The Alexandria City Council spent two and-a-half hours on Saturday and another hour on Tuesday debating the development of a site between North Pickett Street and Braddock Road, known as Buzzards Gap.
"This should take about 25 minutes,” said Mayor William D. Euille before the public hearing on the item on Saturday. Two and-a-half hours later, the matter had been deferred until Tuesday night so that people could “collect themselves.”
The development on the site first came before Council last March. At that time, Council approved the building of two houses with the understanding that an additional two houses were being planned. The developer worked with city staff to address concerns about preservation of conservation areas and trees on the wooded site.
Eileen Fogarty, the director of planning for the city, explained the project at Saturday’s hearing, saying, “This is a four-acre, wooded site with a tremendous amount of terrain and is a beautiful, natural site. Most of the applications that we have considered for this site included seven to eight units, which is the by-right development that is allowed here. The community wanted a much more sensitive proposal than this," she reported.
“This proposal [before Council] is the best possible development that we felt we could get. Instead of seven or eight homes, we will have four and the construction will be done in two phases, with as little grading as possible. This development will also retain the largest number of trees possible."
Fogarty said 80 percent of this site is open space. About 50 percent of the site will have a conservation easement and that cannot be disturbed. The only issue that remains is that of open space and a potential pedestrian or bicycle trail,” she said.
THAT OPEN SPACE easement that would have allowed for a pedestrian or bike trail was denied last March. “We considered this issue last March and dealt with it,” said Duncan Blair, the attorney who represented the developer. “We proceeded with this part of the development, relying on that fact. We didn’t even know this was an issue again until in January when the staff report was written.”
The Planning Commission voted to approve the development without the easement. “This is just not the appropriate place for a trail,” said Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “These are people’s back yards; it’s not an alley or a public street. This is just as important to these people as the connector was to those neighbors.”
“We voted on this last year and citizens have a right to rely on the decisions of past Councils in planning,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson.
She also expressed concerns about the safety of such a trail. “This is a very wooded, secluded site,” Woodson said. “As a parent, I’m not sure that I would want my teenager to walk through here or hang out here. It seems to me that it just encourages inappropriate behavior.”
Woodson asked the Alexandria police to comment on the amount of crime that occurs on wooded trails throughout the city. A police liaison with City Council said that there are few problems in the city’s parks and on bike and pedestrian trails.
Councilman Rob Krupicka supported retaining the open space easement for a possible future trail. “I’m not saying that we are going to build either a pedestrian or a bicycle trail,” he said. “This site may not be right for either. However, if we do not retain the open space easement now, we won’t have even that possibility later. I just think that we should look at our options and study the matter more carefully.
“This is a test of our open space plan. If we are committed to developing bike and pedestrian trails, some of them are going to be near people’s homes. Alexandria is a densely developed urban area and if we want trails they are going to be in someone’s back yard sometimes,” said Krupicka.
Council members Ludwig Gaines, Andrew Macdonald and Paul Smedberg agreed with Krupicka. The vote was 4-3 to approve the development and retain the easement for a future potential trail. No trail will be developed without another public hearing on any proposal.