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Business Matters

Potomac Yard Debt

City leaders may be taking on more debt than Alexandria can handle. That’s the conclusion of the Budget and Fiscal Advisory Commission, which presented its annual report Tuesday night.

Since the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, the city has exceeded its own debt policy targets but not its limits. In the next 10 years, however, the city’s effort to build a Metro station at Potomac Yard will put Alexandria in a position to exceed its own limits. From 2014 to 2020, the city is projected to exceed its own debt limits.

“The city’s current debt policy targets and limits should not be raised,” the commission recommends. “We recommend against additional borrowing for any other projects that would cause the city’s debt to be further in excess of debt policy limits.”

That’s a long list. While the debt policy calculations include the burden of constructing a new Metro station, the projections don’t include other high-profile projects that could involve significant amounts of borrowing. That includes the waterfront plan, the Beauregard small-area plan, the full 10-year request from the school system, the Landmark/Van Dorn plan and the transportation master plan.

“We caution that additional borrowing to implement these additional projects would significantly deteriorate the city’s performance relative to its debt policy guidelines and adversely impact our AAA/Aaa bond rating,” the report concludes.

Artistry of Development

City Council members are considering a plan that would formally charge developers for public art. The idea is nothing new, and developers have been contributing public art for years. But the effort has been hit-or-miss, with some projects including public art while others do not.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of adding public art to projects that didn’t have them,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka. “But it has been a little haphazard.”

Here’s the plan — when developers submit permit applications, city officials will hit them up for 50 cents for each square foot of gross floor area. If the project is larger than 600,000 square feet, the contribution “will be negotiated,” according to the proposal now under consideration.

“The proposed policy attempts to balance the needs of the various stakeholders with the city’s goals for public art,” wrote City Manager Rashad Young in his recommendation for the policy.

Alexandria has a 40 distinct pieces of public art, a list that includes everything from an 1889 sculpture known as Appomattox by John Adams Elder and Casper Buberl to a postmodern take on the Washington monument known as “Sacandaga Totem” by artist John Van Alstine. Many items listed as public art come as contributions from businesses and developers. That includes colorful mosaics at Whole Foods on Duke Street, a 2008 statue by Alexi Alexiev of “The Pharmacist” on Daingerfield Road and the controversial “Three Eggs in Space” by artist Karen Bailey at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue. City leaders expect the proposal to be thoroughly debated in the coming days.

“After much debate with the development community, no consensus appeared, even as the proposed contribution rate was lowered,” Young said.

No Bonus

Attention developers: Hands off Hunting Towers.

That’s the message of a resolution under consideration by members of the Alexandria City Council. The idea is to reaffirm the current zoning at the mid-rise apartment buildings originally constructed in 1950, meaning that council members will not entertain any proposals that increase density or raise the height limits at the site. The building is currently owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which purchased the building as part of the effort to construct the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Now construction has been completed, the buildings are slated to be sold later this year. Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks says determining a real-market price could be difficult.

“The last time VDOT considered selling, it ended up in Circuit Court,” said Jinks. “They were so far apart on the price they couldn’t agree.”