Potomac Yard Plan Still Evolving

Potomac Yard Plan Still Evolving

During a Planning Commission work session Tuesday night on the future development of Potomac Yard, commissioners were told that plans for a future Metro rail stop were "inconceivable." Captain Avan Wojtanowski, a marine construction consultant, also warned that increasing runoff from construction was not only having adverse effects on the water quality in the Potomac River but was raising the danger of flooding. "When I grew up here a heavy rain had little or no effect on the river level. It had to be a tidal surge or a hurricane," he said.

"Now a heavy rain storm, like Monday night, will raise the river level," he said. He strongly urged the commission to take into consideration ways of changing and reducing that impact when approving developments like Potomac Yard.

Wojtanowski joined other speakers before the commission in continuing to explore development of a Metro rail station within the development. Katy Canady, a civic activist, said, "If we start on a Route 1 widening project there will be a lot of backlash."

Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., said, "We are in some ways rewriting the original plan. I think we ought to go back and revisit that plan. And, a Metro stop would come under that philosophy. We've got to get our act together and decide what we want to do."

ADDRESSING THE INCLUSION of a Metro station in the plan, Attorney Catherine Puskar, speaking for Potomac Yard developers, Pulte Centrex, said, "We have an area set aside for Metro but we don't feel that will happen anytime soon. We don't have a dog in that fight."

Billed as a work session to review the proposed building design and plot plan for Land Bay H of the project, the area adjacent to and north of the proposed Swann Avenue extension, the meeting was to center on architectural elements and overall layout for Land Bay H. However, it became a review of what the overall development should become.

"I had hoped we would have had the entire plan to review tonight but we don't," said Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Zoning Department. "But, this input will be a good segue to the summer when we can analyze all the various aspects."

Architect for this element of the Potomac Yard development project, John Rust, presented a detailed synopsis of building character proposals and how various plot designs were envisioned. This included open space, the development of Main Street, Route 1, and residential neighborhoods.

Kicking off his presentation, Rust said, "Potomac Yard is not Old Town. It is more like Del Ray from 1890 forward. The plan is pedestrian-oriented and is almost a reverse of Old Town. The open space quality is designed to be more public rather than behind private walls."

One speaker appealed for a more modern design to the buildings rather than the colonial design associated with Old Town. Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner said, "We have been focused on recreating the past and have avoided modern design considerations."

He also criticized the plan as having "a very suburban feel to it. It is almost the opposite of the guidelines. We have lost both a north/south and an east/west street. And we seem to have abandoned a street grid for allies."

He also raised the question of affordable housing being included in the housing plans. He suggested that units could be designed to look like individual townhouses but actually contain multiple apartments.

COMMISSIONER RICHARD LEIBACH asked for the number of planned housing units versus the number of affordable units. "The total number of units is 1,673. But, we do not have planned any specific number of affordable units. We will do affordable units depending on what's in flux in Richmond at the time of construction," Puskar said.

Her reference to Richmond had to do with the recent General Assembly edict relative to municipalities requiring developers to proffer affordable housing units or make contributions to Affordable Housing Trust funds. The legality of those requirements is unclear at the present time.

Commission vice chairman John Komoroske, also found Rust's overall design to be "very suburban. It's like a Loudoun in Alexandria. If there is any way to get Metro here it would definitely energize the plan," he said.

Commissioner Jesse Jenning said, "As we move forward with the architecture we should also be moving forward with the infrastructure and the transit proposals as well." He was buttressed by Leibach who added, "I'm more and more convinced, before we move forward we have to solve the transportation plan."

Wagner, building on Fogarty's comment that the summer will afford time for analysis, urged staff to capture all the public comments offered during the work sessions into a document. "This will serve as a guide to make sure we are addressing everything that's been raised," he said.