Here’s a dilemma that will soon be facing the next City Council: Where to place the new Metro station at Potomac Yard.
If council members choose Alternative B, construction of the station will take place in a scenic easement. If they don’t choose Alternative B, the project will lose $49 million. That’s because city officials entered into a memorandum of understanding in 2010 that the developers would only kick in money if Alternative B is selected. The owner of North Potomac Yard, CPYR, saw little economic value in paying for Alternative A, which is a longer walk from the property.
Back in 2010, the rezoning process identified Alternative B as the desired site. City officials say this helps define the purpose and need for the station, which would serve as a starting point of an environmental impact statement. That process is currently underway, and members of the new City Council will be making a final recommendation after its concluded this spring. City officials say they are looking at a number of mitigating factors, including funding, scenic easement, wetland degradation and noise.
“It’s premature to say there’s financial motivation, or wetlands motivation or constructability motivation,” said Rich Baier, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “Right now, we’re collecting data, and we are going to let the process play out.”
Does that mean that Alternative B is a done deal? Certainly not, say city leaders.
“That fact that the developer won’t pay for Alternative B does not mean that Alternative A is not possible,” said Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks. “Alternative A is cheaper, even without the developer contribution.”
Alternative A is expected to cost $195 million, while Alternative B has a price tag of $250 million. That means that Alternative B will be more expensive, even with the developer money. Alternative C, which is similar to the stations currently under construction in Tysons Corner would cost $462 million.
Hundreds of residents in Hunting Towers are worried about the future. Will they be evicted after the Virginia Department of Transportation sells the two high-rise buildings to a developer? Or will the city find a way to preserve affordable housing?
That’s an open question, one that has yet to be answered.
A few weeks ago, residents of Hunting Towers received word that VDOT had identified a potential buyer and that the apartments would be inspected as part of a due-diligence process. That opened a new line of worry at the towers, which are some of the last market-rate affordable housing units in the city. Ever since VDOT purchased the buildings in 2002 as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction project, people knew that a sale was imminent. Hunting Towers resident Maurice Barboza says he would like to see city officials pursue a process that would let the state agency sell the property at a price that’s below real market value, with the agreement that the purchaser would preserve affordable housing.
“That would be an uphill battle, certainly,” said Barboza. “It would seem to me that it would be in the interest of the city to take every possible precaution and every possible avenue to preserve the property.”
Mayor Bill Euille says the city government approached VDOT about that, and senior officials rebuffed the idea. Now that the property is for sale, Euille says, state officials aren’t sharing much with City Hall.
“VDOT won’t talk to us. They won’t even tell us who the interested party is,” said Euille. “We can’t do anything because it’s private property. It’s not like we can go in with eminent domain and take it.”
This week, members of the Alexandria Planning Commission will consider a plan for the new Jefferson-Houston Elementary School. But neighborhood resident Bea Porter is not happy. She does not like how the plan moves the basketball court behind the Durant Center, which could obscure it from view.
“It’s not safe,” said Porter. “If you can’t see it from the street, you never know what kind of stuff will happen there.”