The Alexandria City Council held its last legislative meeting of the fiscal year on Tuesday night. Members dealt with a number of issues which remained from previous meetings.
Council recessed having made decisions about open space, Mirant Power Plant, the naming of facilities and funding for a new T. C. Williams High School.
They deferred action on revisions to regulating the city’s taxicab industry and Council’s strategic plan, deciding that those documents needed further work. The taxicab industry issue has been on Council’s plate for the entire year. Councilwoman Joyce Woodson asked that the matter be reconsidered after last year’s Council decided to make no material changes. Council members Rob Krupicka and Ludwig Gaines have been working on final recommendations for the past several weeks and brought a preliminary document forward on Tuesday night.
“We have met with all of the stakeholders or nearly all of them and are willing to meet with others over the summer,” Krupicka said. “We are close to having final recommendations but we need to do some additional work on the implementation plan and on transferability of certificates. Those two issues are very complicated.”
“We need to take some additional time to look at these two issues in particular to ensure that we deal with them in a manner that is fair,” Gaines added.
Drivers want to control the certificates and companies believe that they should retain control. The 15-point plan which Council received this week would give drivers more of the certificates than they currently have but allow companies to retain the majority of them. Gaines and Krupicka will continue to work on the issue over the summer.
COUNCIL'S STRATEGIC PLAN for the next 10 years will also receive some summer attention. Vice Mayor Del Pepper and Councilman Paul Smedberg have been working on this document.
“We had another public hearing on this matter on June 15 and received some very thoughtful comments from citizens,” Pepper said. “Many said that the document needs to be easier to read and more usable. We have taken those comments to heart and will continue to refine the document over the summer. We will bring something back to you in September or October.”
Council did make a decision on the property at 1400 Janneys Lane, the former Second Presbyterian Church property. The Planning Commission approved a preliminary site plan to build eight houses on the property and a group of adjacent homeowners appealed that decision. Council took testimony from the appellants and their supporters at a public hearing on June 12, and decided to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision and deny the appeal on a 4-3 vote, with Pepper, Gaines and Councilman Andrew Macdonald voting against upholding Planning.
“I would just really like to see this property used for something other than eight homes,” Gaines said. “I would like it to remain a religious institution and still have some hope that this might happen and we could get a solution that would be acceptable to everyone.”
The issues raised by the appellants related mostly to stormwater management. The appeal stated that the stormwater management plan for the site is inadequate and that run-off from the project will cause flooding in nearby homes.
“We have had flooding throughout the city this year and last year,” Woodson said. “If flooding is such a problem, why haven’t we had complaints from this part of the city? We certainly heard from people in Rosemont and Del Ray last year. I guess I just need to understand if flooding is a real problem here or if it is not.”
Richard Baier, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services said, “Fifteen to 20 years ago, before there were improvements at the corner of Quaker and Janneys, there was flooding in this neighborhood. We have certainly had some isolated complaints in the past couple of years about ponding on the adjacent properties but I think people are simply remembering the way it used to be years ago and are fearful that that will happen again,” he said.
“This project will limit the amount of impervious space that is allowed on each site to 600 square feet and we are adding conditions to the Planning Commission’s approval that will further enhance the stormwater management plan which was submitted by the developer,” Baier said.
Macdonald asked that the approval be held in abeyance until further study of the stormwater management issue is conducted. “I simply think that we should see the study before we make a decision,” he said.
Krupicka was not convinced. “I fully understand about storm water ruining your basement,” he said. “I dealt with that issue and have been working with an adjacent property owner for the past year to ensure that it doesn’t happen to me again. However, we can always bring this back if staff finds that the stormwater management plan in the final site plan is not adequate. We need a much greater level of detail in that plan than we need here,” he said.
The site could have accommodated 11 homes. “I think the staff has done an excellent job working with this developer and should be commended,” Smedberg said.
Mayor William D. Euille said, “It is our job to uphold the law. The Planning Commission found that this site plan is in compliance with the open space plan and that there is adequate stormwater management for this step in the process. We cannot decide a matter based on what we would prefer to have on the site. We have to look at what is in front of us and make a decision about that plan,” he said.
