The City Council has appointed task forces to rewrite the master plan and zoning code for Alexandria, which will to determine how the city will function in the 1990s and well into the next century.

The City Council, reacting to rapid development and traffic problems in the city that have escalated in the last five years, unanimously voted in June to establish the two task forces. The city's master plan was written in 1974, and the zoning code was written in 1952.

"What these two task forces do will affect what could be developed or not developed, the city's revenues, its livability and even the transportation for many years to come," said Wayne Anderson, who will head the Master Plan Task Force. Anderson, distinguished professor of government and public administration at George Mason University, was city manager of Alexandria from 1970 to 1974.

According to Vice Mayor Patricia Ticer, who proposed the two task forces, the council has been toying with the idea for many years.

Ticer said three factors convinced the council of the immediate need to update the planning documents: Development has grown faster in the last five years than at any time in Alexandria's history; the recent proposal to build a $500 million, 16-building Potomac Greens project near National Airport; and a report issued early this year by the planning staff that predicted the current zoning code would allow office space to triple by the year 2010.

When asked about the importance of the two task forces, which are expected to meet for at least two years, City Manager Vola Lawson also referred to the impact of the planning department's report.

"The report predicted that we could triple the amount of office space in the city by the year 2010 . . . bringing in 97,000 more workers and adding as much as 26 million square feet of office space."

Lawson added, "In 1980 we {Alexandria} had just over 4 million square feet of office space . . . that amount has tripled since the study was completed" in early 1987. Lawson said the report looked at 95 sites throughout the city and how the current zoning laws would permit them to be developed or redeveloped.

On Nov. 10 the council approved nine members for the Task Force on Revising the Zoning Code, and 20 members for the Master Plan Task Force. The two groups will meet separately, but will have interrelated goals.

"The master planning exercise is comparable to 'what do you want the city to look like in the year 2010 or 2020.' It will set the policy," Ticer explained. "The master planning group has to first come up with general categories, such as 'do we have enough open space in one part of the city, and is it balanced in another part of the city?' "

Lawson said the Task Force on Revising the Zoning Code will decide how the policy set by the Master Plan Task Force should be implemented. Both task forces consist of residents, business people and landowners.

The first meeting of the Master Plan Task Force will be held at 7:30 tonight in council chambers at City Hall. The zoning task force will begin meeting in January. All the meetings will be open to the public. Anderson said the master plan task force should initially meet twice a month. The meeting schedule will be determined tonight.

In an Oct. 5 memo to the council, Lawson said: "If the revision of the zoning code is to have much effect it needs to be completed at the earliest possible date before all the parcels with development potential have been committed."

She said the draft master plan should be submitted to the council for review and adoption by November 1988; the draft zoning code should be sent to the council by December 1989; the draft zoning map should be submitted to the council by March 1990; and the final zoning map and code should be adopted no later than June 1990.

"As many public hearings as needed will be held at each step of the process," Ticer said.

The city has hired Barbara Ross, of the Chicago law firm of Ross and Hardies, to serve as a consultant to the task forces. It is undetermined how much she will be paid and how long she will be needed. Sheldon Lynn, the city's director of planning and community development, said the firm "is very eminent in the area of land use law."

Many developers have said they fear the goal of the master plan and zoning code revision is to slow growth. "It's a natural, predictable fear," Anderson said, "I certainly wouldn't deny that some of the zones allow excessive development and {the master plan} needs to be rewritten to restrict that in some areas."

"Alexandria is just a vastly different place than it was 35 years ago" when the zoning code was written, Lawson said. "What we have now is a zoning code that's hard to read, that's been written haphazardly and that could allow rapid development in the city."