Open Space Fund Gets 'Vacation'

Open Space Fund Gets 'Vacation'

Council adopts new policy.

Alexandria City Council approved a policy for vacating right-of-ways and putting money that comes to the city from the sale of such land into the Open Space Trust Fund.

The debate over vacating rights-of-ways for development most recently arose over the proposed mixed-use development at 800 South Washington Street. Council approved the sale of an alley to the developer in this case. At the request of Councilman Andrew Macdonald, there was a public hearing on vacating rights-of-ways on Jan. 24.

"We have put together these recommendations for Council's review and are asking that the money from the sale of these lands be designated for the Open Space Trust Fund," said Eileen Fogarty, the director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"Very rarely do these vacations involve a lot of money or major developments. As a matter of fact, there have only been two cases like this in recent memory — the one at 800 South Washington Street and the Whole Foods store at Carlyle. Usually, it is a single property owner who wants a vacation and that amounts to very little money," she told Council Tuesday night.

Under the new policy, staff would notify Council of applications for vacations before the development comes forward. "These could be presented during orals at a legislative meeting so that Council would be aware of them before they have to consider the development itself," Fogarty said.

Also, staff would include a section on public benefits and property valuation in the report on the requested vacation. "This would give Council a good idea of exactly what is being proposed in every case," Fogarty said.

COUNCILMAN Paul Smedberg was concerned about dedicated funding streams to the Open Space Trust Fund when one already exists.

"While open space is certainly a priority of this Council, it is not our only priority and might not be the priority of everyone in the city," he said. "I understand that, in most cases, this doesn't mean a great deal of money. However, in some cases it does, and I don't want to see us get into a situation where we are reminded that we have a policy that says money is going into the Open Space Trust Fund when we might want to put it into some other program."

Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper disagreed with Smedberg, saying. "I am very hesitant to have dedicated funding streams for most things but I am willing to make an exception in this case," she said. "Open space is very important and I think that this is very appropriate."

Smedberg proposed an amendment to the recommendation which would have put money from right-of-way vacations into the general fund, but it was defeated. In the end, the staff recommendation was adopted unanimously.