By Cody Mello-Klein | firstname.lastname@example.org
City council voted unanimously at Saturday’s public hearing to close the Virginia Paving Company’s Eisenhower West asphalt plant in 2027.
The decision was part of a city-led review of VPC’s previously approved special use permit for the plant on Courtney Avenue. Although the ultimate decision was supported by the planning commission, community and company, the process was not without a fair amount of public debate and negotiation.
City staff brought the SUP before council as part of a review process required by a 2006 amendment to the SUP.
In 2006, the company applied for an amended SUP to allow for overnight trucking hours, after it was found operating contrary to its SUP. A new SUP was approved in 2006 and included dozens of new conditions that addressed overnight hours, mitigated noise and odor and improved community outreach, according to the staff presentation.
Condition 75 was one of those additions and aimed to address future questions around the plant’s compatibility with the neighborhood’s small area plan and future development. The condition required that city council review the SUP about three years after adoption of the Eisenhower West small area plan.
After adopting the SAP in 2015, staff reconsidered the plant’s place in a neighbor- hood that was rapidly developing and shifting away from industrial use properties and toward more residential and mixed-use properties.
“Staff believes that the asphalt plant, as a heavy industrial use, is inconsistent with the ensuing and foreseeable development in the area given that the character in the neighborhood is incrementally changing from a mix of industrial and commercial uses to residential and mixed use,” urban planner Nathan Randall said at the public hearing.
The crux of the decision before council on Saturday was whether the plant was consistent with the SAP and future development and if not, when the plant should be closed.
Although both staff and the planning commission agreed that the plant was inconsistent with the neighborhood SAP, there was disagreement on when the plant should close. Staff recommended that the plant close in November 2022, seven years after the SAP was adopted, while the planning commission recommended that the plant close seven years from this year, on Jan. 1, 2027.
According to the staff presentation, the plant’s continued presence and emissions could impact maximum heights for future buildings in the area as well as the construction of a multimodal bridge and park.
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“Continued operation of the plant, beyond what is contemplated in the condition language, could stymie future investment,” Randall said.
Councilor Del Pepper agreed with staff’s assessment, if not their recommendation.
“Without a doubt in my mind, the asphalt plant is quite inconsistent with the Eisenhower West small area plan,” Pepper said at the hearing. “I am concerned that it may, in some way, dampen our ability to develop that area a bit sooner and, for heaven’s sakes, it’s just beginning to blossom.”
Art Impastato, president of the Cameron Station Civic Association, supported the closure of the plant and stressed the importance of how, not just when, the plant closes.
“Just having an agreement that they have to leave in seven years is really not that good if you don’t have some kind of a verifiable time table so you don’t end up with somebody calling at the last minute to say, ‘Oh gee, we need another five years.’ That was absolutely crucial,” Impastato said.
Mary Catherine Gibbs, partner at Wire Gill LLP and representative for VPC, said that although the company prefers the plant stay open, it supports the planning commission’s recommended seven-year timeline.
“It’s important for Virginia Paving to have this seven years from now so they can adequately plan for a relocation of their plant,” Gibbs said at the hearing.
The closure of the plant would result in the loss of 110 jobs, most of which VPC would aim to transfer to its new location, and the presence of a company that paid around $338,000 in taxes to the city last year, Gibbs said.
When asked for a rough timeline of the relocation and closure process, Gibbs said that VPC would begin immediately looking for a new site in Northern Virginia. After that, the company would go through lengthy processes to acquire land use, air and construction permits.
Pepper insisted that the company provide staff and council with progress on the closure and rezoning process.
“If the seven years is granted … we have to have some kind of update during that period, official update,” Pepper said.
Rezoning was a focal point for staff and council. During the relocation process, the company would also search for a partner interested in purchasing the site before rezoning from industrial use to the SAP’s coordinated development district, Gibbs said.
Director for the Department of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz suggested that within three years the applicant would submit an application for rezoning, but VPC couldn’t guarantee the timeline, Gibbs said.
Council, staff and the company ultimately agreed on changes to the SUP that would address these concerns by requiring VPC to provide additional information regarding relocation, rezoning and closure progress in its annual written reports to staff.
As proposed by Mayor Justin Wilson, condition 75 was also changed significantly. If after four years VPC has not submitted an application for implementing zoning amendments in line with the SAP, the SUP will again be docketed for review by council.
Pepper made a motion, seconded by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, to approve the planning commission’s recommendation of a 2027 closure. The motion was approved unanimously.
Both the company and West End residents expressed support for the decision, albeit for different reasons.
“Virginia Paving is satisfied with the outcome of the recent City Council hearing,” Garrett Simmons, media representative for VPC, said in a statement. “We appreciate the Council’s recognition of the numerous community benefits Virginia Paving has provided during its operations in Alexandria. The Council’s unanimous vote to sunset our Special Use Permit in 2027 is fair and consistent with the original conditions stated in the SUP. Virginia Paving looks forward to continuing its operations over the next seven years as we also continue to plan for transitioning uses of our property consistent with future development in the area.”
“We’re just relieved that this chapter is kind of over and that the West End can now be redeveloped in a way that was envisioned with input from residents that live in the West End,” Impastato said.