Alexandria At its Jan 28 public hearing, the City Council adopted the FY2017 through 2022 Strategic Plan. Through FY2018, the plan recommends actions to help the city reach certain goals in various categories related to life in Alexandria. Over the next five years, the Strategic Plan will be the central guide to projects approved and funded by City Council.
Ten categories are identified in the plan as areas where city government will continue to develop resources, ranging from changes to the waterfront to encouraging citizens to get more exercise. Each item of the plan also includes a selection of actions to be taken for the FY 2018 year.
The first section of the city’s Strategic Plan focuses around ensuring that new development coming into Alexandria’s neighborhoods is compatible with the historic environment. To this end, the action items for FY 2018 focus primarily around a series of small area plans and two major developments at the end of King Street.
Action items for FY 2018 include:
Construct Interim Fitzgerald Square
Design the Waterfront Flood Mitigation with early utility construction
Award a design build contract for the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station Project
Digitize historic documents that illustrate changes to city’s urban landscape
Commemorate and interpret Alexandria’s role in WW I
Continue preservation of the historic ship and other artifacts from Alexandria’s waterfront
Complete Old Town North Small Area Plan
Conduct update of North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan
Begin Mt. Vernon Avenue planning study
Provide support for the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID) in Old Town.
While the action items are scheduled for fiscal year 2018, the Old Town North Small Area Plan, the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan, the work on the interim Fitzgerald Square Park, and the examination of a potential BID are all currently underway and scheduled to be considered by the City Council before the summer break this year. While Fitzgerald Square Park and the Waterfront Flood Mitigation are ongoing projects, the upcoming budget discussions mean the two projects could begin work in 2017 or 2018.
Greg Useem, chief performance officer, said the action items are either approved or are already being worked on as per the Strategic Plan. Some projects could be ongoing past FY 2018, like the digitization of the city’s historic documents. Karl Moritz, director of Planning and Zoning, said funding is identified for most of the projects and several projects are moving forward within the next few months.
Interim Fitzgerald Square Project
Mitch Bernstein, director of the Department of Project Implementation, said the interim Fitzgerald Square Project is currently going through the development site plan. Bernstein says the demolition of the Boat Club will go to the BAR in mid-March for a public hearing. The development site plan for Fitzgerald Square Park will be presented to the Planning Commission in May, then later that month to the City Council for approval of special use permits. Bernstein says construction is expected to begin a year from now, contingent on when the Boat Club vacates their property.
“How long the park is interim for is contingent on funding,” said Bernstein. “It’s a budget question. The way it’s currently budgeted … planned for seven or eight years. The project is budgeted for $1 million. When the final design is approved we’ll have a tighter cost estimate.”
Bernstein says the idea for an interim park had support from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce as an economic benefit.
“We’re creating a new space available for use,” said Tony Gammon, deputy director of the Department of Project Implementation. “So if the city wants to go forward with an ice rink or a marketplace, we’ve always said we’re making it a flexible space.”
The idea of an ice skating rink at the foot of King Street has been in discussion at City Council since the park concept was approved in 2014, but some local residents are less in favor of the idea.
“Please, just no ice skating rinks at Fitzgerald Square Park,” said Yvonne Weight Callahan.
Bert Ely, co-chair of the Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront, said he believed the city should keep the Old Dominion Boat Club and convert it to a city-use facility.
“It’s a functional building,” said Ely. “As part of an interim plan, they should keep that building. Utilize it instead of tearing it down.”
Flood mitigation on the waterfront has been a contentious issue in the past. During heavy rains, waters tend to flood the foot of King Street and often rise as far inland as Union Street. Several local citizens have expressed opposition to the city’s preliminary designs, which call for the rain to be trapped behind a beachhead and pumped back into the Potomac.
“It’s not that there’s opposition to flood mitigation, it’s how you do it,” said Ely. “The strategic plan doesn’t get into that, but it’s an important issue.”
Bernstein says the city has just finished the fact finding phase of the flood mitigation and is beginning to move into the design phase. Gammon said the FY2018 funding will allow the city to begin utility work for the plan. This involves rebuilding some existing sewer works as a precursor to flood mitigation and undergrounding the remaining electrical lines near the end of King Street. Indigo Hotel and Robinson Terminal South buried most of the electrical lines in the area as part of their development, but there’s still a section of overhead wires that need to be buried.
Separate from the utility work, Gammon said the final design process for the stormwater management system could take a year or two.
“The budget is the driving factor in this,” said Gammon. “Prior year funding got us through the preliminary design. Now, it’s subject to city funding. We will be making phasing recommendations to them to inform the budgeting. The FY2018 funding is not going to change the undergrounding and utilities that need to be replaced first, it’s more about the major elements of construction: the tens of millions in bulkheads and promenades.”
Potomac Yard Metro
Potomac Yard Metrorail made progress at the Feb 7 Planning Commission meeting, with the commission voting unanimously to subdivide the parcel of land currently holding the Regal Movie Theater to facilitate the development of the site into the new Metro station. In 2016, designs for the Metro station were approved, including pedestrian bridges to give the site greater access to the Potomac Yard shopping areas nearby. The Metro station is planned to open in 2020.
Business Improvement District
At the City Council meeting on Jan. 28, the council changed the language of the Strategic Plan from the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID) for Old Town to “consideration” of a BID. Though several BIDs have been successful in Washington D.C. and Arlington, some local residents and businesses have expressed concerns about the BID’s impact on Alexandria. The BID will promote and help manage local businesses, but will also come with a 10 cent tax per $100 of assessed value for commercial properties. The BID will be considered by City Council in March.
On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce will host a forum at 7:30 in The Westin Alexandria hotel to discuss how BIDs work and how they have impacted other local jurisdictions.
The next section of the Strategic Plan looks at how to create a more inclusive city, with a focus on adding to the city’s stock of affordable housing.