In an attempt to rejuvenate one of Alexandria's declining areas, the city is considering moving the offices of several city agencies and 175 city employes to the 2 1/2-mile corridor of Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.
Bustling with economic activity 20 years ago, the corridor now houses storefront churches and small repair shops, a telltale sign, the city says, of commercial decay. The Del Ray community, bounded by the Potomac Yard and Glebe, Russell and Braddock roads, is an area of working- and middle-class families.
It is these families that city officials say they want to provide with a stronger neighborhood business community. In addition to stimulating the local economy, the city maintains that moving the offices to a vacant building at 2525 Mount Vernon Ave. will cost the city less in the long run.
But some residents are concerned about increased traffic and parking arrangements for office workers, the agencies' clients and shoppers in a newly developed business community.
The Alexandria City Council approved on April 12 a preliminary $8,000 study on space designs of the building's interior, the former site of a C.L. Barnes furniture store that was vacated two years ago.
The proposal calls for renovation of the building, which would house the Human Services Department, Alexandria Alcoholism Services, Office of Economic Opportunities and a division of the Office of Housing. The council expects a report on the plan's feasibility in September.
Vice Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said the move will provide better delivery of services to clients, many of whom live in the Del Ray area. Also, about 175 city employes serving about 200 clients daily in the proposed building would create a market for merchants and restaurateurs in the area, Moran said.
Ron Halbert, chairman of the Potomac West Trade Association, said the plan "would be very, very beneficial to business and residents alike because it would give them some local stores to shop at instead of running all over the place."
But the Del Ray Citizens Association has reservations about the plan.
"It's clearly going to be beneficial to business but not if they shoppers don't have a place to park," said Michael Adams, the association's president.
The civic group plans to send a letter this week to the city in support of the city's efforts to revitalize the Mount Vernon Avenue corridor but in opposition to several aspects of the plan.
The civic group believes parking arrangements are inadequate and would lead to overflow parking on the community's residential side streets. The plan calls for the demolition of most buildings on the 2400 block of Mount Vernon Avenue to provide 90 parking spaces--20 spaces short of the minimum requirement. The parking lot would require rezoning the land from residential to surface parking, reviving an old issue in which the group favors no more rezoning of residential area.
The plan mentions building a parking lot structure to create more spaces, but residents want to know the size and location of the structure.
"I don't think the neighbors would be willing to support it without that information," said Marilyn Doherty, chairman of the Del Ray civic group's land-use committee, which is evaluating the plan.
Many residents also are concerned about whether the increased traffic problems could be worked out adequately to protect 800 children attending Mount Vernon Elementary School, across the street from the building, said Doherty, whose 10-year-old daughter is in the sixth grade there. A library and recreation area near the school also attract many children.
Adams expressed concern about the inadequate bus service along Mount Vernon Avenue. When the Braddock Road Metrorail stop opens, the bus service is scheduled to be cut, Adams said.
"So people have no alternative but to take a car," said Adams, noting that the distance of more than one mile from the Metro stop to the building will increase the number of motorists.
Moran said that among the benefits of the plan are consolidation of Human Services personnel and cheaper rent to the city over the long run. The city is paying $12.50 a square foot for the social services' office space, which is expected to increase when the lease expires at the end of the year. Office space at the proposed building would go for $12.75 or $14 a square foot for 10 years, depending on how much square footage the city rents.
Moran said some residents have expressed to him concern about low-income minorities who would use the city services at the building.
Adams said, "I have heard privately a few individuals--and I would characterize it as a few individuals--having those concerns. . . . It's not a race issue as much as a class issue."
Moran added, "They're concerned that the city views Del Ray as an area that serves low-income clients."