The Alexandria City Council began its new legislative year with a marathon session that lasted until nearly midnight, despite the earlier starting time of 7 p.m.
Many of the faces on the dais were new but the topics seem to have been the same — traffic, the aging sewer system, the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office and the four corners of Union and King Streets.
Council aired concerns over the lack of progress on the Duke Street Concourse that will allow pedestrians to cross Duke Street safely to get to the new Patent and Trademark Office development.
“We have been notified by the Carlyle Development Corporation that the Duke Street Concourse, which will carry pedestrians under Duke Street to PTO, will not be completed until June 30, 2004, instead of Dec. 31, 2003,” said Sunderland.
Richard Baier, director of Transportation and Environmental Services explained, “As late as February, we were still being told that the December timeline was possible,” Baier said. “It wasn’t until April that we were finally told this wasn’t going to happen.”
THE DUKE STREET tunnel is a condition of the Special Use Permit for the PTO development. City Manager Philip G. Sunderland recommended that Council approve an extension of the deadline until June 30.
However, this brought a reaction from new Councilman Ludwig Gaines.
“I am very concerned about this. Every other developer in the city has to go back through the Planning Commission for any change to the SUP. Shouldn’t we require the same of this developer. This is going to cause major problems on Duke Street when all of these people begin coming to work at PTO in December and January and there is no way to get them safely across the street.”
Gaines was a former Commissioner with Planning.
Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper agreed with Gaines, saying. “I am the only member of this Council who can say that I voted against PTO,” she said. “I knew it was going to cause problems for our residents and it is. In a letter from the Carlyle Development Corporation, we were told not to focus on the cause of this delay but to focus on the solution, but I think we should want to know who dropped the ball here. Clearly, this just wasn’t at the top of the priority list for CDC and we ought to hold them accountable.”
Under Sunderland’s recommendation, PTO would be allowed to occupy the two buildings that will come on line in December and February, before the tunnel is finished. CDC will pay for mitigations in the form of extra police officers to assist pedestrians in crossing Duke Street and in other transportation improvements, including a shuttle service from the King Street Metro to PTO. This shuttle will run at least once every five minutes.
“I know we have considered withholding the certificate of occupancy until this is finished, but I think that is punishing the wrong party,” Sunderland said. “The tunnel is the responsibility of CDC, not of PTO or LCOR.”
EACH OF THE two buildings will house 1,300 employees. The parking garage that will also open in early winter, will hold 1,760 cars. “The certificate of occupancy must be issued in early October to allow furniture and computer equipment to be set up so that people can begin moving to the buildings in early December,” said Art Dahlberg, the city’s director of code enforcement.
If the tunnel is not completed by June 30, CDC will pay $500 a day until it is finished. “I want to know why we didn’t do something so that they would have to pay $5,000 a day beginning in January,” said Pepper.
Mayor William D. Euille deferred action on the matter until Council’s next legislative meeting later this month.
“I believe we need some further information on the transportation mitigations,” Euille said. “We need a more definite time when the shuttle will begin and some other issues need to be resolved. We are going to meet with WMATA to discuss the utilities that need to be moved and we will have further meetings with CDC.”
Sunderland agreed with the deferment. The matter will be docketed again on September 23.
Council also heard updates on other issues in the city, including the four corners on lower King Street. According to Sunderland, the Alamo restaurant renovation is beginning, the Starbuck’s [coffee shop] is open and the other part of the Seaport Inn is going to house a Thai restaurant. There is still no definitive word on what’s going to happen with the part of the Fish Market that has been vacant for some time.
As to sewers, the news was mixed. According to Baier, “We have not had as much response to our backflow preventer program as we had hoped. We have only had 11 requests for reimbursement although we have contacted everyone in the affected area and when it rains, we have hundreds of calls. I think this is because people are waiting to see how the program works and were hoping for full reimbursement.”
The city provides only up to $500 in reimbursement for something that costs homeowners up to $2,000.
THE CITY WILL get some additional help on its in-flow and infiltration project at Four Mile Run.
“Last year we received $875,000 in federal funding thanks to Congressman [James] Moran, [D-8] and this year we have received an additional appropriation of $675,000, but we have to apply for this grant,” explained Emily Baker, the city engineer.
Council approved that application unanimously.