During the past month, City Council made in several important decisions regarding major projects in the Potomac Yard area.  The first was the acceptance of the Potomac Avenue alignment for the new 230kV electrical distribution line that Dominion Energy needs to bring into the City to meet the projected needs for electricity in the coming decade. The second was the decision to simplify the new Metro Station by eliminating the south entrance to help bring it closer to the budgeted cost. Finally, City Council agreed to sunset the provisions of the controversial Tier II Special Tax District that would have assessed residential property owners (not commercial property owners) for a portion of the construction cost of the new station.

Given the rate of growth of the region in the past two decades it is difficult to argue with the projections of the Electric Grid Administrator that more power must be brought in to meet the rising demand. When Dominion Energy originally proposed the new line, City Council appointed a Stakeholders’ Working Group to review several different routes. In 2016, the Group recommended, and City Council approved the route alongside the CSX tracks as the least objectionable alternative. When CSX made it impossible for Dominion to use their right of way, the line had to find another home and undergrounding it under Potomac Avenue was the choice with the fewest negative impacts. The original Working Group came back tougher in January and, after reviewing the remaining alternatives, recommended the Potomac Avenue alignment to Council as the least objectionable alternative.  Dominion Energy agreed to pay the City $43.3 million for its use of the right of way.

The removal of the southern entrance to the proposed Metro station is unfortunate but it certainly is not catastrophic in any sense of the word. People approaching from the south will have a longer walk of several hundred feet but it is not multiple blocks or miles. The cost of the station must be contained and, because construction is under the control of Metro, the City has limited options. Having a station in Potomac Yards will be far more convenient for the residents then having to journey to Braddock Road or Crystal City.

Finally, the money obtained from Dominion Energy will be plowed back into the Potomac Yard community by replacing the years of special tax assessments that would have fallen on the residents to pay for the station. That has always been an issue because it is more difficult to quantify the benefits to a resident than to a commercial owner. Residents should see an increase in the value of their property but it will be nothing like that increase on the commercial property.

To listen to the residents at the public hearing, however, you would think they were being attacked from all sides. It was unfair to run the electric line down “their” street. They were losing “their” access to the Metro station without a southern entrance. Since the whole concept of having those receiving the most direct benefit from the station pay for it was flawed, the money from Dominion should be used for the southern entrance and the entire City should pay the cost of the station above the assessment on the commercial properties.

We believe that the City staff and City Council resolved the issues well. The impact of the power line construction will be manageable. The new station will be built and will be usable. The Tier II Special Tax District will be gone. All of that seems perfectly reasonable. There are very few neighborhoods in Alexandria who ever walked out of a City Council meeting with a $43.3 million handshake. It is remarkable that this new one is complaining about it.