After years of debate and countless hours of testimony, Virginia Paving finally got want it wanted Tuesday night — the City Council’s approval for nighttime paving. Although the operation’s original 1960 special-use permit restricted operations to daytime hours, the company had been violating the permit.
“For a long time, Alexandria took a reactive approach to enforcing special-use permits,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka. “But we’ve been moving away from that.”
Tuesday night’s vote clears the way for 110 nights of operation at the West End asphalt plant, which is often contractually required to pave at night to reduce traffic congestion. Because the asphalt needs to be freshly cooked before it leaves the plant, Virginia Paving officials praised the City Council’s narrow decision Tuesday night.
“The science has always been clear — the Alexandria branch of the Virginia Paving Company is not a threat to public health and safety,” said Denny Luzier, assistant district manager of Virginia Paving. “Public statements made by air-quality experts, toxicologists, meteorologists, the City Health Department, as well as the Alexandria City Public Schools, support this claim.”
But Cameron Stations residents continue to view the asphalt plant as a health hazard, and about 30 of them sat in the back of the council chamber Tuesday night — loudly cheering as the meeting took on the feel of a football game. They applauded vociferously when Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald offered a motion to deny changes to the permit. They nodded approvingly when Councilwoman Del Pepper offered a motion to limit Virginia Paving to 45 nights of operation. And they thundered approval when Councilman Ludwig Gaines delivered a speech suggesting that the plan would require the city to trust the company’s reporting while simultaneously stymieing the West End planning process.
“Why hasn’t West End development flourished? There is a Metro station right there, but nobody’s coming,” said Gaines, a former member of the Planning Commission. “This doesn’t reflect the good planning that we have become known for.”
But Macdonald, Pepper and Gains found themselves in the minority, with Mayor Bill Euille, Councilman Rob Krupicka, Councilman Paul Smedberg and Councilman Tim Lovain voting in the majority to allow Virginia Paving to make 980,000 tons of asphalt a year and operate 110 nights a year. The plan, offered by Lovain, also includes a sunset provision that allows the City Council to reconsider the permit when Virginia Paving’s lease expires in 2016. As the years of wrangling over the issue drew to a close, Lovain offered an animated defense of his proposal to the disappointed Cameron Station residents who were seated beside the portrait of Robert E. Lee in the back of the room.
“If you are worried about your health, then we need to do something,” said Lovain as he held up a copy of the 78 new conditions that Virginia Paving must now meet. “We would be failing in our duty if we didn’t do this.”
Cameron Station residents began leaving the chamber as the final vote was being taken, criticizing the process leading to the final decision and vowing to keep the issue alive by making sure that the city government enforce the new provisions of the amended permit. Art Impastato, a member of the Cameron Station Civic Association, said that the decision was a blow to many residents who must now live with odors, soot and dust created by the asphalt plant.
“The majority sold out to business,” said Impastato.