The Alexandria City Council, tackling the explosive rezoning issue in the city's West End, will receive a planning study Tuesday that officials say will recommend curbing development.
Residents have stormed City Council meetings in the last several months demanding that multimillion-dollar development projects there be stopped because their streets were rapidly being turned into parking lots during rush-hour traffic.
"We will talk about it and change some of the highest zoned areas," Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said. "We are going to take into consideration transportation and livability."
Moran said the city has had little control over rapid-paced development in the area west of Quaker Lane because outdated zoning laws permit very dense projects. One such proposed project, a $150 million development near the Landmark Shopping Center that included three high-rises, 300 apartments and a seven-level garage, was approved despite strong objections because it complied with existing laws.
But the study to be given to the council Tuesday, completed under the direction of Planning and Community Development Director Sheldon Lynn and after seven meetings with residents and developers, is the first step toward a new comprehensive zoning plan that will give the council more leverage with developers, Moran said.
Under Virginia law, if a developer buys property under certain zoning conditions, he is entitled to those conditions unless a comprehensive citywide plan shows that rezoning would benefit most residents.
"The thrust [of the study] will be toward better, more consistent planning and greater accountability on the council's part," Moran said.
A recently released draft of the planning study outlines several other areas designed to control development and ease congestion in the West End:
*Designate the 164-acre Cameron Station tract owned by the U.S. Army as a combined office/resi- dential/retail/park zone. In the event that the Army should relocate the Defense Logistics Agency and commissary located there, as some local officials wish, the area would be freed for development and become the so-called "New Town."
*Encourage the use of mass transit, by building less parking near offices, and requiring developers to include incentives for other than auto travel.
*Remove parking along Stevenson Avenue, and the north side of South Pickett Street.
*Provide the city-run DASH bus service on Eisenhower Avenue connecting the Van Dorn and Eisenhower Avenue stations, and possibly Old Town.
*Officially designate the Holmes Run Greenway as parkland.
The draft also called for a special study commission to analyze the impact of setting a lower maximum density allowed in some commercial zones, and allowing very dense projects only if developers mix apartments and shops with commercial buildings.
"It's a marvelous first step," said City Council member Redella (Del) Pepper. But, she said, as far as containing development, "There's a lot we can do and a lot we can't do."
"The developers say, 'Hey, we had certain rights, when we bought this and now you're taking it away.' "
Lynn, aware that reducing property density, or downzoning, can lead to possible lawsuits, said that the draft "recommended very little rezoning," and addressed less contentious changes in traffic patterns and signals.
"The residents started off strongly asking for rezoning, but [in the seven meetings with city officials over the last two months] they discovered the realities of Virginia law."
Lynn said once a citywide comprehensive zoning plan is adopted, which could take a few years, the City Council will be better positioned to make sweeping zoning changes if they wish. But for now, he said, "this quick and dirty" plan will have to address the immediate concerns.