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Friday, October 1, 2010

Community residents speak out against new development on Beauregard

About 200 residents of neighborhoods in the West End of Alexandria came out on a rainy Thursday evening to tell city planning and transportation officials how frustrated and angry they feel about the Beauregard Corridor Plan. Many residents said the plan would destroy their neighborhoods by encouraging more high-rise developments without adequately addressing the impact on traffic congestion.

While Beauregard Street is not in Annandale, the future of that corridor should be of concern to everyone who uses I-395 or drives on area roads.

A flyer distributed by Seminary Hills Association President Nancy R. Jennings, titled “A Time to Scream Bloody Murder,” urges all West End neighborhood groups and residents to join the effort “to stop in its tracks unwanted additional development.”

As of last evening, 375 community members had signed a petition stating that there should be “no increase in the building density currently allowed in the Beauregard Corridor area until transportation solutions identified by respected experts outside of Alexandria City government are fully implemented.”

The petition cites the City of Alexandria’s failure to adequately plan for BRAC-133’s impact on traffic in the area as a reason to hold off on future development. BRAC-133, the Department of Defense office building under construction at the Mark Center at the Seminary Road/I-395 intersection, is expected bring more than 6,000 new employees to the area. The petition accuses city officials of ignoring VDOT’s conclusion that the Mark Center was “not viable” for this project. Community members charge the actual building is much larger than planned.

Now, it says, “the city government “is proposing to move forward with extensive new development and redevelopment along the Beauregard Corridor without any agreed plan to address, much less implement, meaningful traffic solutions in an area which already experiences frequent gridlock and has numerous intersections with failing ‘levels of service.’” For more information on residents’ concerns, visit the Lincolnia Hills/Heywood Glen Civic Association blog.

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Don Buch told city officials at the meeting that residents are frustrated by the “lack of public trust.” He said there are rumors about the city proposing 10 to 12 million square feet of new construction in the West End, which contradicts a 2006 strategic plan approved by the city that ensures new development should be fit in the character and scale of existing neighborhoods.

Dave Dexter, chairman of the BRAC Advisory Committee, urged all residents in the area to sign the petition. He noted that both Rob Krupicka and Paul Smedberg of the Alexandria City Council agreed that development should not move forward until a transportation plan is in place.

Richard Baier, the city’s transportation director, outlined some of the challenges to future development in the area: limited connectivity from neighborhood streets to Seminary and Beauregard, lack of adequate transit, topography with steep grades, the lack of funding from the state, and constraints imposed by the new BRAC-133 facility, which is virtually walled off from the rest of the area.

Abi Lerner of the transportation department outlined several options under consideration for alleviating traffic congestion but noted that all of them are either not feasible or present major obstacles. These include providing direct access to the Mark Center from I-395, creating a new access point to I-395 at Sanger Avenue, creating a new road parallel to Beauregard between Seminary and Rayburn, and creating a large traffic circle at the Seminary/Beauregard intersection. He says the city would prefer not to take down houses or put a road through the Winkler Botanical Preserve.

He says a transit plan considering three options for the Beauregard corridor—standard buses, “enhanced buses,” and streetcars—is expected to be completed in about eight months. Meanwhile, the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative—a streetcar line to run between the Skyline Center and Pentagon City—is also in the planning stages. A key decision still to be made is who will build, operate, and maintain the system, as Metro will not take it on.

Owen Curtis, a resident of the area, called the proposed dedicated transitway on Beauregard “not appropriate for what this community wants. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he says. “We need to figure out what the community wants.” Curtis says the community “does not want an increase in traffic during peak periods, does not want a decrease in open space, and does not want the tree canopy to be reduced.” He also objected to the proposal for a rail maintenance facility at the Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus. “It’s not appropriate to put a rail yard in our backyard,” he says.

Another resident, who lived in the neighborhood since 1986, expressed concern about the impact of increased traffic on fire and EMS vehicle response times. And she said she feels like city officials view local residents as “collateral damage.” Several people spoke about the importance of preserving the Winkler Preserve. One resident noted the park contains a 100-year old forest and “cannot be replaced and cannot be relocated.” Another resident reminded city officials that the city had already “decisively rejected” plans to cut a road through Winkler.

One community resident pointed to the signs hanging around the cafeteria at John Adams Elementary School, where the meeting was held, extolling such virtues as trustworthiness, fairness, respect, citizenship, responsibility, and caring. She urged city officials to keep those values in mind.

Only one person urged the city to proceed with the plan, noting that just because a plan is in place, it doesn’t mean the city has to issue a building permit. But other speakers countered that argument. “If the city has a plan to allow high density, it will be hard to reject developers,” one resident stated.

After the public had a chance to comment, Farol Hammer, Alexandria’s Director of Planning and Zoning, reiterated some of their concerns—particularly about the lack of communication and public trust and increased traffic congestion—and indicated she would take community opinion into account.

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