To the editor:
Karig Estates and the Potomac Yard Metro have some of the same unfortunate themes coursing through their tortured history. In both projects the city has been unresponsive to residents wanting to protect the few natural and unspoiled acres left in Alexandria. In both cases, the belief of city leaders that more development will result in a net gain dominated the decision making.
In the case of Karig, the city spent $314,494 of taxpayer money on an outside law firm to defend a lawsuit filed by neighbors to protect the streams and forest on the property. Neither the property owner nor the developer joined with the city in defending the lawsuit.
The city alone defended the developer’s right to clear cut much of the wooded property and build on a steeply sloped hillside. The lawsuit was filed when nearby residents and environmentalists became infuriated by city leaders’ refusal to adjust the setback from Seminary Road, although they had the discretion to do so.
Exercising that discretion would at least have moved the fourth home out of the ravine and spared dozens of mature trees. City leaders also refused to alter plans to run a new sewer line through a spring at the back end of the property. To pump the sewage back up to Seminary Road would be more costly, so it was off the table.
This is the same mindset that for many years delayed action on the sewage flowing into the Potomac River. Why? Because it was expensive. For years the Karig property was identified as worthy of preservation. But when the time came to preserve, city leaders looked the other way.
In Potomac Yard, the city chose to build a Metro station – which could have been built further inland – on top of an upland marsh and tidal wetland, filling in some wetlands with 20 feet of dirt.
Because the wetlands, mature cottonwoods and wildlife inhabiting this area do not pay taxes or vote in elections, they all lost. But in actuality, we lost.
Years ago, the city established a beautiful park, Potomac Greens, with 18 acres of trails and boardwalks in the forested wetlands. This site is now ground zero for construction of this Metro station.
Posted along the trails are interpretive signs explaining the value of wetlands. The more we experience flooding, the more valuable the wetlands are. Perhaps our city leaders should read those signs.
With Karig and the Potomac Yard Metro, city leaders prioritized development over natural landscapes, the very problem afflicting much of the world. I find it ironic that Alexandria labels itself an “Eco City.” Labels and Environmental Action Plans mean little if the will is lacking to make tough choices to preserve our environment.
As a 35-year resident of Alexandria, I have heard the promises of past mayors and city councilors, which touted development of dense urban communities as the salvation for our schools through tax revenue. Think back to the promises of tax dollars from Cameron Station, Carlyle where the PTO building sits amidst a bundle of huge buildings and Eisenhower Valley.
Now we hear the same about Potomac Yard and the “once in a generation” opportunity to build a Metro station and cram dozens of huge buildings all the way to Crystal City. Really? What would prevent the city and WMATA from collaborating on a Metro station in the future – away from tidal and fresh-water wetlands?
If planet Earth is to remain healthy, people must change. I fear my child and her children will be left with the mess we have made. Economic disruption and dangerous weather events causing flooding on a scale not yet seen will result from climate change.
Climate change, and specifically flooding, are exacerbated by overdevelopment and destruction of wetlands and forests. Climate change will be responsible for the extinction of plants and animals on a vast scale and will likely lead to a poorer quality of life. For future generations, change will be the only option. I only hope it will not be too late.
-Jeremy Flachs, Alexandria