, traffic calming, and sewer connections. The Commission voted to defer in order to give staff and the developers more time to addresses these matter as well as certain design elements.
A COMPANION ITEM on Tuesday's agenda dealt with Potomac Yard Parcel C requesting a Special Use Permit to construct a 15,000 square foot single-story retail/restaurant development to include two buildings and off-street surface parking at 901 Slaters Lane, and to allow for a temporary sales trailer.
This project is also being proposed by the dual development team of Eakin/Youngentob and Elm Street Development. The site is designated as Parcel C of the Potomac Yard CDD. It is 3.4 acres and lies approximately half the distance between Route 1 and the parkway, according to the staff report.
The Commission, in voting to defer the Potomac Greens request, decided to bring it back at the May meeting for a vote. However, there will be no further public hearing.
Jeff Farner, urban planner with the city, said, "We hope to have a separate meeting on Parcel C before May."
No date has been set. The reason it was delayed is that Tuesday's meeting did not adjourn until 1 a.m. Wednesday due to more than 35 public speakers on the Potomac Greens proposal.
IN OTHER MATTERS, the Commission:
* Approved outdoor seating at the proposed new Starbucks, 6 King St., the site of the former Seaport Inn. It was decided that the sidewalk along the King Street side of the building was not a "destination sidewalk" and, therefore, outdoord seating did not pose an obstruction to normal foot traffic.
* Approved an SUP to operate a restaurant at the site of the former Dunkin Donut Shop, 602 King St. It will be an additional site for Pita House which has another restaurant at 407 Cameron St. The use is grandfathered because Council granted an SUP to Dunkin Donuts on April 1, 1993.
* Approved a subdivision of a lot at 334 N. Patrick St. and the granting of an SUP to allow a lot area of less than 1,980 to construct a new single family home with a reduction in parking requirements.
* Denied by a vote of 6 to 5 a request by the homeowners at 1301 Dartmouth Road and the Dartmouth Place Home Owners Association "to construct a fence with a storage area within a conservation area." The area in question is a conservation easement and staff cited, as it recommendation for denial, "Within the Conservation Easement there shall be no construction or placing of buildings or structures, no filling, excavating or change to the natural topography of land."