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Commissioners Bring Plan To Del Ray Citizens

Del Ray residents met eyeball to eyeball with Alexandria Planning Commissioners last Wednesday night with the unveiling of the draft Mount Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan. Billed as a public workshop, it offered residents and interested citizens the opportunity for questions and direct input.

Underway since last spring, the draft plan concentrated on three goals and established three focus areas. The goals were:

*Provide an opportunity for businesses to grow while enhancing the Avenue and protecting the neighborhoods,

*Create a public-private implementation strategy,

*Establish three focus areas for the plan.

They were defined as:

*Protect and enhance the historic core,

*Capitalize on infill development opportunities and streetscape improvements North and South of the core,

*Plan for the long-term development of the Monroe Gateway.

Making the presentation was Robert Odermatt of the Odermatt Group in California working in conjunction with EDAW, the primary consultant to the City Planning and Zoning Department for this endeavor. They are joined by Cooper Carry Architects and Kimley Horn Associates.

Odermatt recently received the Kemper Award from the American Institute of Architects. It is that organization's highest award for lifetime achievement, according to Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Zoning Department.

Eric R. Wagner, chairman, Alexandria Planning Commission, explained that this was an opportunity for the public to comment on the efforts of the working group workshops that have been underway. "We are not going to come to any decisions here tonight," he said. "We are here to get your thoughts on the various elements of the draft plan."

MOST OF THOSE present at Del Ray United Methodist Church expressed agreement with the overall concepts but emphasized the need to be particularly mindful of limited parking when considering expansion in retail space. "I really appreciate the uniqueness of Mount Vernon Avenue. But, what, in terms of density, for the future do you see?" asked resident Grant Montgomery.

The answer was that this could vary greatly "depending on the final plan and a variety of other factors."

Katy Cannady, who lives in Rosemont, warned, "The retail cannot outstrip the parking or people will just go to the malls."

That brought forth a response from another resident who cautioned both consultants and planning commissioners, "Don't under-estimate the desire of people not to drive. People will walk, bike, and take public transit to avoid driving," he said.

Fogarty told the audience, "You have to decide what kind of strategy you want. It has a variety of parts."

Some of the factors which influenced the draft plan as presented were:

*Maintain the small town "Main Street" feel of the Avenue,

*Concentrate on further development of mixed uses,

*Keep the area pedestrian friendly with accessibility to both transit and auto,

*Have large open spaces,

*Create a perception of safety,

THE PRIMARY challenges brought forth were:

*There is a poor pedestrian environment marked by a lack of street lights, cross walks, and traffic calming devices.

*Utilities are "unsightly" due to the non-completion of undergrounding.

*New bus routes should be consider to increase transportation options.

*There is a need for more gathering places.

*Need creative parking solutions.

* Streamline the special use permit process.

When it came to planning for long-term improvements to the Monroe Gateway the draft plan cited four essential considerations: create a gateway into Del Ray in coordination with the Route 1 bridge improvements; establish a vision for future use and development of the Giant/CVS site; protect and enhance residential areas along Monroe Avenue; and strengthen linkages to Braddock Road Metro station in coordination with Route 1 improvements.

Odermatt noted in his presentation, that it was essential to "strengthen and capitalize" on various partnerships in order to make the plan viable. Primary to this effort is the City of Alexandria through it's planning process.

Other partnerships include: Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Potomac West Business Association, Small Business Development Center, and neighborhood groups.

The draft plan will now go back to the Working Group Workshops and consultants to be followed by another public workshop in early 2004. The final plan will be developed following that session.