Council Notebook

Council Notebook

It Ain't Easy Being Green

There's an old saying that folks can never be too rich or too thin. But Alexandria public officials can never be too green.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, council members heard a presentation about the city's efforts to promote "green building technology" — efforts to minimize damage to the environment and maximize sustainability and recycling. The presentation included a checklist of green features for potential developers: bicycle parking, access to public transportation, open-space restoration, water-use reduction and use of native plants and collection of recycled materials. Items on the checklist can be tracked, so the city government can keep records of green technology in the city.

"The checklist, which includes both site planning and building features, will be used as part of the final site plan review of approved development applications," wrote City Manager Jim Hartmann in a memorandum to City Council members. "Working with developers at the time of site plan application and with the proposed new checklist at the time o final site plan submission, staff will be able to assess the impact of its use as part of the development process."

Recent examples of green public buildings include the new T.C. Williams High School, the Duncan Library addition and the Health Department on King Street. The new high school will include a cistern that will collect rainwater for reuse and its construction will include recycled materials. The library addition has a roof that is designed to minimize storm water runoff. And the Health Department has low-emission paints and high-efficiency mechanical systems.

"It's now become commonplace to incorporate these practices," said Planning and Zoning Director Eileen Fogarty, adding that many potential condominium buyers will hold out to buy a property that incorporates green technology. "This is actually a marketing technique."


A Penny for Your Thoughts

The dwindling supply of affordable housing continues to confound City Council members. At Tuesday's meeting, they argued about how to use the city's new stockpile of money from the dedicated source of funding approved earlier this year.

In May, the council voted to dedicate part of the money collected from real property taxes to go toward affordable housing. The 1-cent dedication is expected to generate an estimated $2.8 million in fiscal year 2006, which will augment the $11 million in funds previously allocated toward affordable housing programs in the city budget.

The problem is this: What to do with the money? Council members argued about whether the money should be used for operating costs associated with acquiring or rehabilitating affordable housing.

Councilmen Rob Krupicka and Paul Smedberg said they were uncomfortable with using the money for operating costs.

"My concern is that this thing could slowly grow over time to be an operating fund," Krupicka said.

Smedberg agreed: "We could deplete this fund."

Council put off making a decision on the matter until its next meeting. Meanwhile, plans have been put in place for the city to purchase Gunston Hall, a potential that is perceived as a victory for affordable housing advocates. At the Sept. 27 meeting, council members voted to authorize a $15 million bond for affordable housing.

According to a memorandum by City Manager Jim Hartmann, "the potential purchase and redevelopment of Gunston Hall as an affordable housing project by the non-profit Alexandria Housing Development Corporation would likely require significant city financial participation." Hartmann goes on to say that the "initial hurdle" is the $12 million purchase price of the building.

"It looks like something where the numbers could be made to work," said Assistant City Manager Mark Jinks.


Nobody Called the School Board?

School Board members are irked at not being consulted in the ongoing process of designing the new $12 million All City Sports Facility on Eisenhower Avenue. One of the goals of the facility is to allow the T.C. Williams High School football team to be able to play night football games, and board members are upset about not being more involved in the planning stages of the facility.

"I was surprised to learn that they were so far along in this process," said School Board member Melissa Luby after attending a Youth Policy Commission meeting where the Parks and Recreation Department made a presentation about the facility. "I think the question needs to be put to the T.C. students and faculty: Do they want to play all their games away forever, I mean, is it worth it?"

Vice Chairwoman Sally Ann Baynard said supporters of the facility have had a "bizarre resistance" to dealing with School Board members.

"It is natural that you would not only speak to the School Board but also deal with coaches, the athletic director, the assistant athletic director for facilities, students, the music department for band and so forth," Baynard said. "This has simply not happened, and it's ludicrous. I'll be blunt — I really think it's due to a sort of personality issue."

Claire Eberwein, a former School Board member who is a founding member of Alexandrians for an All City Sports Facility, says that the facility would be needed even if the school system was not involved.

"While we certainly welcome the schools, and are excited about the participation of the schools, we would pursue this even if the schools weren't involved," Eberwein said. "With an artificially turfed field and lighting, we can extend both the time of day that the sports are played as well as the length of the season. We have a field crisis in this city, and this project was undertaken to benefit all of the children in this city as well as adults."