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Planning for 28-Acre Park

"Linear park" to buffer Potomac Yard from its original users.

What was once one of the East Coast's largest rail switching yards is destined to become a mixed use development on Alexandria's northern fringe known as Potomac Yard.

One element of that metamorphosis will be a 28-acre park that will stretch along its eastern boundary.

Last Thursday night, in the cafeteria of Mount Vernon Community School on Commonwealth Avenue, the public got its first view of what that park may look like during a joint public kick-off meeting of Alexandria's Park and Recreation Commission and the Potomac Yard Design Advisory Committee.

Prior to a brief review of the planning elements impacting the park's design, a history of the site with its massive rail yards and the Alexandria Canal was presented by Alexandria Archeology, Office of Historic Alexandria. This historical overview seemed to echo one of the main concerns expressed in various meetings concerning Potomac Yard — the need for mass transportation and accessibility.

"This park will be developed for both active and passive recreation. It is a long winding park that varies from 90 feet to 200 feet in what is known as Landbay K which helps to connect Potomac Yard with the rest of the community," said Aimee Vosper, landscape architect supervisor, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs.

It will form an open space link from Braddock Road to Four Mile Run, according to the formal presentation. Some of the anticipated uses include: a 10-foot-wide bicycle trail; tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; multi-purpose team sports fields; a multipurpose lawn area; and playgrounds designed for various age groups.

OVERALL, Potomac Yard development calls for 1,927 residential units, 1.9 million square feet of office space, 120,000 square feet of retail space, and a 625-room hotel. Included within that development will be several "pocket parks" and streetscape designs.

One of the major concerns voiced by several speakers was planning for pedestrian traffic across Route 1. "We need to study how we are going to get citizens from one side of Route 1 to the other, safely," Vosper said.

Larry Grossman, one of the public speakers, raised the point that, "Potomac Yard at one time extended into the Crystal City area of Arlington. In terms of open space we need to show how this park connects with Arlington rather than cut it off at Four Mile Run."

Judy Guse-Noritake, chair, Park and Recreation Commission, said, "There is a joint task force working with Arlington. Their Four Mile Run design is underway."

Poul Hertel, a member of the Northeast Citizens Association, said, "Let's not forget that the railroad park is seriously controversial. The majority of open space with Potomac Yard is on Potomac Green."

He also said, "When this came up at the Northeast Citizens Association we endorsed it. But, that was more to enhance the old canal." He also urged the panel not to repeat mistakes made in the past.

Another speaker asked about the location of a pedestrian bridge over the CSX tracks. Vosper assured the audience "there will be a bridge."

She was buttressed in that statement by attorney Duncan Blair, representing Potomac Yard developers Pulte/Centrex Homes. "We are working closely with staff as to where a pedestrian bridge will be located. It is required," Blair said.

PRESENTLY THE PARK is located between the main thoroughfare within the Potomac Yard development known as Potomac Avenue and the existing rail lines. The development lies between it and Route 1.

Other points raised by various speakers included:

* Who will be responsible for the replacement of utilities?

* How will additional open space, created as a result of straightening the Monroe Street bridge, be utilized?

* The installation of historic markers telling the history of the area

Emphasizing that this public hearing was only the initial session pertaining to Potomac Yard park's development, participants were urged to attend the next meeting scheduled for June 15, at Mount Vernon Community School. The speaker will be Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, described by the panel as an "internationally recognized" park designer.