Letter: Rationale of ‘Preferred Site?’

Letter: Rationale of ‘Preferred Site?’

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The City of Alexandria is going to choose its newest "potential income generator," the Potomac Yard Metro Station. Just two choices merit consideration if the city chooses to continue with the Metro Station proposal. The “preferred site” lies on a scenic easement and government parkland (both of which were created to secure the picturesque perspective shed of the George Washington Memorial Parkway), while the alternate is situated on the site that was initially proposed for it more than 20 years back. However, there are three main issues with the “preferred site,” since it is more distant than people think, more costly, and more destructive than the alternate.

Despite the fact that the Metro Station viability study makes an impassioned plea to put the station on the scenic easement and federal government parkland, the proposed stations are separated by less than 900 feet when measured from the center of one station to the other, which is about the separation of three city blocks in Old Town. Additionally, the city made an actual scale model to show how the stations would look. However, you cannot put the two stations in the model at the same time, because they literally overlap. This is an interesting observation, since the study asserts that one site (the more expensive one) is more attractive due to its capacity to create density, while the other site (on the grounds that it is "too far away") does not, inferring that the target travelers (the millennials) can't walk less than three Old Town City blocks.

The more costly station is also at a greater distance from the hypothetical Potomac Yards center than has been portrayed, since it is measured from the staircase that leads to the bridge to the Metro (which is very long), rather than from the station itself. This creates an illusion of closer proximity than is really the case. A straight-line estimation from the Target Store "bulls eye" to the midpoint of the two stations reveals only a 500-foot difference, which is less than two Old Town City blocks. When the expensive station is touted as being within a quarter mile of Potomac Yards, in reality, only the staircase to the Metro bridge is (barely) within a quarter mile. Also, in walking time and separation, the more costly station is really further from the proposed developments (including those areas destined to be the first to be built) since it is much further east from Potomac Yard than the less expensive one (it is practically all the way on the George Washington Memorial Parkway).

This is a significant issue, since the expenses of building the stations are not equivalent. Even with a good deal of optimism, the annual debt servicing cost for the more expensive, read “preferred one,” will be almost $14milion or over $5 million more expensive than the other. So, in order to present the more costly station as being more alluring, the study expects that it will create more density than the less expensive one (without any real basis to do so), and that the developer will pay more for that site, but the developer is now pulling back from this aspect of the "expensive" proposal.

Finally, the more expensive, station will create a wholesale destruction of the view shed of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The required longer bridge has minimum height requirements that (with its location and length) will make it a significant intrusion on scenic vistas from the George Washington Memorial Parkway. So, does it make sense for Alexandria to incur greater risk, pay higher debt servicing costs, and destroy its cultural and scenic heritage for less than 900 feet (or is it really 500 feet) ? Even worse is the suggestion that having a Metro Station at the Alexandria City Court House is too far for the City Hall to feel any effect. This situation reminds me of an old fairy tale, whereby a ruler is walking down the street naked, smiling and waving, but only a small child says that the emperor has no clothes! In the case of the city's rationale for the more expensive station, the city "has no clothes.” They do not have a valid justification for proceeding with the more expensive station.

Poul Hertel