Once again citizens of the West End and officials of Virginia Paving Company went back and forth Monday night during a community meeting over what is the primary issue or issues impacting surrounding neighborhoods of the asphalt plant located at 5601 Courtney Ave. At the conclusion of the two-hour session at Tucker Elementary School it was status quo.
"The issue is night paving," stated Michael Cote, vice president, Mechanical, Lane Construction Corporation, owners of Virginia Paving, at the beginning of his PowerPoint presentation to highlight all the things the company has done since it first applied for renewal and modification of its Special Use Permit issued in 1960. Then he went on to elaborate and answer a variety of issues raised by community representatives.
"The issue is not just night paving," said Mindy Lyle, president, Cameron Station Civic Association, when she came to the microphone to give her association's appraisal of the situation to the 30-plus citizens assembled in the school cafeteria. "Although some issues have been resolved, many more remain," she said.
Prior to her assessment the group had heard from representatives of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, Brookville-Seminary Valley Civic Association, and Holmes Run Park Committee. Each, including Lyle, stated their group had not taken formal action on Virginia Paving's permit application to the Alexandria Planning Commission.
Although the application appeared on the September docket it was deferred at the request of Virginia Paving to allow time for more citizen input. "We requested postponement at great expense. We have nothing to hide. We are just a business trying to provide a service," Cote said.
"Experts have concluded there are no adverse health effects from the operation of this plant. In fact, we are well on our way to creating a state-of-the-art facility here in Alexandria in the production of asphalt," he said.
Cote also challenged some of the primary arguments put forth by opponents such as "only 20 percent of the product is consumed in Alexandria" and "they create an excessive amount of truck traffic in the West End."
He countered with, "The argument that only 20 percent of our product is consumed in Alexandria could be applied to many businesses." As for truck traffic, Cote said, "We generate a very small portion of the truck traffic in Alexandria."
IN ORDER TO MAKE their application more acceptable, Virginia Paving has agreed to having more than 70 conditions attached to their SUP. They apply to everything from air and water quality and controls to enforcement, landscaping, site maintenance and hours of operation.
"We have the responsibility to enforce all conditions of the SUP. As a result of this case we now have a policy that we look at all SUP's in the city on a three year cycle," said Richard Josephson, deputy director, Planning & Zoning Department.
"What we are talking about in this case is inspections every six months for the first two years after a new SUP is issued and annually after that. In addition there will be targeted inspections on certain conditions," he said. "We are also requesting that there be regularly scheduled meetings between Virginia Paving and the community every six months to discuss any difficulties."
Asking rhetorically, "What is the best long-term use of this property?" Josephson said, "We don't have that answer right now. We will be looking at this in 2007 as part of the West Eisenhower Small Area Plan."
Discussing air and water quality concerns raised by Lyle and others, William Skrabak, chief, Environmental Quality Division, Transportation & Environment Services Department, assured the audience once again that, "All monitors of Virginia Paving show that it is well below pollution standards." Sixty of the conditions in the SUP application apply to those factors.
"We reviewed the baseline emissions using the same consultants that analyzed the Mirant situation. We also looked at plants in other urban areas and restrictions placed upon them. The city's conditions go well beyond what the state requires," Skrabak said.
As noted by Michael Hobbs in presenting the Federation's testimony along with James Butler, "There are several important public policy issues raised here:
1. Will this plant fit into the expansion of the West End?
2. For what purposes should the city permit intensification of industrial use?
3. How Should the city protect residents?"
Lyle pointed out in her testimony, "The city has made a policy commitment to redevelop the West End. But, we don't believe the city has adequate staff to enforce ongoing SUP violations."
In kicking off the session, Christopher Spera, assistant city attorney, who has overseen this dispute in the City Attorney's office since its inception, stated, "This plant has been in operation for decades. Since there were few residences in this end of town when it commenced there was little need for strict SUP enforcement when it was issued in 1960."
He also pointed out that "complaints have been mostly about smoke and odor. This applicant wants to be a better neighbor and has been through a 17-month process."
The new SUP application is requesting an extension in hours of operations plus other changes. Road paving with asphalt in urban areas has become more of a night operation due to ever increasing traffic congestion. Due to the nature of the product there is a limited window for laying the asphalt after it is loaded onto trucks.
As noted in every public session on this subject the primary concerns voiced by citizens are noise, odor and air pollution. The later has been minimized by experts hired by all parties. It is expected the SUP will again appear on the Planning Commission's October docket.