Thursday, March 01, 2007

D is for Density (But Not for Del Ray)

The Growler was ready to put a foot through the TV last Saturday during the City Council hearing on the Open Space Plan.

At the mike was a Del Ray dad, posed with tot in arms, pressing the City to buy the empty lots at the corner of Del Ray and Commonwealth Avenues and make them a park. "If that were to be developed ... then you really move yourself to the tipping point where you lose the community draw and get into an overdevelopment situation."

Another Del Ray pop spoke up: "Open space is at a premium in our neighborhood. ... Look at the density around this site," pointing to Mt. Vernon School and the Duncan Library.

Huh? What are these people talking about? What overdevelopment? What density?

It's time for the Growler to grab the shotgun and pop this Del Ray density balloon once and for all.

We in Parker-Gray have been lectured repeatedly that it is critical to develop densely around Metro and that we must be prepared for high-rise buildings with little open space around Braddock Road Metro.

But what about developing on all sides of the Metro? That's what other progressive jurisdictions such as Arlington do. Half of the area adjacent to the Braddock Road Metro lies in Del Ray and much of that land is part of Potomac Yard, once heralded as the biggest undeveloped urban parcel on the East Coast.

This windfall of empty land should offer untold opportunities for density and transit-friendly development — and with little controversy, since the space is currently a huge blank canvas.

But take a look at this Acrobat PDF, created by the Growler from data mined off the City Web site.

A preliminary word or two about this document: strong red lines show the future path of Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) once the straightening project is completed. Also, Potomac Yard is so enormous and the process of development will take many years, so the site has been divided into "landbays." Only those closest to the Metro are indicated on Growler's document. (See page 21 of a P&Z PowerPoint presentation on the Potomac Yard fire station proposal for more detail on each landbay.)

From this more global picture of development around Metro, it is evident that the City is planning to concentrate more than 3 million square feet of development — principally massive condo buildings — on the eastern side of the Metro and CSX tracks.

Meanwhile, the City envisions smaller-scale townhomes separated by big open space buffers on the western side of the rails in Potomac Yard and Del Ray. How dainty in comparison!

Don't expect to see this information disseminated publicly any time soon outside of this blog. Del Ray residents and champions like Mayor William D. Euille, Council Member Rob Krupicka and Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner don't want you to grasp what is really going on.

If this isn't disheartening enough, readers, check out P&Z's interactive map displaying new housing inventory. Click on a development number and you'll see a pop-up screen that describes the project in detail, including density per acre (which one of our readers has already noted). Check projects on both sides of the tracks and see for yourself what is going on.

Alexandria old-timers both black and white remember when the railroad bridge over Braddock Road marked the division between the white neighborhood of Del Ray and the historically black neighborhood of Parker-Gray.

Now it seems our City officials are working to perpetuate the same patterns that their predecessors did in the 1950s.

Can you say "D is for Discrimination"?