By Carla Branch
The Alexandria City Council voted 6-1 last night to make the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan the top priority for the Planning Department. City staff had recommended beginning work on the North Old Town Small Area Plan before the Eisenhower West Plan.
“The Eisenhower West Small Area Plan has been on hold for at least 20 years and it's time we move it forward,” said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille.
Council discussed which of the two Small Area Plans should be developed first. “We simply don't have the staff or resources to do them both at the same time,” said Planning Director Farrol Hamer. “The Small Area Plan process takes a great deal of coordination among several departments. While it is certainly helpful to hire consultants, the community does not want consultants who are not directly accountable to Council and to the community to take major responsibility for the Small Area Plan process.”
Councilman Paul Smedberg cast the only vote against re-prioritizing the work plan. “There are a number of projects coming forward in North Old Town and if we don't develop a vision for what we want there, we are going to regret it,” he said. “Both of these plans are important but the community in North Old Town has a clear vision for what they want and the Eisenhower West community has not articulated a clear vision.”
Council included just over $500,000 for the Small Area Plan process in the fiscal year 2014 budget. That included around $175,000 for beginning a traffic study in Eisenhower West with the bulk of the funds tentatively slated to be used for the North Old Town planning process. There was no money in the FY2015 budget for continuing with Eisenhower West, which concerned many West End residents. Just after Council adopted the FY2014 budget, a group of West End residents started an online petition to request that Council expedite the Eisenhower West planning process. Five West End property owners offered to contribute “significant” funding toward hiring a third-party consultant to move the Eisenhower West planning process forward.
“While this is a generous offer, it should have nothing to do with when we begin the Small Area Planning process,” said Councilman Justin Wilson. “We need to have further conversations with these developers to determine whether we can accept such a contribution.
“I do believe that we need to move this process forward now if we ever want to diversify the City's economic base and develop more commercial property. Developers need to know what to expect. If we do the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan, it will bring some certainty ,” Wilson said.
Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier will begin collecting transportation data this summer. “We need to collect information and work with the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation to develop the study parameters,” he said. “We have to convince them to release the funds that are being held for the construction of a connector, which Council decided some time ago not to build. That is going to take time.”
The schedule calls for the transportation data collection to begin this summer and the Small Area Planning process to begin in January, 2014. “We aren't scheduled to hold any community meetings on the Small Area Plan until March, 2014,” Hamer said. “At that time, we will begin to work with the community to determine the boundaries of the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan. We have a study vicinity outlined but the boundaries won't be established until we begin to work with the community.”
Council would like to complete the Eisenhower West Small Area Plan in 18 months to two years.