Episcopal High School to get new field, entrance

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Episcopal High School (Photo Credit: Episcopal High School Facebook)
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By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

City council approved plans for a new track and field at Episcopal High School during its public hearing on Saturday.

The decision came after lengthy discussions about the required deforestation and reforestation efforts involved with the plan, which includes building a new track and field, a small building to provide shelter during lightning storms, a parking lot and a signaled pedestrian crossing on West Braddock Road across from the entrance to Fort Ward Park.

The new field is a part of the school’s long-term campus redevelopment plans and will replace the former Hoxton Field, moving the site to the northwest part of Episcopal’s 132-acre campus. Hoxton Field was built in the 1930s and, since it no longer meets regulation standards, is rapidly approaching uselessness, according to Urban Planner Carson Lucarelli.

The old Hoxton Field site will be replaced by dorms, according to redevelopment plans.

A notable part of the track and field project – and the aspect that caused the most discussion among city council members – is the sizable deforestation efforts, and the ensuing reforestation plan, that must take place at the heavily wooded northwest portion of campus.

To make way for the new track and field, Episcopal’s overall tree canopy coverage would be reduced from 43 to 41 percent, which remains well above the 25 percent coverage required by the small area plan.

The school’s reforestation plan has been ongoing since 2007 and has resulted in more than 300 trees planted. The plan also includes maintaining 1.3 acres of tree canopy along West Braddock Road and planting a minimum of 71 trees at the site of the new field to replace those that will be removed during construction.

Episcopal High School’s new track and field will occupy the northwest corner of campus and require significant deforestation and replantings. (Image credit: City of Alexandria)

“The school is committed to being a good neighbor and has come up with a remediation plan which staff believes will help ensure that the site [retains] as much of its dense wooded character as possible,” Lucarelli said.

Councilor Del Pepper voiced concern that the school’s reforestation efforts at the proposed site do not constitute a one-to-one ratio of felled to replanted trees.

While the 71 tree plantings do not constitute a direct one-to-one ratio to trees removed, the overall crown coverage of the new trees would equal the size of the field, according to Lucarelli.

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Pepper also questioned the size of the trees the applicant would use to replace those being cut down.

“The trees that you’re going to be cutting down are roughly 50 years old I understand, according to pictures that were taken 50 years ago … now you have these huge trees on there,” Pepper said. “Are you going to give us these little, teeny tiny things, and it will take 50 years to grow or are we going to have something that’s substantial?”

The new plantings would most likely be two-and-a-half inch saplings that would take time to grow, according to Principal Planner Dirk Geratz.

“It’s actually better to plant smaller trees because they acclimate themselves better to the environment as opposed to a tree that’s been sitting somewhere else and then gets replanted,” Geratz said.

The 71 new trees will be spaced out to allow the trees to create a healthy canopy, while plantings will be staggered over time to ensure better retention of the forest, Geratz said.

Residents who live across the street from the proposed site voiced concern during the public hearing period that the forested buffer between the street and field would be removed.

Duncan Blair, the attorney representing Episcopal, responded that the majority of the buffer would remain.

“Outside of the limits of disturbance, there are not plans to clear cut,” Blair said.

Since the new athletic field will not be accessible by vehicle from the rest of the campus, the project also involves a curb cut along the south side of West Braddock Road, adjacent to an existing DASH bus stop, according to the staff report. The new cut would align with the entrance to Fort Ward Park, thereby creating an intersection along the street.

Episcopal contributed $15,000 to fund a new pedestrian crossing at the intersection. However, Blair said school staff disagreed with the city on the location of the crosswalk.

“We believe that the appropriate location is either Early [Street] or now Marlboro [Drive], where it is more likely people will cross,” Blair said.

Councilor Amy Jackson also questioned the location for the proposed curb cut and the resulting signaled pedestrian crosswalk on West Braddock Road, citing its proximity to an already signaled intersection on Howard Street.

“Has anyone actually been out there and watched during an Episcopal foot- ball game where people are crossing?” Jackson said. “Because they’re still not going to cross down by Fort Ward Park. They’re going to cross at Marlboro [Drive]. That’s what happens.”

Jackson also expressed concern about parking and the impact of parking on adjacent neighborhoods. She noted the amount of traffic the school will draw since the field will host events for other city schools, including T.C. Williams High School. The T.C. field is scheduled to undergo a major stadium rebuild beginning this summer.

Pepper put forward a motion to approve staff’s recommendation of Episcopal’s proposed plan with the requirement that Department of Transportation and Environmental Services staff provide a traffic analysis and update moving forward. Council unanimously approved the motion.

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