A Win for Historic Preservation

A Win for Historic Preservation

Route 1 transit corridor receives lukewarm approval.

Alexandria’s primary claim to fame just got a little stronger and more visible thanks to action by the City Planning Commission Tuesday night. And, there was not a dissenting voice among the sparse audience present.

By a unanimous vote of six to zero, the Old and Historic District was expanded to include 26 properties on upper King, South Peyton and DeChantal streets. The recommendation will now go to City Council for final approval.

“This is just the first step in expanding the boundaries of the Old and Historic District,” Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Zoning Department, told the Commissioners.

“City Council wanted this done quickly and the King Street Strategy recognized buildings in this area that should be preserved,” she said. The Old and Historic District boundaries are expected to expand to the King Street Metro Station eventually, according to Fogarty.

In late 2005 the 1500 block of King Street became the center of controversy when demolition took out several buildings preservationists fought to protect. This led to two law suits, one against City Council, in an attempt to prevent the demolition.

“This is a success story that we are finally getting this. There are many people to be thanked for working so hard to make this happen,” said Boyd Walker, the primary plaintiff in the suit against Council and a leader of the King Street preservation group.

“We warmly endorse this enlargement of the Old and Historic District as a significant first step. We urge the City to look at this only as a start of the process. This should continue and the public should be brought into the process at every step,” said Michael Hobbs, president, Old Town Civic Association.

On upper King Street, the proposed extension includes 10 buildings, a parking lot, and five vacant parcels. It stretches from 1500 King St. to 1614 King St. The King Street Strategy recommends that the buildings at 1520, 1522, 1524 and 1604 through 1614 King Street be retained.

The last, 1614, was severely damaged by fire last year. However, its facade is scheduled to be maintained, according to Fogarty.

As a result of the Commission vote, and based on Council’s final approval, the City’s Master Plan will be amended adopting new boundaries for the Old and Historic District. The City’s zoning map will also be amended to “reflect the new boundaries.”

“The primary consideration for proposing an expansion of the OHAD in this area is the desire to protect and preserve historic structures,” according to the staff report. Most of the properties under consideration are occupied by commercial, retail, and office uses. These uses will not be impacted by this expansion, according to staff.

Future plans are also considering expanding the Parker Gray Historic District. Additional recommendation for both historic areas are anticipated for this Fall, according to Fogarty.

IN A SECOND PROPOSED AMENDMENT to the City’s Master Plan the reaction was quite different. Although it also passed unanimously, the vote was, as described by Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., “with great trepidation.”

It dealt with an amendment to the transportation chapter of the Master Plan and proposed “to designate Route 1, Jefferson Davis Highway, as the route for transit.” It was a backed by the combined departments of Transportation & Environment Services and Planing & Zoning.

Simply stated, the application proposed that “if dedicated transit lanes are to be provided, the lanes should be provided on Route 1, connecting Potomac Avenue in the vicinity of the Town Center, as proposed in the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Corridor Transit Alternative Analysis.”

“This amendment came forward in December as a result of public meetings on the Monroe Avenue Bridge. This project has been underway since 2000,” Culpepper said.

One of the primary reasons for considering BRT is that “it is considerably less expensive than light rail,” according to Culpepper. However, Commission Vice Chairman John Komoroske, pointed out that “often the cheapest solution is not always the best in the long run.” As an example he cited the revitalization of the Balston area when Metro was placed underground.

Speaking in opposition to designating Route 1 as the transit route, Katy Cannady said, “I believe that the best BRT route for the Route 1 area would be on Potomac Yard itself. That’s where the dense population will be . The planned number of units per acre is significantly higher there than on the western side of Route 1.”

She was joined by several others who opposed the Route 1 proposal. “The developer (of Potomac Yard) is not designing for running this through the Yard. I would recommend non approval as this is presently written,” said David Fromm.

“I have great difficulty about where this is being planned,” said Amy Slack. Canady added, “The best long range plan is not to clog up Route 1.” This was buttressed by Boyd Walker, who added, “The Route 1 corridor is not the place to put this.”

In a memo to City Council and the Planning Commission, Sarah Haut, a Nelson Avenue resident, gave four reasons for her opposition designating Route 1 as the transit corridor.

“Adding two additional lanes to Route 1 will severely impact traffic that is already heavy; The need for public transportation is greater in Potomac Yard than in Del Ray and neighborhoods west of Route 1; Transportation between Braddock Road and Crystal City exists already; and Widening the East side of Route 1 will eliminate more green space,” she wrote.

The staff report recommending adoption of the amendment stated, “While location of the transit lanes in the Route 1 corridor was not the unanimous view of the workshop attendees, the overwhelming majority did indicate that they felt that transit should be provided on Route 1.”

Other points of contention were the configuration of the transit lanes and the ultimate style of transit to be utilized. In calling for a vote, Commission Chairman Eric Wagner pointed out that “this motion does require that the matter come back to the Planning Commission before any final action.”