Your Views: Time to shift priorities

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To the editor:

On July 1, the City of Alexandria leapt into FY2023. Earlier in May, City Council had approved the annual budget of $849,213,971. And now the city staff of more than 900 employees – and their agencies – will oversee how the budget details are implemented and how that money is spent.

If a project pushed by the city’s Transportation and Environmental Services costs nine and a half times the neighborhood’s recommended alternative, wouldn’t the latter be the better choice? Especially if the T&ES choice has the potential for damage, upheaval and destruction of a $1.9 million asset the city agreed to ‘protect and to preserve,’ would unnecessarily remove nine parking places, and doesn’t have a fact-supported safety reason behind it?

While $100,000 for the city’s proposed project may seem like a tiny pittance out of an $850 million pile of money, it is a significant amount if you are one of the city’s residents who just paid your taxes and you are being asked involuntarily to fund this unnecessary effort, spearheaded by T&ES.

The “target” for this T&ES effort is the 5325 Polk Open Space Park, where plans for a concrete sidewalk within its border could seriously damage the foundational structure of a site that has a slope reaching to almost 50%, with “expandable” clay soil and underground water sources.

T&ES is ignoring input from neighbors living close to this proposed project, which could severely impact their safety and that of their homes; remove nine available on-street parking spaces; create severe damage to the foundations of their homes and streets; and upend a city park, funded with federal and Alexandria dollars. If you lived on the impacted streets, would you be willing to support this T&ES expenditure?

Described as an “Urban Oasis,” the park site triggered battles between developers, the city planners and residents, beginning in 2000. Four West End civic associations fought against dangerous encroachments for 13 years, when the property owner finally agreed to sell the 2.3-acre site. The DOD provided $1.5 million in mitigation funds to compensate for the six acres DOD took to build the BRAC Building and Alexandria added $400,000 in Open Space Funds. On Dec. 5, 2012, the city authorized the sale and promised to ‘protect and preserve’ this environmentally fragile site.

And, for almost 10 years, the transaction was considered “settled law.” But, suddenly, in November 2021, T&ES decided to ignore the facts from several previous public hearings by the Planning Commission, which had dismissed requests by developers for multi-family units, ranging from 17 to 42 units. And instead, T&ES has since pushed for an unwanted and unneeded impervious concrete sidewalk within the pristine borders of 5325 Polk Open Space Park.

T&ES avoids the consensus-preferred option by affected neighbors for a striped crosswalk, with appropriate signage, that would cost $5,000 to $95,000 less than the environmentally threatening sidewalk within an area designated as a watershed protection zone.

Why is there such a disconnect?

Regardless of where you live in Alexandria, all residents expect that our elected and appointed city officials will provide the requisite “due diligence” when weighing – on our behalf – which projects should move ahead and which shouldn’t. Measurement priorities should include the effectiveness, efficiency, safety and cost.

Drive by 5325 Polk and see for yourself.

-Kathy Burns, Alexandria

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