Potomac Yard redevelopment is disastrous without Metro

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On Saturday, June 12, the City Council is expected to approve the rezoning of the 70-acre strip mall property at Potomac Yard to allow up to 7.5 million square feet of development the equivalent of more than 12 strip malls, based on the size of the one currently there. 

The critical element of the Potomac Yard plan is the building of a Metro station. However, the decision the Council will make on Saturday will not actually guarantee that a station will be built.
The Council is moving ahead on rezoning the property before an environmental impact analysis is conducted and before the Council decides whether it wants to finance the $275 million in bonds needed to build a Metro station. Why?

I support the development plan for Potomac Yard if there is a Metro station. However, there are potential problems if the Metro plan blows up.

Saturdays vote would allow at least an extra 1.4 million square feet and potentially as much as 3.1 million square feet of development, even with no Metro.

The citys transportation analysis indicates that the Route 1 corridor can support an extra 1.4 million square feet of development with some transportation improvements and additional pain for drivers.

But there are reasons to be skeptical of such analyses. The Potomac Yard analysis, for example, relies greatly on the success of a new rapid transit system with dedicated lanes for buses, trolleys or light rail cars. Will this new transit way attract sufficient ridership or are we taking too big of a leap of faith?

Council needs to take a hard look at the transportation projections so that we can avoid the fiasco that has occurred with the new development at the Mark Center.

The Potomac Yard plan, with 7.5 million square feet of development and a Metro station, includes a wide variety of public amenities. But how many of these benefits do we get if there is no Metro? Will they be pro-rated somehow? The city staff report is not very clear. We must ensure that public amenities are commensurate with what we are providing. After all, the developer is being given at least 1.4 million square feet of development rights that it does not have now.

And what about the environmental impact analysis? This issue was barely discussed during the public process. Is there any reason to be worried that it will make it impossible to build the Metro station? Its not clear, but Council needs to clearly understand the risks before it approves the rezoning.

Finally, if the Metro plan blows up but we still get significantly more development, what happens to all the land that isnt developed? If a Metro isnt built in conjunction with this plan, will a station ever be built? The staff conditions for the rezoning concentrates the development within a fairly small area. Perhaps, in a situation without a Metro, as much as half of the sites 70 acres would not be developed and could never be developed because of an inadequate transportation network. Why not include a condition for approval that if there is no Metro, any land on the site not needed for the possible 3.1 million square feet of development be turned over to the city for public parks and other civic purposes? 

Bill Hendrickson
Potomac Yard Planning 
Advisory Group
Alexandria

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