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New Study for Park

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force gets embroiled in Affordable Housing.

A resolution calling for all data applicable to the wetlands adjacent to the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge be the most recent available prior to final approval of any development plans for that area was unanimously approved last Thursday night by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force.

Following a discussion pertaining to the Oct. 15 public information session scheduled by the National Park Service, owners of the park, to garner public input on Jones Point Park development plans, Task Force member Theresa Miller introduced a resolution "to help neighborhoods closest to the bridge weigh the impact of the wetlands on nearby neighborhoods."

As part of the motion, Miller said, "The hydrology report given the city was limited in scope and was based on 10-year-old wetland delineation studies that were out of date. It is the intention of the task force that all drainage and wetland information be completely up-to-date."

Age of submitted hydrology information was confirmed by Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Administration. "The present hydrology report is probably seven- to eight-years-old," Baier told task force members.

Audrey Calhoun, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service, said, "We asked that the wetlands be looked at again by the Corps of Engineer to determine what might happen to them based on any nearby development. The hydrology study should be available online prior to the Oct. 15 meeting."

THAT MEETING, to be held at the Radisson Hotel Old Town, 901 Fairfax Street, "Will give people the opportunity to view the various proposed plans and submit their opinions. The comment period will remain open until Nov. 4," Calhoun said.

She emphasized that the event, scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., will not be a public hearing. "We are inviting people to participate in this planning effort. There will be comment forms available for those attending to share their thoughts with us," she said.

"We will take all comments into consideration," Calhoun said.

Park Service decisions are to be presented by "late December or early January," according to Calhoun. Councilman Andrew Macdonald, chairing the meeting as vice-chairman of the Task Force, announced that Calhoun would be retiring at the end of October.

"We applaud the National Park Service and Audrey Calhoun's efforts to update the wetlands and drainage information according to the Corps of Engineer specifications for the delineation of all wetlands at Jones Point Park that will impact nearby neighborhoods," Miller stated in her resolution.

Calhoun urged everyone present to attend the Oct. 15 information session. Attendance at this event was also urged by Roger Blakeley, deputy director, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs Department, during a recent meeting of the Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission pertaining to the proposed All City Sports facility.

"I encourage all sports people to attend the upcoming Park Service meeting on Jones Point Park. Your presence is needed to counterbalance those opposed to sports fields," Blakeley stated at the conclusion of the commission's special meeting Sept. 28 at Mount Vernon Recreation Center.

ANOTHER PRIME CONCERN discussed by Task Force members centered on the Hunting Creek Area Plan and actions by the Virginia Department of Transportation pertaining to the ultimate disposition of Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace. This applied specifically to their potential acquisition by the city for affordable housing.

"The Small Area Plan was to look at the area from a broad set of points. Affordable housing was only one aspect of the overall plan," said Patrick Mann, urban planner, Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning.

As stated in the plan, "Affordable Housing means different things to different people." But, "Hunting Terrace and Hunting Towers provide a valuable resource of affordable housing at rents that cannot be duplicated in new construction projects except through subsidy."

Early on in the Woodrow Wilson Project, VDOT purchased the properties and, in effect, became the landlord of the residents. However, VDOT's stated intention has always been to resell the properties upon completion of the bridge project or even before that time.

The City Council, during its Sept. 27 meeting, adopted two actions that could impact the City's ability to acquire the Hunting Towers/Hunting Terrace sites for affordable housing. One was an ordinance "authorizing and empowering the issuance, sale and delivery of general obligation bonds to finance various capital projects including affordable housing."

The second was "Consideration of a resolution to articulate the city's policy on its use of the power of eminent domain." Although this power would not be applicable to VDOT as a state agency, it could come into play if and when the properties were acquired by a private developer.

Mann pointed out that VDOT has received an offer on the purchase of Hunting Terrace as of Sept. 1. "They (potential purchaser) have until March 1, 2006, to finalize that offer. If they don't move on that offer, VDOT can open it up to bids," Mann said.

WHEN TASK FORCE members were told that VDOT and Kay Management had agreed on a sale price for Hunting Terrace, they wanted to know why residents had not been made aware of that information.

Alex Lee, VDOT WWB Project manager, responded: "Because it's not under contract at this time." Lee also pointed out the Towers and Terrace are being treated as "two separate parcels" by VDOT.

"There are things City Council can do to help the residents of Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace in their struggle with VDOT," said Ardith Dentzer, Hunting Towers resident and Task Force member.

She explained how VDOT representatives have removed and not allowed her to circulate flyers to residents explaining the potential sale and demolition of both sites by the former owner.

When asked to explain VDOT's actions on this matter, Lee said, "There are bulletin boards available for this type of thing. We can't have flyers being circulated throughout the community." This was met with a promise from Macdonald to Dentzer stating, "We will make sure the flyers are circulated."

Dentzer explained the flyers were to tell people "what was going on. However, I was told by management that they were told by VDOT to take down all the flyers when they saw them," she said.

In a memorandum circulated just hours prior to the Task Force meeting, Dentzer accused VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration of "putting intense pressure on Alexandria's Mayor William D. Euille, and the Alexandria City Council, to allow the former owner to raze the apartment complex, and redevelop the complex ... in exchange for either a cash or unit contribution of affordable housing somewhere in Alexandria."

She accused all members of City Council, except Macdonald and Joyce Woodson, of siding with "Giuseppe Cecchi of IDI, a condo developer in Arlington" in his efforts to partner with "Mr. Jack Kay of Kay Management ... to redevelop the site."

As noted by Yvonne Weight, another Task Force member, "This Task Force can't do anything about affordable housing."