The Alexandria City Council, despite strong opposition from business leaders, adopted new land-use standards yesterday that would significantly reduce development in Eisenhower Valley, one of the largest undeveloped tracts remaining in the city.
Following a nearly six-hour hearing that wound into the early morning hours as business interests and citizen associations clashed, council members voted to trim by about half the amount of development in the four-mile-long corridor that parallels the Capital Beltway.
The council action, the latest move in a three-year-old effort to adopt new land-use guidelines for every part of the city and then to redraft the ordinances that govern zoning, still faces at least two hurdles. But sources said yesterday's vote was a major step in setting development policy for the valley.
Current zoning allows for roughly 42 million square feet of development in the Eisenhower tract, according to city planners; the council vote would cut that to 20 million to 23 million square feet. The revised standards also call for a building height limit of 250 feet, while current zoning allows heights in excess of 300 feet in some cases.
Despite the new limits, the valley would still be one of the most densely developed areas in the 15.7-square-mile city.
The council split 4 to 3 on four key votes, in general supporting the more restrictive land-use standards proposed by the planning commission and favored by local activists. Members of Alexandria's business community spoke in favor of maintaining the status quo or adopting less restrictive guidelines proposed by city staff.
Voting for the more restrictive measures were Vice Mayor Patricia S. Ticer (D) and council members Kerry J. Donley (D), T. Michael Jackson (D) and Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D); voting against were Mayor James P. Moran Jr. (D) and council members Lionel R. Hope (D) and William C. Cleveland (R).
Jackson said the votes sent a message that "we are a slow-growth, low-growth council," while Moran said the citizens groups have been active and are "politically intimidating."
Business leaders expressed concern at the hearing that curtailing development in the valley would affect the viability of their projects, and warned of tax losses to the city. The activists spoke of Alexandria's "quality of life" and their concern over traffic gridlock resulting from overdevelopment.
"We were disappointed in council's action," said G. Barton Middleton, president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. "I think what you have is severe downzoning of an area that the city has spent millions in preparing for development and growth. I'm not sure anybody has thought about the tax loss."
John Young, president of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, said his group was "pleased to the extent that council followed the planning commission recommendations." However, he expressed disappointment that the council did not designate 50 percent of the available space for residential use and said development in excess of 10 million square feet could result in a "traffic meltdown" in the area.
The council's action dealt a severe blow to Hubert K. Hoffman's bid to bring 20,000 Navy employees to the valley, according to Andrew Wahlquist, vice president of Hoffman Management Co. He said the city stands to lose $600 million in tax revenues over 20 years as a result.
Council members did agree to consider higher density and heights within 1,000 feet of a Metro station if the developers help provide affordable housing in the city. That provision would affect the proposed Mill Race project, which calls for five residential buildings and one office complex off Mill Road and Eisenhower Avenue.
Alexandria revised its master land-use plan in the mid-1970s but did not change its zoning code to comply.
In 1987, following a decade of rapid growth, the council began the head-to-toe review of the city's development blueprint with an eye toward revising the zoning ordinances, which were adopted in 1952 but have been amended since then.
For purposes of the reevaluation, the city was divided into 14 areas, 12 of which have now been reviewed. Still to be studied are two other potential gold mines: the north end of Old Town and the Potomac Yards, a railroad switching facility slated for large-scale development.