It's been 33 years since Alexandrians won the West. Now, many residents believe they may have to do it again.
Alexandria's West End, a seven-square-mile tract west of Quaker Lane that was annexed from Fairfax County in 1952, once was a nice place to take a Sunday ride. But that is true no longer.
Construction, cranes and skeleton building frames are now as much a part of the West End scene as the frequent traffic jams there, and city officials estimate that within five years the number of residential high-rises will in the area will double. The number of office buildings is expected to triple.
Already this year, developers have won approval for $327 million in construction. And as each new project is brought to the public's attention, more angry residents jam into City Council meetings.
Their message: They do not pay one of the highest property tax rates in the Washington area in order to live in a congested maze.
"It's got to stop," said Donna Fossum, president of one of the most vocal West End groups, the Holmes Run Committee. "The traffic is already a nightmare."
At tonight's meeting, council member Redella (Del) Pepper said, she will request that residents be advised about individual development projects at the earliest possible stage.
Currently, most residents learn of proposed developments when they appear on the planning commission agenda, but by then the commission can only alter the plans if they violate city code, and not because they are undesirable.
"It's just so frustrating for citizens to go to these meetings and be told there is nothing we can do, because technically they [developers] are within the law," Pepper said.
Business leaders say that precisely because Alexandrians pay $1.39 per $100 assessed value of real estate property, they should welcome the development instead of trying to shoo it into other Capital Beltway communities.
Fairfax County's property tax rate is also $1.39; Arlington's is 95 cents.
"If we stopped development today, it would just leapfrog into Fairfax," said John O. Woods, president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. Steadily increasing traffic is the real menace in the West End, Woods said, and much of that comes from Fairfax and Prince William commuters.
"We'll not only lose the tax revenue but we'll still get the traffic" by stopping developers at the city limits, the Chamber of Commerce spokesman said.
Mayor James P. Moran, aware that the city needs a lower tax rate to attract residents and developers, is hesitant to say that 40 high-rises in the West End by 1990 is too many. Yet, he said, "If I were living out there I would think it too much."
Within six months, Moran said, the city hopes to have a new citywide master development plan, which attorneys say is needed to justify "down-zoning," or decreasing the scale of construction permitted.
Much of the West End land, first zoned in 1953 when it had just been annexed and was largely bare, is currently zoned for a density about three times as high as comparable commercial areas in Fairfax County.
Before the new master plan clears the public hearing and legal process, however, many developers are quickly submitting high-density plans, protesting that they bought the property because it was zoned to allow high-rises.
"I feel like we're peddling as fast as we can" to contain construction, said Pepper. "But the developers are peddling as fast as they can."
Pepper and about 30 other community leaders are so concerned about the future of the West End that they are meeting with developers and city staff members every Wednesday until Christmas to discuss methods of guiding and controlling the construction.
As group members sat on short-legged cafeteria chairs at Patrick Henry Elementary School for their first meeting last month, one resident after another spoke of the clogged traffic, lost open space and congested skylines that are increasingly common and becoming more accepted in suburbs hugging the Beltway.
"We'll march on City Hall if we have to," said citizen activist Ben Brenman.
Brenman argued there is no more room in the West End for anything remotely similar to the recently approved 10-acre Landmark Century project.
That $150 million project, near the Landmark Shopping Center -- which is itself in the throes of doubling in size -- includes a 300-room hotel, a 300-unit apartment building, three office towers and the city's largest parking garage.
"The West End belongs to us," declared Brenman, "and, by God, we're going to prove it."