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Votes

Commercial vs. Residential — A Quaker View

Although the docket was short, Alexandria Planning Commission managed to make its first gathering of 2004 a marathon session. During that time it approved two major proposals and deferred another that has dogged it since mid-2003.

Once again the property at 11-21 North Quaker Lane, designated as Quaker View, seemed to defy resolution by the Commission after being returned from City Council which failed to override a previous Commission vote to deny. Tuesday night the Commission voted to defer to give the applicant more time to work with the community and staff.

At the heart of the disagreement is a proposal to change the proffer restricting use of the land to a 17,000 square feet commercial office building. Jade Development Company has proposed the land use be changed to permit residential development in the form of eight townhouses.

At the original hearing in June, staff recommended approval of the plan based on its opinion, "the plan for eight residential units is more compatible and appropriate with the existing residential neighborhoods, and enables a less intensive use than the current office use permitted within the Commercial Low zone."

Commissioners expressed praise for the proposal at the June meeting but based their denial on what they perceived as a potential traffic accident threat at the intersection of Duke Street and Quaker Lane due to the ingress and egress pattern proposed for the townhouses. However, this would be the same regardless of the property's use.

IN MAKING THE case once again for the developers, attorney Duncan Blair noted, "We believe it is in the best interest of the city to change the proffer to go to residential rather than leave it as commercial. However, the underlying use as an office site remains a viable use of the property."

In voting to defer their decision, the Commission requested that Jade meet with staff and the community "to see if some lower number of townhouses is possible." But, it is estimated that the proposed residential use would generate less traffic than a 17,000 square foot office building and its occupants.

Another element of the controversy has been the proposed removal of the existing "hot right" turn lane from Duke Street onto Quaker Lane. This would create a more traditional "T" intersection. Coupled with extending the median barrier on Quaker Lane to prevent left turns into the site, this option had been presented as creating a safer traffic flow.

That argument has been countered by input from both the community and the Alexandria Fire Department that prefers to keep the "hot right" turn, according to staff. The fire department has indicated that its removal could delay critical response time.

IN ANOTHER ACTION which drew praise for the developers from both the Commissioners and public speakers, the primary concern was also based on potential and existing traffic flow and conditions. It centered on a development special use permit for the Mark Center, 1897 N. Beauregard Street.

The request, by the owners, Mark Winkler Co., was to modify the previously approved development plan to construct four office buildings instead of three. They would contain the same floor area as previously approved by lowering the height of each. It also included an amendment to the Transportation Management Plan for the area.

The primary concern was not with the development of the buildings but with traffic that is perceived to be generated at the intersection of Seminary Road and Beauregard Street as well as within the area. During five community meetings with various civic association, eight critical concerns expressed by all groups centered on traffic flow, according to the staff report.

As noted at the public hearing by a representative of Seminary Park Community Association, "We are all concerned about traffic in Alexandria. But, it is our consensus that the solution proposed by Winkler is positive and we recommend approval."

TRAFFIC CONCERNS centered on traffic generated not only on Seminary Road but also "cut through" traffic which might be generated as a result of congestion on the main roadways. This brought forth several requests for a deferral until an independent traffic study could be completed.

However, as Commissioner Donna Fossum noted, "There are very few traffic engineering firms in the area that have not already done work for us. So how do we define 'independent?'"

Commission Chairman Eric Wagner added, "It has been our experience that when additional traffic studies have been done in cases like this they usually come back either with the same results as the developer or not as restrictive as the developer's study."

In recommending approval staff noted the applicant has addressed:

*The impact of proposed roadway improvements for a triple left-hand turn from Seminary Road onto North Beauregard Street.

*Encouraging mass transit use.

*Encouraging reduction in the use of single occupancy vehicles.

In voting unanimous approval for the SUP, the Commission pointed out that Winkler was not proposing any changes that could not be done under existing approved plans. Public speakers also praised Winkler as "a very good neighbor" and for their regard for the preservation of open space.

In its final action of the night, the Commission approved the request by Alexandria Public Schools for a development special use permit, with site plan and subdivision for a new T.C. Williams High School. The proposed SUP increases in the floor area ratio, calls for an increase in height and placement of public school trailers and freestanding sign and modifications.

The SUP also proposes an amendment to the Taylor Run/Duke Street Small Area Plan to change the land use designation for a portion of the property from P/Parks to I/Institutional; and a rezoning of a portion of the property from POS/Public Open Space to R-20/Residential.