Potomac Yard project raises traffic, tax fears

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Alexandria officials are reshaping the north end of Potomac Yard as a multi-billion-dollar development with 7.5 million square feet of residential, retail and commercial space.

But the prospect of higher taxes, more traffic and the loss of prized retail stores has some residents expressing reservations about the City Council's approval Saturday of plans to redevelop 69 acres. The tract is bordered to the north by Four Mile Run, to the west by Route 1 and to the south by East Glebe Road.

City officials have said the $3 billion to $4 billion development cannot progress without a financial plan for a Metro station on the Yellow and Blue lines. They estimate that a station off an East Glebe Road extension could cost $190 million to $270 million, depending on its location.

To help pay for the station, the council will consider creating two special tax districts in the fall to supplement developer contributions and taxes on the construction. The districts would add 10 or 20 cents per $100 of assessed value to a property's tax bill to help repay bonds the city would issue to finance construction.

Mayor William D. Euille (D) said before considering the tax districts, officials will meet with affected communities, such as Potomac Greens, one of the largest.

Rob Zitz, a Potomac Greens resident, said that when he bought his house, he was told his property might become part of a special tax district. He said, however, that the city has not engaged him or his neighbors on the issue. Zitz said city officials told him when the development is completed, his property value will rise. "We say, 'You know what? It probably will, but so will our real estate taxes, given the assessment on our property. Why should we pay twice?' "

Up to 2.25 million square feet could be developed, even if plans for the Metro station fall through, and that has some residents worried about traffic. Plans exist to dedicate lanes for bus, streetcar or other high-capacity transit to connect Route 1 and a new Potomac Avenue to Arlington County's Crystal Drive. Officials said that would be completed before construction begins on the Metro station. Construction will begin later this year on a new street grid between Route 1 and Potomac Avenue, said Mark Jinks, Alexandria's deputy city manager.

"I guess at some point, you just have to go on faith" that the Metro station will be built, said David Fromm, a Del Ray resident.

"There is a degree of certainty" that the station will make its way through the estimated three-year federal environmental review process, said Rich Baier, Alexandria's head of transportation.

To make way for the development, some successful stores, such as a Shopper's Food Warehouse and a Target in the Potomac Yard Shopping Center, would have to be demolished.

The shopping center's "income and success of its stores far exceeded the projections," Jinks said. "As a result, it is not easy to say, 'Let's scrap it and start over.' " The Target is "one of the best in the nation at times," he added.

Those businesses could reopen in the new complex, said Dan McCaffery, president of McCaffery Interests, the project's developer.

Because Alexandria officials want the development to be "green," sidewalk and street surfaces would allow rainwater to percolate through to the ground water, and runoff would be collected and used for irrigation, said Faroll Hamer, Alexandria's planning director.

Some tall buildings are planned for the property's center, but lower densities are planned near Route 1. Affordable housing is planned, along with parks, wide sidewalks, connections to bike lanes and public art.

"We really are going to create a new city," Hamer said.

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