Council pushes forward with Potomac Yard Metro station

Council pushes forward with Potomac Yard Metro station
Renderings of the Potomac Yard metro from 2016.

By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)

The progress towards constructing the Potomac Yard Metro station continued June 16, as city council approved the design concept and land use changes for the station and the nearby Potomac Yard and Potomac Greens parks.

Council voted last May to select the northernmost location — Alternative B — for the planned $268.1 million station on the Blue and Yellow lines.

The final environmental impact study was released earlier this month, comparing that option with the alternative of not building a station. The EIS was approved for public review by the Federal Transit Administration and the National Park Service, and is available for public comment until July 11.

The latest hearing saw councilors unanimously vote to approve a master plan amendment, rezoning, development special use permit and several other special use permits. But the majority of public testimony focused on the Tier II Special Tax District, approved in 2011 to help pay for the station.

Around 300 homes in Potomac Yard are taxed an extra 10 cents per $100 of assessed value on their property. Two similar communities originally were part of the special tax district’s second tier, but were excluded before its approval in 2011: Old Town Greens and Potomac Greens.

Residents within the district said they are in favor of the proposed Metro station, but find this aspect of its financing troubling, and argued their neighborhood suffers unfair treatment.

“[Removing the tax district] is simply equal treatment for all neighborhoods under identical circumstances,” said resident Bill Hampel. “It’s simply justice.”

“Can you honestly tell me it’s fair to include some, but not the others in this tax district?” asked Diane Hampel. “To me, it sounds more like a taxation without representation situation.”

Councilors said they were willing to take another look at how the special tax district is applied, but noted that it re- mains part of a complex funding plan comprised of several different sources. Mayor Allison Silberberg said a vote is slated for July 14 on the proposed $66 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which is slightly less than the $69.5 million anticipated last year by officials.

City Manager Mark Jinks said the application for NVTA funding is in “good shape,” and the city also has applied for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. But he noted getting much money through that process was unlikely.

Last year, the city secured a loan of $50 million from the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which carries an interest rate of 2.17 percent. The city also will use $143.6 million in general obligation bonds to fund construction among other sources, including developer contributions and new taxes.

Further discussion centered around the impact of construction on the area around the station. Washing- ton Metropolitan Area Tran- sit Authority chief engineer John Thomas and city director of project implementation Mitchell Bernstein said construction could take between 30 and 36 months, and local resident Katy Cannady advocated for a construction monitoring group, like the one supervising waterfront redevelopment.

She described living near a construction area as being akin to a “war zone,” but Jinks said the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group would monitor construction impacts as its role evolves.

Silberberg asked city staff whether a drop-off zone could be included at the station, as close to an entrance as possible. Carrie Sanders, the city’s acting deputy director of transportation and environmental services, said that a drop-off area would be explored later, in addition to on-street parking restrictions to prevent commuters leaving their cars in nearby neighborhoods.

City Councilor Del Pepper joined Silberberg in pushing for large evergreen trees to screen the station from the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is owned and maintained by NPS. Both wanted to see language specifying the types of trees used to ensure there would be screening year-round.

“If they are flowering trees, they are not going to be a shield from the parkway,” Pepper said. “…It’s the evergreens that are going to be the ones that do the heavy lifting.”

Staff said landscaping concerns would continue to be addressed as the station’s design evolves. Project manager Jason Kacamburas also said a planned pedestrian bridge’s operating hours would coincide with the station’s hours, as opposed to being open 24 hours per day as previously proposed.

Alexandria Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joe Haggerty praised the project, and said it would spur greater economic development in a vibrant mixed-used community. He said the project could help the city compete for more federal tenants and large private companies, and he has heard that some builders aren’t prepared to break ground on other developments until they see progress on the station.

Principal planner Lee Farmer said staff will rerun its financial feasibility analysis of the station this summer, at which point they will examine scenarios surrounding the Tier II Special Tax District. Bernstein said after the EIS is finalized, WMATA’s procurement process for design and construction takes nine months, after which a true timeline for the station will be determined.

Council will vote again on the station and the special tax district after the financial feasibility analysis, once construction costs are more certain.