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Letter to Editor: Open Space, the Beauregard Small Area Plan and BRAC

Lincolnia Hills resident Diane Costello questions the city's planning process.

To the editor:

The Oct. 4, 2012, Patch article “Green Space Is a Focus of Campaign Debate” included comments made by several of the council candidates that I believe deserve further discussion.

From that piece — Justin Wilson said he thinks open space is what makes a community livable. “We need to expand open space opportunity,” he said. “A key factor is redevelopment activity.” Wilson noted that the new Beauregard development plan includes 40 acres of open space and the city’s waterfront plan includes 5.5 acres. “Redevelopment activity gives us the opportunity to provide it without tax dollars,” Wilson said.

“Open space is what makes a community what it is,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. She also said development, such as that in the Beauregard corridor, gives the city dedicated open spaces. “We’re not paying for that,” she said.

Pepper also stated during the Sept. 12 candidate forum that the Beauregard Small Area Plan (BSAP) brought 40-plus acres of “new” open space.

There is in fact about 41 acres of open space shown in the draft BSAP (see attached document). However, there is no independent verification of this open space acreage. Although requested on more than one occasion, an overlay of the existing plan area with the new development has never been provided nor has any accounting of the current open space. So a statement that this is “new” open space is not supported by any documentation that has been shared with the community.

What is the definition of open space being used to arrive at the 41-acre figure?

Are surrounding and adjacent building heights not part of the definition?

What distinguishes open space from park from greenway?

The area surrounded by the Ellipse is designated open space. Given the Ellipse is essentially a bisected traffic circle, how will this space be utilized? Hardly seems a suitable venue for what one normally thinks of as open space activities.

Also requested to be clearly designated on plan schematics but never done: any and all Resource Protected Areas (RPA); any and all easements and existing building restrictions; any floodplain boundaries.

Furthermore, the implication of these candidates’ statements is that the community is gaining this acreage (if in fact it is “new”) without any cost. Many of us in the West End would argue that we are paying dearly with an increased density which surpasses the capacity of the area, endangers the long-term survival of Dora Kelley Nature Park and the Winkler Botanical Preserve, and negatively impacts our quality of life.

Lastly, it is impossible to view this matter without revisiting the BRAC 133 development; specifically a reading of a March 23, 2011, memorandum from then City Manager James Hartmann and the accompanying Sept. 24, 2010, BRAC 133 Mark Center Open Space Mitigation Proposal (see attached).

As disclosed in the documents, “ When the City approved the Mark Center development special use permit (DSDP) in 2004, the portion of the plan where BRAC-133 is now located contained approximately 7.96 acres of required open space areas as part of the development package that was approved by the Planning Commission and City Council. The BRAC-133 site when completed will contain approximately 5.535 acres of open space, creating a permanent loss of 2.425 acres of previously proposed, approved and promised open space.” 

Furthermore, “The lost open space was largely caused by the two stand-alone parking garages, as well as the remote inspection facility.” And “… the Remote Inspection Facility (RIF) will be located in what would have remained in the 2004 plan a heavily wooded area at the comer of 1-395 and Seminary Road.”

So instead of open space the West End got two parking garages and a bomb-detection facility. What isn’t mentioned is that at least some of the 5.535 acres is DoD secured space — as in not publically accessible. But it satisfies the City’s definition of “open space”?

The mitigation proposal states “When early in the Department of Defense's site competition process, Duke Realty discussed its proposed BRAC-I33 development plans with the City, Duke Realty would not provide its drawings for the proposed BRAC-133 buildings and the site to the City. Instead, Duke indicated that the proposal "was within the zoning envelope" that the City had previously approved in 2004. ‘Within the zoning envelope’ would normally mean height, square footage of office space, parking, as well as the required amount of open space. It was in good faith that the proposed Mark Center was within the 2004 City approved zoning envelope that the City provided its BRAC-133 project support letter to Duke Realty. In fact, the BRAC-133 buildings are not within the zoning envelope … ”

Duke Realty refused to provide the city with the development drawings, yet the city allows the negotiations with DOD to proceed and even provides a letter of support for the Mark Center site. Did no one at City Hall think to inquire why Duke was not forthcoming with the plans? Is this how the city normally conducts its business with developers? As it would appear that Duke Realty did not warrant the “good faith” of the city, what has the city done? Rewarded this behavior by granting Duke Realty the increased density it wants by approving the BSAP; a density above and beyond what it is currently permitted should the future rezoning be approved as well.

The proposal continues “In conclusion, the Department of Defense EA did not address the permanent loss of 2.425 acres of open space, as it appeared to entirely miss this important issue in its otherwise extensive analyses.” 

Unfortunately for the residents of Alexandria, the DOD was not alone in missing this issue — so did the city as there is no mention of this whatsoever in the city’s brief response to that environmental assessment at the time.

The proposal ends with “… the City proposes that the Department of Defense mitigate this environmental loss with a direct financial payment to the City of $14,069,985.” The City received a check for $1.5M from DOD — in essence, U.S. taxpayers paid twice for the same land; once to Duke Realty and again to the City of Alexandria.

It is within this context that the City expects the residents to proceed in “good faith” that due diligence will be exercised in forthcoming implementation of multiple SAPs and future development? I for one, have none left.

Diane Costello
Lincolnia Hills, Alexandria

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