Dispatched

The Old Town Crier | Newsletter of the Old Town Civic Association | From: OTCA

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NOTICE OF THE NEXT MEETING OF OTCA

DATE: Wednesday, March 11, 2015

LOCATION: The Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street

TIME:   7:00 p.m. (Socializing with neighbors)

PROGRAM: 7:30 PM

We have a very full program!

OTCA’s liaison with the Alexandria Police Department, Captain Len Fouch and Detective Peter Feltham will brief us on identity theft and fraud and what you can do to protect yourself.

Yvonne Weight Callahan and Bert Ely, OTCA representatives to the Old Town Area Parking Study Group, will (briefly) brief you on the group’s work to date.

Sandra Marks, Acting Deputy Director of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, will present an update on the building of a Metro station at Potomac Yards.

Sandra Marks is the Deputy Director of Transportation with the City of Alexandria’s department of Transportation and Environmental Services. She holds a BA in Urban Studies from the City University of New York-Queens College and studied for her MA in Urban and Regional Planning at the Hebrew University. Sandra has been with the City of Alexandria since 2006 and prior to that worked for the City of Rockville, MD.  Sandra was instrumental in developing the transportation elements of many of the City’s recent Plans including North Potomac Yard, Beauregard Corridor and the Route One Transitway.  She was instrumental in bringing Capital Bikeshare and Pango to Alexandria and is currently working on the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station Environmental Impact Statement and the Oakville Triangle Planning process.

We look forward to seeing you at what will undoubtedly be a lively and informative members’ meeting!

PARKING, PARKING, PARKING

Where will all the cars go?

Bert Ely put it very well recently when he addressed City Council at open mike on February 21, excerpts of which are as follows:

(There is) insufficient parking for residents and their guests and insufficient parking for the large restaurant operations planned for both developments. Because of insufficient on-site parking, these developments will create additional parking demand outside the developments. No development will be entirely self-sufficient with regard to the peak demand for parking spaces that they will create.

The developers try to whistle past the graveyard by saying there will be sufficient space in nearby garages to park cars that cannot be parked within the development. However, even today, at peak times, nearby garages, that is, those who live a short walk away, are often full, and they are not cheap!

Where do visitors and restaurant patrons try to park today – on nearby streets when at peak times residents on those streets are struggling to find a parking space, too. This intense competition for parking spaces is at its worst on warm summer evenings. Even more troubling, we are facing a continuing loss of existing parking spaces along the waterfront through the dramatic downsizing of the Boat Club parking lot and the forthcoming loss of all public parking along the east side of Strand between Prince and Duke.

The parking inadequacy of the new developments is quite evident in the Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) has been filed for the South Robinson Terminal property, which the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear on April 3. That DSUP requests a substantial reduction in the amount of required on-site parking. Part of the justification for the parking reduction is premised on utilizing 21 on-street parking spaces in the unit block of Wolfe Street that already are fully utilized at peak times.

Based on information presented to the Waterfront Commission, the DSUP for the North Robinson Terminal development will include a request for a substantial reduction in on-site parking. The sketchy parking data presented to the Waterfront Commission clearly indicates that the developer intends for a portion of the peak parking demand created by the development to be parked in nearby garages and streets already saturated with parked cars.

Given the deliberate reduction in public parking spaces in the waterfront area already underway, which will worsen parking problems even if the Robinson Terminal properties were not developed, Council should adopt the policy that both Robinson Terminal properties must be able to accommodate, on site, all of the peak parking demand they create as well as all resident parking demand, specifically for the third, fourth, and fifth cars that some of those residents will own, including cars owned by adult children living at home.

To incentivize the developers to do just that, the DSUPs for both terminal developments should explicitly state that residents of the condominiums and townhouses to be built on those properties cannot obtain parking permits in their respective parking districts. Residents of the two developments should still be able to obtain guest parking permits, but no permanent residential parking permits.

Now is the time for Council to act, before the existing parking nightmare in Old Town is exacerbated by the Robinson Terminal developments.

