The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously last night to amend a master development plan, moving a step closer to the touchy legal matter of rezoning the city's West End to reduce the amount of development permitted there.
Zoning laws called outdated by council members permit massive developments such as a $150 million project approved last year near the Landmark Shopping Center. That development will include three high-rise buildings, 300 apartments and a seven-level garage on a relatively small slice of land.
The new amendment states the city's intent to permit smaller buildings and development less dense than currently allowed in certain areas near Cameron Station and the Van Dorn Metro station. Once the master plan is completely updated, a process that could take years because of necessary public hearings, it can be used as a legal basis for rezoning.
Reducing the size of buildings permitted on lots -- so-called down-zoning -- has led to costly court battles between many property owners and municipalities. Alexandria hopes to avoid a long confrontation by showing public need for preserving some open space and preventing traffic congestion.
"You just can't go and rezone. It's a complicated problem," said planning director Sheldon Lynn. "The main thing now is for the city to state its policy on development."
In other action, the council asked Metro to increase its fares rather than ask localities for more funding. Alexandia currently pays $9.1 million in subsidies for the Metro rail and bus, and projections for next year call for an increase of $770,000.
City Council member Robert L. Calhoun said the city cannot afford to increase its funding to Metro because of federal cutbacks affecting many of the city's programs.
"We don't have the luxury of raising taxes, and we have a very tight budget," Calhoun said. "We've asked every city department to take a cut, and we're in a battle with the schools now. Metro is just going to have to understand that."
The council also decided to raise the residential parking permit fee and the parking meter rates in the central business district. By summer, it will cost $1 an hour instead of 50 cents to park in the commercial area east of Henry Street.
The current $5 fee for each residential parking permit also was changed to $10 for the first car, $15 for the second and $50 for each additional car.
To answer residents' complaints that shoppers and restaurant patrons are crowding them out of parking spaces on the streets, the council also voted to extend the weekday two-hour parking limit for nonresidents through Saturday.
The council also planned to appoint a task force April 22 to determine whether city restaurants should provide nonsmoking sections for customers.