Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. is locking horns with the city's Commission for the Arts over the proposals of four finalists selected by the commission to design art for public land next to the King Street Metro station.

Moran, who has reviewed the proposals along with City Manager Vola Lawson in a private meeting, said the designs are "considerably different" from what he expected for the small triangle of land bordered by King Street and Daingerfield and Diagonal roads.

"What I wanted, and the reason I suggested the project in the first place, was for something they {commission members} call plop art," said Moran. "That means where you put a statue in the middle of a small, landscaped park."

Pat Shea, chairwoman of the commission, and other commission members declined to reveal details about the artists' proposals. Commission members, who indicated they liked the proposals, said it would be unfair to the artists to describe them before they are presented at a public exhibit this fall.

"I was pleased with the way all the artists took into account the specific nature and history of the site," said commission member Jeremy Adamson.

According to Shea, the project is the first time the city has sponsored a competition to design public art. A winner of the competition, which began two years ago, will be selected by the end of the year by the City Council.

The four finalists were selected from among 12,000 artists who were solicited nationwide, Shea said. The finalists were given a $350,000 limit for the cost of a design and art for the park and asked to relate the concept to the history of the city.

Moran gave the following descriptions of the artists' plans. "One was a 50-foot-high smokestack," he said. "Another involved digging up the park until you exposed the sewer pipes and creating a marsh with a chain-link fence around, which was not something that struck me in a positive way.

"Another one proposed digging the park up so deep that you could show the various remains of an archaeological dig. The final one had a net in the shape of George Washington's {three-cornered} hat that was about 30 feet wide that would have vines growing on it, and I wondered what it would look like in the winter when the leaves on the vines all died."

Moran added, however, "I don't know that I've been fair to the competitors because I haven't seen {the proposals} presented in the way they would like to present them."

According to Moran, the city purchased the land for the park for $700,000. The art project is being funded with a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, $30,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts and other public and private donations. The King Street Task Force, appointed by the City Council, will work with the arts commission in selecting the artist.

"We hope to get a lot of citizen input," said Shea, referring to the upcoming fall exhibit. "Once a final design is chosen, the artist will go into the design phase, where they will work with people in the community."

Once the public has commented, the proposals will be reviewed by the city's Fine Arts Accession Review Board and the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities. Both groups will make recommendations to the arts commission. The commission will make a recommendation to the City Council.

"All of the finalists are nationally known with good track records for working with citizens on public art projects," Shea said.