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Letter: Metro on Scenic Easement?

To the Editor:

The Potomac North Plan that was adopted on May 10, 2010 talks about possible sites for the Potomac Yard Metro, but it is very vague, saying only that:

“After the initial screening, three of the eight original station location alternatives remained under consideration and could proceed to the environmental analysis phase of the feasibility process: No build, A and the B Alternatives” (page 58 North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan).

Furthermore, the report gives no specific impacts on any of the alternatives, and I have been told repeatedly that the city has not committed itself to any one option. Yet, on June 3, 2010, the city signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the developer, requiring them to contribute only if option B is chosen — in essence, making it the preferred option. So, when developer contributions towards a Metro Station are touted as part of the plan, the City Council is in fact endorsing only Option B.

“The parties acknowledge and agree that the financial structure set forth herein as well as the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan and related rezoning will only work if either location B-2 or B-3 (either in their current location or with minor adjustments due to environmental studies or final engineering) is designated for the Metrorail Station, and that if site "A" is chosen, or if the "no-build" alternative is chosen, CPYR shall have no obligation for financial contributions or undertakings contemplated by this Agreement” (point 8 ).

Now that I bring it up, I am informed that I should have known that B was always the preferred option of the city, which is the one that does most harm to the parkway, both in the short and long term. When I point out that one cannot discern this from the public documents provided at the hearing on May 10, 2010, I am informed that everyone, including the City Council, was told that, because of the Environmental Impact statement (EIS), the report could not be specific. However since all analysis and assumptions in the plan presuppose option B, we should all have known that B is the City Council option. This is an absurd argument.

In the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station Concept Development Study, it is clear that the Metro location for Option B lies in a scenic easement on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Neither the Staff Report nor the Small Area Plan presented at the public hearing in May 2010 reported on that.

The City Council has de-facto committed to putting the Metro Station on a National Park scenic easement. Now that I bring that up, the conversation becomes more explicit telling me that the parkway is not worth saving, I could not disagree more. It is the genesis of what Alexandria is today, because the Historic District was created to protect it.

There is another problem. The “we must be vague” argument is precisely the process that a City Council and city staff would have followed if they wanted to prevent the advocates of the George Washington Memorial Parkway from filling the room in objection to a Metro Station on the scenic easement. Furthermore, the Memorandum of Understanding was not available to the public at the public hearing held on May 10, 2010. So those of us who feel we were deprived of the opportunity to object, how can we be made whole?

After bringing this up, and being told that the City Council has not made up its mind, council promptly entered a discussion with the Chamber of Commerce representatives about the benefits of getting a developer-funded Metro. How this benefit is arranged for (the developer only has to pay, if we put it on the Scenic Easement) is always omitted. As they say, the devil is in the details.

As the exiled duke said in Shakespeare’s As You Like it, “Tis true I have seen better days,” so it is today I feel totally exiled from the city I moved to 25 years ago. I feel deceived by the non-transparency and obfuscation in the adoption of the 2010 plan to put the metro on the scenic easement.

Poul Hertel

Alexandria