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Duke Street Concourse Status Among Council Docket Items

Alexandria City Council received a briefing on the status of the Duke Street Concourse, the pedestrian tunnel that will run under Duke Street to the new U.S. Patent and Trademark campus at Carlyle. The concourse was supposed to be complete by the time the first employees moved into the newly constructed buildings in December, but it will not be finished until July 1.

“As Council requested in September, we have set clear milestones for this project, and there is a penalty for not meeting those milestones,” said Emily Baker, the city engineer.

The first phase of the construction will begin now, with the southernmost lanes of Duke Street being closed. This phase will be completed by Feb. 17, 2004, at which time there will be lane closures in the middle of Duke Street. By March 29, 2004, the second phase will be completed, and the northernmost lanes will then be affected until the project is finished by June 30.

“If any of these dates are not met, Carlyle Development Corp. (CDC) will pay a penalty of $3,000 per day until the milestone is reached,” Baker said. “The lane diversions will coincide with the construction under Duke Street.”

In the meantime, CDC will begin running a shuttle from the King Street Metro station to PTO on Dec. 8, when the first employees are expected. Alexandria police officers will be placed at key intersections to assist pedestrians in crossing the street safely.

“In all, about 2 1/2 full-time city staff will be required to provide oversight to this project,” Baker said.

Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper said she is concerned about future certificates of occupancy. “I don’t believe that we should issue any further certificates of occupancy until this concourse is completed,” she said. “At least I would like to discuss the matter further at a Council meeting.”

Councilman Andrew Macdonald agreed with Pepper, saying, “I’m not sure that we should have issued the first certificate of occupancy. How do we know that our current infrastructure is sufficient to support 2,000 additional people as opposed to 2,001? If the sprinkler systems in the building were inadequate, we would not allow them to be occupied. I believe that we need to send a message here that this concourse was part of the special-use permit for this project and that we believe that it is important.”

Council agreed to docket the matter for further consideration.

MEMBERS OF THE city’s Planning staff gave a presentation on the process by which City Council reviews decisions of the two boards of architectural review. “We have two historic districts in Alexandria,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of Planning. “There is the Old and Historic District and the Parker-Gray District. While both are rich in history, people live in both districts. Alexandria is an urban city. We are not Williamsburg. We need to find a balance between protecting the historic character that makes us the city that we are and in allowing people to live and work here comfortably.”

The issues are complex. Council may only review matters that are before the boards of architectural review. Also, the boards of architectural review may only review matters that specifically relate to the historic character of the building in question.

“I thought we were going to talk about how we maintain the historic nature of these buildings as lifestyles are changing,” Pepper said. “I mean, on one hand, every time we allow changes to be made, we erode the fabric of what makes us truly unique. On the other hand, for example, people have grown over the years. Some of the ceilings in these homes are very low. Shouldn’t we allow people to raise the ceilings if they want to?

“Also, the way we live has changed,” she said. “People now like to have their kitchens as an extension of their family rooms. Shouldn’t we make allowances for that? I would like to see more discussion of these issues, and these are issues that we have been told here tonight that we really can’t consider.”

Mayor William D. Euille suggested that Pepper put her concerns into the form of a memorandum to staff and that staff respond to those concerns.

BUS SHELTERS were a concern to Councilman Rob Krupicka. “Many of the shelters are in disrepair, and do not provide adequate shelter for people from the wind, rain and snow,” he said. “Since we are encouraging people to take mass transit, I think we should do everything we can to make it as pleasant as possible.

“I know that WMATA has some funding issues, so perhaps we should consider using some of our own money. I would at least like to understand what the implications of this would be,” he said.

Mayor Euille, a member of the WMATA Board of Directors, said, “The Operations Committee at WMATA has been considering this issue for some time. Some members of the committee think that we shouldn’t have any shelters. Others believe that we should have some shelters in certain locations. Some people feel that we should have shelters throughout the system. Of course funding is an issue. But that isn’t the only consideration.

“Right now we are studying the matter and looking at what we should do and which shelters made from which materials are the best and most cost-efficient. There isn’t going to be a quick answer, but we really need to leave it to WMATA at this point,” Euille said.

TUCKER ELEMENTARY WAS congratulated by Vice Mayor Pepper on receiving a national award. The school received the Education Trust’s Dispelling the Myth Award at a ceremony in Washington last Friday.

“These awards are given to schools that excel on standardized tests despite having a majority minority student population,” Pepper said. “Samuel Tucker has a majority of students who receive free and reduced lunch and still scored significantly better on standardized tests in 2002 than did most of the schools in the metro area. Tucker faculty and students are doing a great job. Keep it up.”

Council also passed a proclamation declaring Thursday, Nov. 20, Feed America Thursday. The program is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“This program was begun last year and was quite successful,” Euille said. “The U.S. Conference of Mayors asked us to participate, and I think it’s a very worthy project.”

Alexandrians are being asked to give up two meals on Nov. 20, and donate the money that they would have spent on those meals to a charitable organization to feed homeless and hungry people.

The city will also have boxes where people can donate nonperishable food items. These boxes will be located at City Hall, the Lee Center and at the Department of Human Services. All food donations will be given to the Alexandria YMCA’s food drive, Alive, and the Salvation Army.