Old Town is poised to erupt

Old Town is poised to erupt

By Kathryn Papp, Alexandria
(File photo)

To the editor:

Old Town’s build-out can only be described as volcanic. Rated the densest city in Virginia for the past decade, Alexandria’s dubious distinction has new meaning.

Old Town will experience an estimated 72-percent increase in population when all the approved and anticipated construction is complete. All these new people will occupy the same space we now live in, drive on the same streets, rely on the same waterlines and contribute to an already overloaded combined sewer system.

It’s time to make some contingency plans and anticipate the impact — or simply limit the density levels of each development. In particular, areas adjacent to the waterfront will bear the brunt of this massive, rapid construction boom.
The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority property selloff and development will contribute an estimated 1,700 new residents on the blocks directly behind Oronoco Bay Park. This also is very near the future site of a hotel, restaurant, residences and retail expected to replace the low-impact Robinson Terminal North site. The combined sewer system for most of this new development property empties into Oronoco Bay Park.

The names of these developments are familiar by now: the health center building, Harris Teeter store and apartments, the Madison, 515 N. Washington St., and the Oronoco and scattered developments. Even before the cold weather stressed water lines, Old Town suffered three water main breaks in a month. In a downpour, the drainage system is overwhelmed, and trash floats in the streets.

The repercussions of adding almost 4,000 new residents to Old Town — now potentially 5,500 residents — is alarming. The fact that the city is very aggressively pursuing a tourist campaign and waterfront “activation” program to bring in extra bodies — with no capacity planning studies — is just irresponsible.

What is urban planning for but to ensure people living there enjoy a high quality of life, one that creates a stable community?

It is incumbent on the city to explain how this astonishing increase in people in a landscape that is already heavily trafficked by residents and vehicles — as well as characterized by narrow roadways and sidewalks, filled with service businesses that require regular deliveries and large trucks, and tourist buses that have been problematic for years — can remain an attractive and historic neighborhood.

So far, the piecemeal mushrooming of whole-block developments has masked the effects, but the waterfront and housing authority property developments have made it impossible to deny the reality. We may have a master plan, but it has never been informed by a capacity and infrastructure plan. The base of the pyramid is built of clay.