Unless some inadequacy comes to light as the process moves forward, there will be eight homes on the site.
COUNCIL ALSO approved the open space plan with some amendments. Most of those had to do with removing words such as acquisition and purchase from the document.
“It should be very clear that these priorities do not in any way commit this Council or future Councils to buying the properties listed,” Pepper said.
The plan was unanimously approved.
Most of the naming committee’s recommendations were unanimously accepted. The Alexandria Black History Resource Center is now the Alexandria Black History Museum. Also, the Planning Department has been instructed to find somewhere on the waterfront to recognize the significant contributions of Colonel John Fitzgerald. Staff has also been instructed to develop a narrative highlighting the contributions of F. Clinton Knight in saving Gadsby’s Tavern. The city will further ask the local American Legion post to rename the ballroom at Gadsby’s Tavern after Knight.
Controversy arose over naming the city’s first skate park after Schuyler Hamilton Jones, the T. C. Williams High School student who was murdered at Market Square last September. The committee found that naming the park after Schuyler did not fit the city guidelines. The guidelines state: “preferred names include: persons, living or deceased, who have made a significant contribution to the city in terms of public service, involvement in civic or cultural activities over an extended period of time, or significant financial investment and whose contribution may be related to the facility being named.”
The committee did not believe that Schuyler’s contributions, while certainly significant and notable, met these naming policy guidelines.
The naming committee consists of Pepper, Woodson and City Manager Philip Sunderland.
“This sends the wrong message,” Woodson said. “We have guidelines for naming facilities to avoid knee-jerk responses to emotional situations. This was a tragedy. But tragedies will occur again, you can count on it. We should be doing something constructive about anger management and naming a curriculum after Schuyler. That would send the kind of message that I believe we want to send,” she said.
While her colleagues agreed that naming an anger management curriculum after Schuyler was a good idea, they chose to also name the skate park after him.
“I understand that we have guidelines for a reason,” Euille said. “However, this is a little different. This skate park came to us through the youth of this community. They proposed the facility and were involved in fundraising for it. Through their efforts and a large contribution from a single business owner, this park became a reality. Schuyler was involved in those efforts.
“Also, I have a letter from the Luckett family stating that they have no objections to naming the skate park for Schuyler. I think this is very appropriate,” he said.
The large directional sign will remain Luckett Field. A smaller sign will say the Schuyler Hamilton Jones Skate Park at Luckett Field. The vote was 6-1, with Woodson voting against it.
COUNCIL ALSO discussed funding for T. C. Williams High School. “The school architects significantly underestimated the cost of this project and the cost of steel has risen,” said deputy city manager Mark Jinks.
The current budget is $80.5 million beginning in FY2004 and continuing through FY2008. “We don’t know exactly what the final amount is going to be because the schools are still in negotiations with contractors,” Jinks said. “However, we do know that it is going to be more than is currently budgeted.” Jinks estimates that the school will cost a minimum of $10 million more and this is before any work has begun.
The new funding plan has to be approved by Council before the schools can issue a contract award. Currently, the plan calls for using the $2.5 million that is in reserve for K-12 programs for this year and in subsequent years, as well as rescheduling other school capital projects. “We believe that this will cover the change in the budget,” Jinks said.
Smedberg expressed some concerns noting, “Are we satisfied that we are getting all of the information that we need to make decisions about this project?”
Jinks answered "yes," adding, "our director of General Services is involved in the selection process for choosing a contractor,” he said. “Based on that involvement, we believe that things will proceed as they should.”
Macdonald asked about the impact to other school projects. “I hope that this will not mean that capital projects at other schools such as Minnie Howard will suffer,” he said. “That concerns me.”
Euille agreed with Macdonald. “I believe that the School Board is going to approve a funding plan at their July 1 meeting,” he said. “That is when we will know about the impact to other school projects. We are monitoring this matter closely,” he said.
Council will return in September.