Planning Defers Park Rail Dog Area

Planning Defers Park Rail Dog Area

Parking Garage Wins Approval

The time was late, or early depending on whether you were in bed. The scorecard read: garage, yes; dog park, not yet.

Alexandria's Planning Commission met until 1 a.m. Wednesday to debate and resolve a number of controversial land-use issues, or to defer them. In the end, some left empty-handed.

After last month's meeting, when the Planning Commission deferred a request from businessman Jack Taylor, Tuesday night they voted to recommend that Taylor be allowed to build a parking garage and some additional service bays at Alexandria Toyota on Jefferson Davis Highway.

"We have all received this memorandum and would like to commend Mr. [John] Komoroske, the applicant and the staff for working so hard on this matter," said Eric R. Wagner, the chairman. Both Wagner and Commissioner Richard Leibach were reappointed as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Commission at the start of the meeting.

Taylor has agreed to place brick and mortar panels on the facade of the garage to mask the size of the building and to use light-screening material to shield the lights from the cars inside the structure from the neighborhood.

"The garage will only be used for parking inventory and for employees who work at dealerships in high-impact areas of the city," Komoroske said. "It will not be used for airport parking or for commuter parking."

The Commission unanimously recommended approval. City Council will consider the application at the March 15 public hearing.

IN ANOTHER unanimous decision, the Commission agreed to defer the matter of a dog park at Potomac Yard indefinitely. This action came after more than 30 speakers shared their views, both pro and con to the park. The public hearing didn't start until around 11 p.m. By the time the commissioners listened to everyone, it was 1 a.m.

"There are just too many unanswered questions," said Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn Jr., who made the motion to defer. "Good people on both sides of this issue have spoken here tonight. The good people who want this dog park don't live in the most affected neighborhood. The good people who don't want this dog park do live in the most affected neighborhood, and I think we need to get some more answers before we make this decision."

While Komoroske supported the motion, he spoke about the matter of the plan. "This dog park has been part of the plan for Potomac Yard that we approved and that City Council approved in 1999," he said. "We need dog parks in this city, and we are going to have to include them in our planning."

RAIL PARK, as it is known, is approximately three acres of land located between the CSX and Metro tracks near the Old Town Green neighborhood in Potomac Yard. "We have looked at a number of uses for this parcel of land and have concluded that the most suitable use is as a dog park," said Sandra Whitmore, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. "We have made some changes after meeting with the neighbors, and we think that we have addressed as many of their concerns as we can. Access is an issue, and the proposed foot bridges are not something that we are going to be able to deal with here tonight."

The foot bridges are part of the development plan that was originally submitted to the Planning Commission and to Council. Barbara Ross, the deputy director of Planning for the city explained that the trigger for these bridges is 1 million square feet of developed space. Potomac Greens is 700,000 square feet of developed space. The next retail development is 400,000 square feet of development, thus getting to that trigger. The foot bridges would not be required until around 2006, according to some testimony.

"What are we doing creating a doggie Shangri-La in Alexandria?" asked Eric Shipper, a resident of Old Town Greens, who spoke in opposition to the dog park. "We should be more concerned about the children who live in our neighborhood than the dogs who do not."

Brian Detter, another Old Town Greens resident, also spoke in opposition. Like many of his neighbors, he is concerned about access to Rail Park. The city is proposing to build a pedestrian path that would go along the road that has been built for access to Metro tracks. "We do not believe that this easement exists," Detter said. "We do not believe that it is appropriate for access to this dog park to be next to our private tot lot and tennis courts. There is a property rights issue here that we will be discussing with the city attorney's office."

CITY ATTORNEY Ignacio Pessoa responded to the question about the easement, saying, "There are many reasons to support or oppose this dog park," he said. "The question of the easement is just not one of them."

The foot bridges would result in pedestrians’ entering the dog park by walking over the tracks and not using the path that residents of Old Town Greens object to. "Until we are certain that this foot bridge is going to be built and until the issue of access is resolved, we should not go forward," said Commissioner Donna Fossom. "Once that happens, you can have your dog park. Until then, you cannot."

The Commission will discuss the matter of the full Potomac Greens development at the April meeting.