Alexandria and City Council should be commended for adopting the goal of becoming an Eco-city. Many citizens and staff have spent years developing a comprehensive Environmental Action Plan with the sponsorship of Del Pepper and John Chapman. The implementation of this plan, however, relies on all city staff and citizens to be creative and proactive and to use persuasion, education, and, lastly, legislation to enable the achievement of these goals.
Unfortunately, 2017 was not a good year for Alexandria's native tree canopy, natural world, and environment. City Council decreased funding for planting new trees, promising instead to focus on preserving the mature tree canopy. Unfortunately we are left with neither goal accomplished.
The story of the Karig Estates development proposal gives but one of many examples.
Although the Planning and Zoning staff recommended many helpful changes to the original application to develop a ravine with a wetland, springs and an intermittent stream that form the headwaters of Strawberry Run, they needlessly obstructed other amendments that would have made it even more environmentally sound. For over a year many concerned residents and organizations worked to improve the Karig Estates proposal and struggled against a complacent Planning and Zoning Department.
The developer, many citizens and organizations agreed to an amendment to the site plan to move all four houses closer to Seminary road, which would safeguard more of the intact forest and decrease runoff on the steepest and most unstable lot. This was a win-win compromise. At first the city staff stonewalled for several months, stating that requested changes could not possibly be made.
After concerned citizens hired a land use attorney to press the issue, P and Z agreed that there were several ways to interpret the rules defining the proper setback from Seminary Road, allowing a setback of 57 feet instead of the original 104 feet. But then P and Z insisted that this would require the developer to start over with a new application instead of considering this an amendment to the site plan that he had already spent two years developing. The developer refused further unnecessary delay.
The city manager then suppressed the city's key expert in environmental matters from being present at the Nov. 9, 2017 Planning Commission hearing. This action effectively robbed proponents of improving the Karig Estates of any chance of a fair and impartial public hearing.
With none of the subject matter experts present at the hearing, the commissioners had no accurate answers to questions obviously best suited to those experts. The Planning Commission approved significant other amendments to the Karig Estates project with no discussion of the proposed amendment to move all four houses to a more ecologically appropriate location.This left little choice but to further appeal to City Council. That hearing is set for Jan. 20. We hope the city’s experts in environmental matters will be invited to participate.
Council is being asked to remand the Karig Estates project back to Planning for serious amendments with the city’s strongly stated environmental goals in mind.
This complacency for the city's environment and quality of life by Planning and Zoning, city manager, and ultimately City Council is deeply troubling and unacceptable. It is Council's responsibility to ensure that staff is thoroughly engaged and proactive in maintaining a balance between environmental conservation interests and development interests. Last year's events, and indeed many similar over recent years, have shown that not only do development interests far outweigh conservation ones in Alexandria but that there is an insufficient climate or appreciation for conservation among our public servants. We will never reach our goals as an Eco-city until these changes take place.
Environmentalists are working way too hard and spending too much money in Alexandria trying to do what their public service government is required to do as its daily function. Correcting the root of the problem is Council's responsibility — beginning with some education and persuasion in Planning and Zoning and the City Manager's Office. They should remand Karig Estates back to Planning with strong guidance before the trees and ecology of this property have been totally lost.
By Council taking the time to address these issues and take appropriate actions to change the focus of our city’s employees, Alexandria's natural world could have an improved chance for a brighter, sustainable future.
Robert and Suzanne McLaughlin
Joan and Denis O’Toole
Wes and Margaret Teague
Bertha and Joe Braddock
Walter and Betsy Lohman
Nina and Robert Schwartz
Paul and Lynnette Goree
Pat and Lynn Tokarz
John and Christina Lytle
Kathleen M. Burns
Robert and Nina Schwartz