0
Votes

A Question of Representation

Citizens object to exclusionary language.

The old saying, "The Devil is in the details," was never more obvious than Tuesday night at the regular meeting of the Alexandria Planning Commission.

A proposed change to the composition of the Potomac Yard Design Advisory Committee (PYDAC) drew the ire of citizens and civic associations alike. As summarized by Poul Hertel, Northeast Civic Association, "I take strong exception to their definition of fairness."

What he was referring to was a text change in the language establishing the PYDAC. Original enabling language read:

"The PYDAC shall consist of seven members to be appointed by the City Council for staggered terms of no more than two years each. The Committee shall include two members representing the Potomac West area; the remaining five members shall be from the city at large and shall include three representatives of residential neighborhoods and the business community and two qualified professionals skilled in architecture."

The proposed new language would remove the wording dealing with the five members "from the city at large" and the "two qualified professionals skilled in architecture." In its place the text would read: "two members representing the Potomac Yard area; one member representing the business community; and two qualified professionals skilled in architecture and urban design."

As stated in the staff report, "Concern has been expressed regarding PYDAC composition, and specifically that the ... language does not expressly include representatives of the area covered by the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens small area plan as members of the committee."

That "concern" was triggered by a request from Council member Ludwig Gaines, a member of the Planning Commission immediately prior to his election to Council in the past year. It "was initiated by City Council by resolution on November 25, 2003, and was referred to the Planning Commission for an amendment to the zoning ordinance," staff noted.

ALTHOUGH IT WAS rationalized as a way "to provide full and adequate public representation on the committee," according to staff, it was viewed by many at the meeting as a power grab by Potomac Yard/Potomac Green residents to the exclusion of others.

"The Northeast Association is more affected by Potomac Yards than either of these associations," Hertel insisted. He was supported by others from the Northeast group and representatives from other civic organizations.

As another speaker emphasized, "We are opposed because it freezes out citizens from various areas who have a right to give their input on the development of Potomac Yards." Several cited the pledges of the new City Council members to expand citizen input but questioned their commitment to that promise.

"It is extremely disappointing that two associations have gotten together to exclude everyone else," Hertel exclaimed. "This resolution is totally contrary to all we have stood for for many years. The whole committee should be at-large."

PYDAC WAS established "as a condition of the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens CDD concept approval ... to assist the city in reviewing applications for preliminary development plan approval," according to staff. It is a mechanism "to provide recommendations for consideration by the Planning Commission and City Council."

After Gaines submitted his proposed language for the text change it was altered by City Manager Philip Sunderland to include a "member from the business community," staff noted in its report. The reason it came to the Planning Commission, staff explained, is because "the city does not have the power to change the conditions of the SUP [Special Use Permit] without the applicant's involvement."

In explaining his proposed language change defining membership on PYDAC, Gaines had stated in a memorandum to the mayor and other Council members, dated November 3, 2003, "The underlying principle of this amendment is that residents who live inside Potomac Yard are most immediately impacted by the evolving development process... and... should have comparable representation ..."

He also stated, "I am pleased to report that the Del Ray Civic (DRCA) and Old Town Greens Townhome Owners Association (OTGTOA) have agreed on language that accomplishes this important objective."

It was that appearance of excluding other groups, also impacted by the development, that brought forth the united opposition.

Objections to the proposal seemed to be exacerbated by the last paragraph of Gaines' memorandum which stated, "I applaud the leadership of the civic and townhome associations involved for working together on this issue and collaborating across neighborhood lines on a workable solution."

It was the neighborhood lines not crossed that brought forth the chorus demanding the text change not be adopted as proposed.

Following public discussion the Commission split over whether they had the authority to act or even if they had enough information to make any changes to the existing language. Commissioner John Komoroske noted, "We are not an elected body and I intend to make a motion to deny."

Commission vice chairman, Richard Leibach, suggested that the matter be deferred in order to gain more input and to "give staff more time to make the language more clear." Chairman Eric Wagner admitted, "I am troubled by the proposal because it is too exclusionary."

However, he also said, "I think we should vote on this tonight, not just throw it back to staff." After requestioning several of the public speakers on a possible formula for constituting PYDAC it was decided the matter should be deferred.

Wagner directed staff to report back in March with two options: 1. Delineating specific membership slots on the committee; and 2. Placing more emphasis on at-large membership with specific slots for professional and business representation.

The deferral motion passed unanimously.

IN OTHER ACTION, the Commission:

*Approved the development of what attorney Duncan Blair described in his presentation to the Commission as "the final division of the land owned by the Dawson family." It was a proposal to develop the 1.65 acre lot at 206 N. Quaker Lane for two single family dwellings and the renovation of the existing home on the property. The site was part of property originally owned by U.S. General Samuel Cooper who resigned his commission after 46 years of service to become an officer in the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee. There are five existing homes on the property served by an existing 15 foot wide driveway. It will be widened by 3.5 feet to provide better access for emergency vehicles. An existing detached garage and shed will be removed to accommodate the proposed development by the applicant Meushaw Development Company, Inc. There was unanimous support for the project by all public speakers, staff, and the Commission.

*Approved a change in hours requested by Paul J. Haire, K&B Management, Inc., for his overnight and daycare dog facility at 2000 Jefferson Davis Highway. It also included a reduction in required parking. The facility will have space for approximately 60 dogs.

*Approved an amendment to the SUP pertaining to Block-O in the Carlyle development allowing an increase in building height from the present 60 feet limit to 110 feet. According to staff, "The applicant (Post Properties, Inc.) is proposing the amendment at the request of the City to implement the design principles of the East Eisenhower Avenue Plan. A slightly taller building for this portion of the site will create an architectural "gateway" element at the eastern end ..."