Although Bert invited questions from Council, and waited politely to see if there were any, there weren’t any. The reason? Council, like the developers, is whistling past the same graveyard in their eagerness to jam as much development as any flinty-eyed developer might dream of down the very narrow throat of Old Town, Council is once again showing that it simply does not care if anyone who lives here can park even on the same block as their home. After all, don’t forget that all Council members have parking in the City Hall garage. Why worry about hapless citizens?

NOW HERE’S A SOLUTION!?   (SORRY, JUST KIDDING, READ THE BAD STUFF AT THE END)

We only wish this were a joke, but it isn’t.

The City has recently reconvened the Old Town Area Parking Study, known as OTAPS. Two meetings have been held to date.

The Study Group has a full plate. It is charged with reviewing existing metered parking and Old Town residential permit parking restrictions and to consider potential changes to the present parking practices and regulations. The ultimate goal is to make prioritized recommendations, if any, to the Traffic and Parking Board and to City Council.

It became obvious early in the study group’s discussions that the parking problem is quite different east of Alfred Street, going toward the river, than west of Alfred Street, heading towards Metro. The unifying element is of course, the trolley, and calls to have the trolley run more often have already been made. (It now operates at 15 minute intervals; during the wait time, they idle on lower King Street or at the Metro parking area.)

Staff provided data to the work group which contain some interesting surprises. Alexandria charges higher fines for expired parking meters than does Arlington or even the District of Columbia, long thought notorious for high fines. Parking meter revenue has gone up from a little under $1,500,000 in 2009 to over $3,000,000 in 2014. In general, between 2009 and 2014, there was a slight increase in the occupancy of metered parking spaces east of Alfred Street and a slight decrease west of Alfred. Overall garage parking is down, though not by much.

Staff has explained that a number policy tools can be considered, including pricing, hours of restricted parking, and options for payment. For example, if garage parking is made less expensive than metered parking, would that bring about more garage parking? Should meters be priced the same throughout the city or would it make sense to have lower meter rates in some areas of Old Town?

There also has been quite a bit of discussion about Pango, a parking app for your smart phone which enables you to pay for your metered parking with your phone. (Other apps can help you locate a parking space near you, your car, and your phone.)

You will be hearing more about Pango given one idea tossed out at the OTAPS meeting held on February 25. One of the Study Group members suggested that consideration should be given to permitting non-residents to use Pango to park in residential streets of Old Town, at least during the day “when many people are at work”.

Dear Reader, this is an idea whose time should not be allowed to come. Those residents who live in those many blocks north and south of King Street, already facing formidable parking problems both day and night, will be faced with the challenge of running to the grocery store during the day, only to find all spaces on their block taken by someone with a smart phone, an app, and the willingness to walk a couple of blocks.

This is exactly the issue which led to the creation of residential parking permits and areas in the first place. That was hard fought, and the process as a whole was rancorous and complicated. But, with some periodic tweaking, it has worked. Now the whole system is threatened by the suggestion that our parking problems created by too much development can be resolved if only the residents would abandon any hope that a parking place near their home is within the realm of possibility.

These issues—and many more—will be considered by OTAPS in the next few months. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, March 25, beginning at 6:00 pm, at City Hall, where residential parking permitting will be discussed.

TELL ME A STORY.

You might think we are making this up, too. We only wish.

Carr has proudly put out the following, which it is calling the “Hotel Indigo® Alexandria Old Town Neighborhood Story”, explaining that “For those that are interested, we wanted to give a sense of the Indigo brand and how this project is being tailored for the Old Town community. Each Hotel Indigo seeks to incorporate the unique aspects of its neighborhood throughout the hotel. As a part of the initial project startup, a “Neighborhood Story” is created to serve as a touchstone throughout the design process. This neighborhood story remains with the hotel once it is open for business and is shared with guests to enrich their experience in the hotel and surrounding neighborhood. “

Here is the story of Old Town and its riches, as seen by Carr:

For Old Town’s original residents, it was inspiration that first came off the Potomac River, and with it, the bold thinking to push the boundaries of what it means to be a working waterfront neighborhood and a welcome harbor for the world. Back then, Alexandria wasn’t much more than several tobacco warehouses and an inspection station on the high bluffs overlooking the tidal flats of the Potomac River. But spotting demand, locals saw the perfect place to store and sell mass quantities of tobacco and oaken casks of liquor.

