Potomac Yard Metro moves forward

Potomac Yard Metro moves forward

By Chris Teale (File photo)

City councilors voted unanimously to choose the northernmost location — closest to existing developments — for a Metro station at Potomac Yard Wednesday night, although some residents remained concerned over the cost of the project and its impact on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

City council held its final public hearing on the proposed station last Saturday, as residents both in favor of and opposed to the project provided their last bit of feedback to councilors and staff.

The hearing came at the end of a period of public engagement and discussions from city council and city staff, who have spent the last several months briefing city boards and commissions and community groups and holding open houses.

Sandra Marks, deputy director of the city department of transportation and environmental services explained staff’s recommendation that city council proceed with Alternative B.

That option is projected to cost $268.1 million, and Marks said that it would be funded by a number of sources. The city already has secured a loan of $50 million from the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which carries an interest rate of 2.17 percent, and also will use $143.6 million in general obligation bonds to fund construction.

The city anticipates receiving $69.5 million in funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, as well as $5 million from other sources. To pay for the anticipated $392.1 million in debt service — including interest — from the project, city staff proposed using developer contributions of $72 million, $298.6 million from the establishing of two special tax districts and $21.5 million in net new taxes.

Marks said staff’s recommendation of Alternative B came because it supports higher population density and will provide the best return in the form of economic development. But she added that it still needs a framework to mitigate impacts on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, as the alternative would disrupt approximately 7,000 square feet of parkway land.

The future of the parkway was one issue raised during the public’s opportunity to address the dais, with resident Poul Hertel expressing his desire to see the historic roadway protected at all costs.

“The George Washington Memorial Parkway is the impetus for the entire historic district and by inference is responsible for Alexandria’s place on the tourist map,” he said, adding that mitigating any impacts on the roadway must be a priority.

“In some sense, we’re talking about long-term visions here,” resident David Fromm agreed. “The parkway is a longterm vision that is defended by the [National Park Service] and others, and it’s important to honor that. When we design the station it is very important that from the Parkway it looks like something that maybe existed in the 1800s. I don’t know how you do that with a Metro station, but I think the design is going to be very important and you need to honor the reason for the Parkway.”

The financing of the station also came in for some heavy criticism, especially the establishment of a special tax district in the neighborhood around the proposed site. The Potomac Yard Special Tax District Committee for Tax Fairness brought a number of members and supporters to testify, all of whom stridently opposed the use of single-family residential units as contributors to the Tier II Special Tax District.

Robert Giroux commenced by presenting a petition signed by more than 220 people against the special tax district.

“During our meetings, several of you have stated that you weren’t on the council when the Special Tax District was established in 2011,” said Tanya Culbert, another Potomac Yard resident. “But you are now. A vote based on the staff recommendation is a vote supporting the current financial model. So this decision will be linked to this city council and a part of your legacy. A vote to build without making caveats is a vote to support this tax structure. You will be culpable.”

“The city council must reverse this very unfair, egregious decision and completely remove Potomac Yard residents from the special tax district as they did for Potomac Greens and all other private property owners who will benefit equally or more from the presence of a Metro station,” said Vickie Lessa. “Not only is the special tax unfair, it will harm the residents of Potomac Yard by adversely affecting the resale value of our properties.”

Euille noted at the end of the hearing that council would examine the group’s concerns and look to be responsive to them, but said he could not promise any more than that.

Some residents from elsewhere in the city agreed with the group’s position, adding that the city should have asked everyone to pay more in taxes to foot the bill if it is as important as councilors say it is.

“If this Metro station is so important to the economic welfare of this city, then everybody ought to chip in,” Republican city council candidate Townsend Van Fleet said. “The City of Alexandria cannot continue to borrow, build and hope.”

“This Metro station [Alternative] B is a Metro station built on hope,” added resident Dino Drudi. “And hope is an iridescent phantom that flies through the night but disappears with the dawn with the first ray of sun.”

Both Van Fleet and Drudi said the Metroway dedicated bus lanes between the Braddock Road and Crystal City Metro stations should negate the need for a new Metrorail station, especially as Arlington County is responsible for its extension to Pentagon City. Drudi said relative to the proposed Metro station, Metroway cost just a penny to build, and could eventually be worth “a dollar” in terms of return on investment if given the time to catch on.

Residents Jack Sullivan and Katy Cannady expressed concerns at the amount of debt the city would take on for the project, given the city’s annual budget struggles and the lack of a firm figure on contributions from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and developers.

“This is possibly the most important decision the council will make in this decade,” Sullivan said. “You must make it on hard facts, not rosy scenarios and vague assurances.”

“The debt is the debt of our city and all its taxpayers,” Cannady said. “Owing such a big debt will limit our ability to borrow for other things that will become necessary: another public school, another fire station, maybe even some more park land.”

But others who testified were fulsome in their praise of the project. Jennifer Hovis said that while she appreciated the concerns of neighbors about noise and light pollution as well as the impact of construction traffic, the positives of a new Metro station far outweighed those potential drawbacks.

In addition, David Dixon of the Sierra Club’s Mount Vernon Group said Alternative B would do the most to promote denser, transit-oriented, mixed-use development, not to mention attract more riders to Metrorail and remove cars from U.S. Route 1, thereby reducing emissions.

After the  passage of Alternative B, staff will return to finalize the draft environmental impact statement — required by federal agencies — and move forward with project planning in the fall.