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Planning Approves Projects

Potomac Yard clears another hurdle as the framework of streets is approved.

After months of back and forth debate with the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, the development site plan for 900 North Washington St., characterized as "an important part of Alexandria's northern gateway," gained unanimous approval by Alexandria Planning Commission at its initial hearing before that body.

"This is a very important site subject to the Washington Street Standards. We [Department of Planning and Zoning] believe the proposal meets those standards," said Eileen Fogarty, director, P&Z Department.

That conclusion was also reached by the Old Town Civic Association and Northeast Citizens Association as well as the National Park Service. The latter weighs in on any development on Washington Street due to the fact that the thoroughfare is a portion of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Representatives of each group spoke in favor of the project.

The only reservation was expressed by Park Ranger Shawn McCabe, NPS. "We are very supportive of the project except for the massing of buildings on Washington Street," he said. The final design details will require a certificate of appropriateness from BAR.

In making the motion for approval, Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr., buttressed Fogarty's assessment of the importance of the project to Alexandria's historical image and further expressed support for the way it had been handled by BAR and the department. "It has come to us in the proper manner," he said.

The triangular shaped site is adjacent to the larger scale American Academy of Physician's Assistants headquarters building to the east and smaller scale residential townhomes in the surrounding area. What makes the site configuration unusual is that "all building facades face a street — there are no back, or secondary facades within the project," according to the staff analysis.

Bounded by Columbus, Montgomery and Powhatan streets, the 1.04 acre pie shaped site area contains 45,735 square feet. The developer, Lawrence N. Brandt, Inc., proposes to construct 57 condominium units in three multi-family buildings plus one building containing three townhouses. Residents will be served by a single level underground garage accessed from Powhatan Street.

Since its original introduction at BAR on March 1, there have been numerous meetings with area residents and civic associations as well as two additional public hearings before BAR, May 3 and July 19. At the latter it was decided to recommend the project go to Planning Commission for site plan evaluation and recommendation.

At that hearing BAR Chairman Thomas Hulfish III, in releasing the project to the Planning Commission, said, "We understand everybody's remarks here this evening. We also understand what this applicant has been through. The applicant wanted a horse and we offered them a camel. I don't think deferring this one more time will accomplish anything. It's time for this to move forward."

Consisting of two parcels, the property's history dates back to the early years of Alexandria when Powhatan Street was the Alexandria and Washington Turnpike prior to the opening of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in 1932. Having gone through a series of uses, its latest was the site of a 7-Eleven store and small commercial building.

A SECOND LONG DEBATED item to gain unanimous approval by the Commission last Thursday night was a request for the subdivision of residential streets and public right-of-way within the future Potomac Yard development. Potomac Yard Development, LLC, requested subdivision of the main body of the site to establish the framework for streets and an additional access to Route 1, Jefferson Davis Highway.

Rather than constructing streets as the project grows, Potomac Yard Development plans to construct all of the framework streets prior to commencement of the development, according to staff. This is a similar to that used in other large scale projects such as Carlyle and Cameron Station, staff pointed out in their report.

This enables the City "to coordinate the street and utility improvements comprehensively" while facilitating "safe access to the area for both residents and construction vehicles" as the site is being developed, according to staff. While Potomac Yard is one lot, it has been divided into a series of plots called "Landbays" which will accommodate various uses.

During public discussion, Roland Meisner, a Scarburgh Way resident, raised the need for the inclusion of a pedestrian bridge in the overall planning "to connect Old Town Greens/Potomac Greens with the rest of Potomac Yard that is west of the CSX tracks." He maintained that such a bridge was to be included in the planning for Landbay D according to Fogarty.

"Ms. Fogarty told me last winter that a plan for Landbay D, including possible park land and a pedestrian bridge, would be presented to the PC this fall, but as of date, the Planning Department and Potomac Yard Development, LLC have no plans, apparently, for Landbay D," Meisner stated in a letter to Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner prior to the meeting.

"The pedestrian bridge is every bit as necessary as the streets being planned for," Meisner said at the meeting. "I have not heard any discussion about Landbay D."

That is also the Landbay where an area has been set aside for a potential Metro Station. However, it is doubtful that will ever come into being, according to a variety of planning and transportation sources.

IN OTHER ACTIONS the Commission:

* Approved a Special Use Permit to install a playground at Ben Brenman Park. As noted during public testimony, when Cameron Station was originally built it was primarily designed as an adult community of yardless townhouses. Today there are "an estimated 500 to 700 children" living in Cameron Station, according speakers in favor of the tot lot proposal sought by the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities. The 2,450 square feet area will provide ADA accessibility, a fenced perimeter, and rubberized pervious safety surface to serve children under age six.

* Approved an SUP for the establishment of an Adult Day Health Care Center within Beth El Hebrew Congregation synagogue at 3830 Seminary Road. The program will provide recreational therapy, educational programs, social services, and nursing care, according to the application. Intended to operate 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, the number of clients at opening is estimated as 20 with a potential growth to 150. It will operate as the Otrada Adult Day Health Care Center, Inc., according applicant Victoria Vinokur. As stated in the application, "The program is geared toward Eastern European clients, but is open to anyone."