As word spread for the day’s most popular goods, Alexandria suddenly overflowed with imports and exports stacked high within every available structure. Beneath the flurry of seagulls and among the rush of a new city (determined to out-do Baltimore), a shipbuilding center naturally emerged. Thomas Fleming’s shipyard on Point Lumley launched “The Ranger,” the first boat built here, and later the Hunter family helped hammer out the area’s skipjacks, longboats, large vessels, handmade sails and hand-wound fiber ropes, entwining Old Town’s maritime ways into the modern fabric of life.

Soon, the seaport rose with warehouse-lined docks as far as the eye could see. Inside were vast crates of sugar, feed, corn, fish and wheat, overtaking tobacco as the most important export item. Other buildings held exotic fare like mahogany desks, West Indian Rum and Rhode Island Cheese. This was the merchant empire, and every structure housed potential. Today, a few of the original warehouses around Gilpin’s Wharf still stand and locals know where to look for proprietor William Fowle’s initials stamped into its steel-plated cornerstones.

As the surrounding neighborhood grew, so did the warehouses and wharves, shaping a new shoreline. Residents expanded their lots in the only direction they could, and merchants like Thomas Gilpin looked to the water for their bravest move yet. Now the Strand, a once-boggy basin, is rumored to be filled in with old shipwrecks, creating a foundation for these merchants.

Wakes of that original optimism can be felt up and down the street that was once water, and now thrives with the wonder of rejuvenated shops, greenspace and strolling locals. And like those first visionaries, visitors arrive from land and sea, look out to the horizon and in that moment, truly feel how the area retains its original dockside draw. Today, the river rises and falls gently against the banks of a neighborhood whose energy seems to lean toward the water.

THE END.

Wait a minute, you think. What about George Washington? What about our beautiful historic houses that grace Old Town? Who cares about Rhode Island Cheese? Who wrote this? Have they ever been here?

OTCA member Hal Hardaway has expressed his outrage with eloquence:

The “Neighborhood Story” is crafted to evoke feelings of warmth and oneness with the neighborhood.   I find its “neighborhood” offensive to a neighborhood which does not want them.

Never are 18th century structures such as Fitzgerald Warehouse or Christmas Attic used as fitting examples to emulate for new buildings along the waterfront. It’s always late 19th and early 20th century warehouses. Why? Because they scale up for density and are cheaper to build at that scale.

Any resident who cares about Old Town and its history cannot logically make the leap from actual history to what Carr and the City are ramming down our throats. This is Madison Avenue propaganda. It is not informative, but insulting.

WINDMILL HILL BULKHEAD MEETING: FUN WITH KEY PADS

Community Meeting # 1 on the Windmill Hill bulkhead improvements was held on February 12. Despite the cold, approximately thirty (30) people attended the meeting. The attendees were advised that since the last time Windmill Hill Park improvements were considered and before budget cuts pushed the project out by five years or more, there have been many changes in shoreline treatments and best-practices development.   We were told that the Corps of Engineers has become much warmer and fuzzier of late, and is treating both citizens and municipalities in a more collaborative manner. Now, even the Corps is on board with the preference for environmentally beneficial shorelines; indeed, arguably, the shoreline at most of Jones Point Park is evidence of that. After staff and consultants explained the situation, keypad devices were handed out to the residents.

It was a wonderful example of group participation at its best. Questions were put on the screen, the first one being: Do you live in Alexandria? Then, you pushed the right button for your answer and the answers appeared on the screen, right before your eyes. The answer? Everyone lived in Alexandria. No ringers in this group, unlike the paid cheering squad for Robinson Terminal South.

