Hearing To Focus On Open Space

Hearing To Focus On Open Space

The City Council will hold a public hearing on open space priorities.

Residents will be able to voice their views on open space at an Oct. 16 public hearing.

The City Council set open space priorities in June, identifying 10 properties as “important to retain as open space.” Now the council must place the properties into three categories: immediate priority, priority and other important sites.

Three of the properties on the original list are no longer on the list because preservations have been taken. Council has approved, and allocated $750,000 for, the acquisition of approximately five acres of the Seminary Forest site. Also, about one acre of the Lloyd’s Lane and Russell Road site has been preserved as open space as part of a development that was approved by council in September. Finally, about 20 percent of the Second Presbyterian property, or 1.2 acres, is being dedicated as public open space.

There are two properties on the list which need immediate attention, according to staff and members of the Open Space Steering Committee.

“We believe that we must take some action to preserve open space on the waterfront immediately,” said Kirk Kincannon, the director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. “We have very little undeveloped space on the waterfront and we must move quickly to preserve what is there.”

There are seven parcels of land on the waterfront that the committee is recommending be purchased and preserved as public open space. They are: 200, 204, 208 and 210 Strand Street; 0 Prince Street and 1 and 2 King Street. The total amount of property included in these parcels is 2.112 acres.

“The highest priority for purchase is the Old Dominion Boat Club and its parking lot at 1 and 2 King Street,” Kincannon said. “This is due to its location relative to the river, its location at the foot of King Street and its relationship with and adjacency to Waterfront Park.”

STAFF RECOMMENDED that council direct them to begin discussions with the Boat Club and, based on these discussions, present a recommendation at a later date. As to the remaining waterfront property, staff needs to begin the process for acquiring them, either through voluntary sales agreements or condemnation. The total cost for acquiring all of the waterfront properties is $10 to $15 million plus site development costs and ongoing maintenance.

“We have been talking about a plan for the waterfront for some time,” said vice mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “I hope that this is being done in conjunction with that planning.”

That process should begin some time next year. “Once we have completed the King Street retail study and the Mt. Vernon Small Area Plan, we are going to turn our attention to planning for the waterfront,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of the Planning Department.

The other property that is on the “needs immediate attention” list is a strip of property behind Hunting Towers at 1204-1206 S. Washington Street, which can be used as an alignment for the Mt. Vernon Trail. This easement for the future trail alignment would provide a waterfront connection for the existing Mt. Vernon Trail, which is designated as part of the Potomac Heritage National Trail System.

“We are talking to VDOT, which owns the property, about obtaining this easement before they sell the Hunting Point properties,” said Richard Baier, the director of Transportation and Environmental Services. “They are agreeable and we should conclude these discussions by the end of the year.”

There is no cost for the easement itself but it will require $10,000 a year to maintain it and $250,000 to $500,000 to construct the desired trail and provide, at another location, new wetlands to offset those removed by the trail construction.

FUNDING FOR the immediate open space priorities will come from general obligation bonds. “We will use some money that is already in the open space trust fund and money from bonds to pay for these immediate open space needs,” said Mayor William D. Euille.

Other properties on the priority list fall into either the mid-term or long-term category. These sites represent properties where open space should be preserved but which are not at immediate risk of being lost. Staff recommended that the council begin devising a plan for preserving this open space by working with current property owners.

Alexandrians will have an opportunity to comment on these priorities and the proposed action plan on Oct. 16. Anyone who wishes to speak can call the council clerk at 703-838-4500 or put their names on the list of speakers the day of the hearing.