By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)
The redevelopment of the Oakville Triangle took another step forward at city council’s public hearing last weekend as various amendments and plans for concept, preliminary infrastructure and transportation management garnered unanimous approval.
The initial plan, proposed by Bethesda-based developers StonebridgeCarras in partnership with property owners The Blackstone Group, which owns 13 acres of the 20-acre industrial park, was approved by council last October. This latest discussion kept up the pace of approval, but officials and residents raised concerns over the issues of affordable housing, transportation and parking and open space.
The proposed mixed-use development would include residential town homes and multifamily units, retail and office space, park land and so-called “maker spaces” on the ground floor of some units for some light-industrial uses still in the area. The plan would look to take advantage of the existing Metroway bus rapid transit system and future mass transit in the city.
Under the proposal, a minimum of 65 units will be designated as affordable housing and be required to remain affordable for 25 years as part of an overall community benefits package that includes a $3 million contribution by the developer to the city’s affordable housing fund. But city councilors were uneasy with the deal, led by Mayor Allison Silberberg, who asked for an extension to 30 years of affordable housing, in keeping with similar arrangements elsewhere in the city.
Doug Firstenberg, a principal of StonebridgeCarras, and land use attorney Duncan Blair, who represents the developer, both said that a careful package had been considered and that alteration was out of the question.
“The math has been done, the math was evolved to get to this point,” Blair said. “To go further alters that equation in a way that Doug would say does not work. We could take money away from Glebe Road improvements or we could take money away.”
“We’ve put a huge package on the table, and with all of the things we’re front-ending, we’re doing all the undergrounding on U.S. Route 1 on day one,” added Firstenberg. “It’s not phased. We’re putting Park Road in and all those benefits in up front. We’re funding all sorts of improvements that we’re not the nexus for. With all due respect, we’ve put a sizeable package [forward].”
Silberberg continued to push the pair on increasing the length of time for units to remain affordable but was unsuccessful, and City Councilor Del Pepper also was critical of the 25-year term.
“I think that 25 years is really a very bad precedent,” she said. “I would like to see in the future as we move forward, maybe this is a negotiated settlement that you made, but in the future we really need to be thinking more in terms of 30 years.”
The plan focuses a great deal on expanding mass transit in the city and taking advantage of the existing Metroway, but Del Ray Citizens’ Association president Jay Nestlerode raised concerns about parking. Nestlerode argued for introducing a new residential permit zone to prevent overspill into Del Ray, especially as parking would be unbundled from the residential units, allowing residents the option to buy a parking space separately if they choose.
“You’re adding a million and a half square feet to our neighborhood and you’re not making any provisions for any parking that flows into the neighborhood,” he said. There’s nothing being done.”
In response, Rob Kerns, division chief of the city’s department of planning and zoning, said the development meets parking standards and that there are sufficient provisions already in place to mitigate any issues. City Councilor Tim Lovain noted how difficult it is to ensure there is enough parking for new developments, and resident David Fromm said provisions must be made for people to choose against buying a parking space and instead parking on the street.
“The consequence of [unbundling] is that for a period of time, before people adapt and realize that there isn’t enough space on the street, I’ve either got to get rid of my car or buy a parking space,” he said. “Until that pressure is placed on the people that live there, you have what’s going on in Potomac Yard at the moment. If you drive around Potomac Yard, the streets are fully parked in because people are not buying a parking space in the building.”
Something that could generate controversy in the future is the possible expansion of the Potomac Yard special tax districts and their use to help fund this project. In its report, city staff said that a final decision on the use of the districts to help build the Potomac Yard Metro station will be deferred until 2017. City staff believes by then, all the funding sources and revenues will have been updated and re-projected.
Fromm raised concerns about the district’s expansion to help fund redevelopment at Oakville Triangle, but Firstenberg tried to allay some of those fears.
“Hopefully when the totality of the discussion comes on the special tax district, people understand all the economic benefit we’re bringing to the project and that the context of the negotiations was a bus transitway and not in the context of Metro,” he said.
Up next for the project will be discussions on the development special use permits, which will include discussions on the architecture of the proposal. Blair said he was hopeful of bringing something to council before its summer recess.