Other questions were asked, such as how close people lived to the park (mostly within several blocks), how many years had they lived in Alexandria (60% had lived here for more than 10 years), and what kind of shoreline would you like to see? Most opted for the natural shoreline, but everyone seemed open to learning more about practicality, such as what would indeed improve the environment and how much would each option cost.

All in all, the meeting was informative and a rare instance where citizens could feel that their input was sincerely being sought and taken into consideration.

One participant commended the use of key pads and instant polling of the citizens who take the time to come to meetings and listen to the presenters. What would happen if Carr, or the developers of the Robinson Terminal properties, or, what the heck, City Council itself, had to poll the audience and get the results immediately? 99.9% of those present and pushing the key pads might think that the proposed developments are too massive and out of scale?   Imagine that.

Kudos to Parks and Recs for an informative and interesting meeting. The next meeting on Windmill Hill will be on April 8, at 6:30 pm, in the Sister Cities meeting room at City Hall.

THE WOW FACTOR

This is the latest adjective to describe the latest iteration of National Harbor on North Old Town. Looking north, and of course not south, the staff reported to the Board of Architectural Review that the Board “has always advocated for a “wow” factor in the pavilion design so that it could be an iconic sculptural element of the future waterfront park system. The Board was impressed by the pavilion options presented at the last hearing and encouraged the applicant to continue refining the latest design, which consisted of three sloped and overlapping walls on the east façade, likened by some members to an abstract representation of sails, or waves on the Potomac River.”

This is from the staff report sent to the BAR before its February 18 meeting at which it endorsed the proposed design of the North Robinson Terminal project. It is clear that even the proponents of the project and the overall design have—perhaps to their credit—abandoned all pretense that the current design fits with Old Town. Now they are touting how well the current design fits with the United Way building and Alexandria House, as if that is supposed to be a compliment.

To his credit, Wayne Neal voted against a BAR endorsement of the RTN proposal, expressing his opinion that the proposed design had no connection to Old Town.   That is for sure.

What’s Happening in North Old Town?    

Although the original “study area” for the Waterfront Plan was said to include the waterfront all the way north to Daingerfield Island, specific planning for the area north of Canal Center Plaza was deferred for consideration in a new Old Town North Small Area Plan to be developed later. (The existing plan was adopted in 1992 and has been amended frequently since—including four times in the past four years.)

Staff work on that new plan will begin this summer, and the public process late this year or early next. It will guide what will happen on several key sites in the area from Oronoco Street north to Daingerfield Island, from Washington Street east to the river—including the WMATA “bus barn” site, the ABC/Giant Food block, some public housing sites—and the granddaddy of them all, the 25-acre site of the now-shuttered Mirant/GenOn/NRG power plant on the waterfront just south of Marina Towers.

This month’s Agenda: Alexandria program (March 23) will ask what’s in store. Panelists include Karl Moritz, the City’s newly-appointed Director of Planning and Zoning; Tom Soapes, President of our sister organization North Old Town Independent Citizens Association (NOTICe); Marina Towers Board member Bob Hull; and Steve Peterson of the Peterson Companies, developer of National Harbor. Former Councilman Frank Fannon and former civic association presidents Mike Hobbs (OTCA) and Roger Waud (NOTICe) are producing. Interested Old Towners can come for the buffet dinner by Bittersweet Catering beforehand (6:45 p.m.), or attend the program only (7:15 p.m.). For more information or for dinner reservations, call 703-548-7089 or register online at www.agendaalexandria.org.

Old Town Civic Association | PO Box 1213 | Alexandria, Virginia 22313

http://www.oldtowncivic.org

This newsletter was re-published with the permission of the Old Town Civic Association (OTCA). For more information about the Old Town Civic Association and membership click here: http://www.oldtowncivic.org/assets/docs/otcamembershipapplication20140924.pdf

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