Alexandria Planning Commission proved at its May 8 meeting that the process of planning and zoning is not only about land-use. It can also be an instrument of social engineering.
In voting final approval to the proposed development of the 36.6-acre plot known as Potomac Greens, it also gave its unanimous blessing to a proposal to name six streets within the new development for black female civic leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The action grew out of a request by Commission vice chairman Richard Leibach that a public street at the new Potomac Yard-Potomac Greens project be named after Ellyn Carpenter. Leibach made his request in a memo to the Commission and staff, following the April 1 meeting.
"The late Mrs. Carpenter was a woman of African-American descent, who made significant contributions to the City of Alexandria," Leibach wrote. In citing her accomplishments, he listed her life membership in the NAACP and as an officer of that organization, a member of the Alexandria Commission on Aging, an activist in voter registration projects, a volunteer at Hopkins House, and the recipient of the 1997 United Way's Outstanding Community Service Award.
Leibach also pointed out "that all five names for street names suggested by the Office of Historic Alexandria are of men. At least three of the men were planters and plantation owners. In the Virginia of the period, planters and plantation owners were slave owners."
HIS OBSERVATION was buttressed by Commissioner Ludwig Gaines in a follow-up memo that supported the naming of a street for Carpenter. He increased the request by stating, "I respectfully request that the suggested street names of former plantation owners who were also slave owners be removed from consideration and replaced with more suitable candidates."
Gaines went on to recommend the name of Eudora Lee Lyles. "She was an outstanding Alexandrian and community service award-winning African-American woman who did many remarkable things for her community, church and city," Gaines said.
A member of the first graduating class from Parker-Gray High School in 1936, Lyles was an activist for housing rights for the black community and organized the Inner City Civic Association, according to a biographical sketch prepared for the Commission. It stated, "Just before her death (in 2000), she was interviewed for the documentary ‘Alexandria Agents of Change,’ produced by the Alexandria Senior Citizens Employment and Service office."
In an April 28 memorandum prepared by Eileen Fogarty, director, Department of Planning and Zoning, discussing various elements of the Potomac Green plan, the section on street names stated that, working in conjunction with HARC, a list of black civic leaders "and other names of note" had been compiled to replace "the street names originally suggested."
The memo stated, "Staff recommends replacing the street names — Thornton, Caledon, Dent, Howson, Hunter, and Langhorn - with the names Bracey, Carpenter, Day, Lyles, Miller, and Rose." Staff also recommended "limiting the street names to the surname only." Their rationale was that "this is generally the practice ... because the use of more than one name... could lead to confusion for firefighters and EMS personnel."
IN ADDITION TO Carpenter and Lyles, the new streets will honor Miriam Bracey, 1914-97; Helen Lumpkins Day, 1905-92; Martha Miller, 1882-1952; and Annie Beatrice Bailey Rose, 1893-1989.
Discussion on approval of the overall Potomac Green plan centered on the preservation of open space within the site located between the southbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Metrorail tracks. The proposal calls for the construction of 227 townhomes with garages.
Fogarty's memo noted the revised plan, reworked since the Commission's April 1 meeting, provides "an additional 6,063 square feet of open space. ... The additional open space was obtained, not by eliminating units but by decreasing the depth and width of several of the units."
The memo further explained, "There are two requirements ... to open space within Potomac Greens." One calls for 2.5 acres of neighborhood parks, and the other is a 56-percent open space requirement.
"All space included within the 56-percent tabulation meets the city's requirement for ground-level open space, being a minimum of 8 feet by 8 feet," it stated. But, another sticking point with the Commission was building-lot coverage.
It was suggested that one way to both increase open space and reduce overall lot coverage was to reduce the number of planned units by five. Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn Jr. moved to do just that "to increase and consolidate the overall open space." This passed on a 4-3 vote, opening the way for a final approval of the amended plan by 5-2.
ANOTHER ELEMENT of the plan that had received particular attention was that of creating affordable housing on-site. However, it was decided to allow the developer, Eakin/Youngentob Associates and Elm Street Development, to make the standard contribution of $1 per gross square foot of development to the City's Housing Trust Fund. This will amount to $750,000 for the Potomac Greens project.
The rationale was if affordable housing were to be provided on this site, Housing staff is concerned that it would not remain affordable on resale.
Even if smaller units with no garages and an original sale price of approximately $350,000 were incorporated into the plan, "Housing Staff considers it highly unlikely that application of the resale formula will result in an affordable price upon resale."
The Commission also gave unanimous approval to the 15,000-square-foot, single-story retail/restaurant development known as Potomac Yard-Potomac Plaza. It had been deferred at the April meeting due to the length of that session.
Designated Parcel C of the Potomac Yard Coordinated Development District, it is 3.4 acres located approximately half the distance between Route 1 and the Parkway. It will include two buildings and off-street surface parking at 901 Slaters Lane.
The only element of the Potomac Greens package not approved was the request by the planning staff to have two easements vacated. They are presently held by the city for future construction of a pedestrian bridge across the rail corridor.
IN OTHER ACTION, the Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the Potomac West Small Area Plan to include the Upper Potomac West Task Force Report, the Long-Term Vision and Action Plan for the Arlandria Neighborhood, and CDD guidelines. This included amendments to both the zoning ordinance and maps pertaining to the Neighborhood Retail Zone in that area.
The area affected is bounded by Four Mile Run to the north, Jefferson Davis Highway to the east, West Glebe Road to the west, and the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and West Glebe Road to the south. It includes the Safeway-Datatel properties, which the community would like to become "a neighborhood focal point" with "public or quasi-public outdoor spaces" for various uses.
A variety of speakers voiced their approval of the plan, which the staff report had noted "will encourage redevelopment and infill development that is consistent with the Plans." Staff sees the amendment as a way to "ensure that new development (in the area) is compatible with the existing character of Arlandria."