City council discusses transportation priorities, Planning & Zoning staff at legislative session

City council discusses transportation priorities, Planning & Zoning staff at legislative session

By Missy Schrott |

With the first public hearing of the fall in the rearview mirror, city council is back to discussing city business and policies at its bimonthly legislative sessions.

At the meeting on Tuesday, council spent time discussing funding for transportation, considering a potential new position in the Department of Planning and Zoning and commending outgoing Clerk of Court Ed Semonian for his 40 years in office.

Transportation funding work session

During a transportation funding work session, Department of Transportation and Environmental Services staff talked to council about funding priorities for transit in the next six years. Council had requested the work session at a retreat in the beginning of 2019.

“Transportation funding priorities and grant cycles are fairly long-lead items, so this is a chance for you to start talking to us about the direction that we want to take this big ship that we are,” T&ES Director Yon Lambert said.

T&ES typically looks six years out at transportation projects in order to allow time to secure local, state and other funding, Lambert said. At the meeting, staff presented the city’s transportation priorities for fiscal year 2020 through FY2025.

The four main funding priorities are public transit, with 76 percent of requested funding; “state of good repair” projects, 11 percent; multimodal transportation, 8 percent; and smart mobility, 5 percent.

About $224 million will go toward public transit, including WMATA capital and DASH. Almost $70 million will go toward “state of good repair,” which includes raising road conditions to a grade of B-, as well as bridge and sidewalk maintenance. About $20 million is planned for multimodal transportation such as shared-use paths and Capital Bikeshare. A little more than $11 million will go toward smart mobility.

Lambert said smart mobility is an important investment, as it incorporates information technology on roads and traffic signals in order to help manage congestion and optimize limited road space.

“Many of the investments we are making now are laying the foundation for the system that we will be seeing applied in the next five to 10 years,” Lambert said.

With lengthy timelines for many projects, Councilor John Chapman asked if there’s a better way to keep the community engaged about big picture transit priorities that are still years from being implemented.

Lambert said staff could work on educating the public about what stages certain projects are in and the right time for community input.

Funding for a zoning inspector

Council appeared dissatisfied with staff’s report when considering releasing $83,595 in contingent reserve funding to hire a P&Z night and weekend zoning inspector. After a lengthy discussion, council voted to table the item.

According to the staff report, the new position’s primary responsibility would be responding to zoning and noise regulation violations after hours and on weekends. Staff said that in addition to responding to complaints about noise, the person would also address outdoor dining violations, realtor sign violations and other zoning complaints.

Currently, P&Z, T&ES and the Office of Environmental Quality respond to noise and other complaints during staff hours. The Alexandria Police Department responds to noise complaints during off-hours and weekends, as well as being the initial response to neighbor-to-neighbor complaints, according to a staff memo.

Police Chief Michael Brown said a P&Z off-hours responder would help the police department, since there are certain things that P&Z can enforce but APD cannot, such as the number of people in a building.

“This gives us more enforcement capability than we currently have,” Brown said.

When the new position first came up during the budget process, Mayor Justin Wilson had requested that council and staff have a larger conversation about how quality of life regulations in the city are enforced. At Tuesday’s meeting, he said he still felt that staff hadn’t addressed his question.

“I feel like we asked you to look at this differently and you came back and … asked us for an additional position and that’s not what we asked for,” Wilson said.

Chapman said he had hoped the position would provide business owners a P&Z liaison to help with special use permits and other zoning processes during off-hours. Based on the job description, Chapman said he didn’t feel staff had addressed that.

Councilor Canek Aguirre made a motion to table the discussion so staff would have time to look at the issue again. The motion passed unanimously.

Ed Semonian

In honor of longtime Alexandria Clerk of Court Ed Semonian’s retirement, Wilson read a proclamation in Semonian’s honor and presented him with a key to the city.

After 40 years in office, Semonian will retire at the end of 2019, at the conclusion of his fifth eight-year term. Greg Parks, who won the Democratic clerk of court primary in June, will run uncontested in the November general election.

“Ed has been the epitome of the public servant and has served this community at an extremely high level,” Wilson said. “… While our population doesn’t always see and know the things that your office does, they feel that impact and I think they’ve always been well served by your office and your leadership.”

During his tenure, Semonian has been known for his focus on customer service and engagement in Alexandria civic life, Wilson said.

“My career as the clerk has been wonderful,” Semonian said. “I had the pleasure of watching the city grow from what it was in my youth to what it is today. … I hope that my tenure as the clerk of circuit court has been productive and constructive and has offered an assistance to the citizens in any way that I was able to help them.”