The Alexandria City Council will hold a public hearing Saturday on a proposed "Open Space Priority List Action Plan" that recommends steps the city should take to preserve the properties on the open space priority list it adopted in June.
The plan spells out a timetable for the actions and also recommends that the city issue $10 million in general obligation bonds to pay for open space acquisitions.
The public hearing comes after four years of discussions among officials, residents and activists advocating that the city do more to preserve diminishing open space in the city of 16 square miles. Last year, the City Council voted to set aside one cent of the real estate property tax rate for open space preservation. A committee was appointed to help determine how the money should be spent and recommend which sites should be preserved. On June 22, the council adopted a list of sites that the Open Space Steering Committee decided were the most significant open space properties in the city. The committee developed the report the City Council will take up on Saturday.
The sites are prioritized in three categories: "immediate priority," "priority" and "other important sites."
"The two issues that have divided the community are where do we buy the land and how much will we spend ultimately," said council member Andrew H. Macdonald (D). "This report still doesn't answer those questions . . . but we came up with an effective list."
The "immediate priority" category includes two sites: seven parcels of land totaling 2.1 acres along the waterfront between King and Duke streets, and a public access easement over a linear strip of property behind Hunting Towers on South Washington Street, which could be used as an alignment for the Mount Vernon Trail.
"There is a lot of emphasis on the waterfront," said Macdonald, who added that it would be a "hot-button issue" if the properties' owners do not want to sell. "What price we will be able to entice them, I don't know."
The city has several options for dealing with owners who refuse to sell, such as declaring that the land is not consistent with city zoning or using eminent domain and going to court to claim the land, Macdonald said.
But, he said: "I don't think anyone is interested in taking property by eminent domain. There is a general feeling between the council and community to a certain degree that we have to resolve these long-standing title disputes and make the waterfront a more public place."
Richard Leibach, a member of the Open Space Steering Committee who also serves on the Planning Commission, said the waterfront property would be of great value to the city.
"It would be our jewel," he said. "It's the kind of purchase you have to preserve for everybody."
The city's open space fund currently has about $4 million, officials said. But Macdonald said that land in Alexandria is so expensive that the proposed funds may not be enough and that the city may have to resort to borrowing more in the future to purchase most of the proposed sites.
Sites in the "priority" category include the Seminary Forest site between Ivor Lane and Seminary Road; nine acres of land behind the George Washington Masonic Memorial; and land behind the 4600 block and 5000 block of Eisenhower Avenue on the south and behind the railroad tracks on the north.
The "other important sites" in the report include property at the northwest corner of Seminary Road and Beauregard Street and property near the Second Presbyterian Church at Quaker and Janneys lanes.
The open space plan, according to the report, proposes "to trace a broad, green line around the City, drawing on the two channelized 'runs' that defined the boundary of Alexandria at the north and the south, joined by pieces of trails and possible linkage to the Potomac waterfront on the east."
"This Green Crescent . . . strung with pieces of trails and gems of parks, is now the backbone of a plan to connect our city and its neighborhoods," the report states.
Ellen Pickering, another committee member, said the city is finally "taking the bull by the horn" in moving forward to acquire more open space.
"We've only been chatting about this and never gotten into the ring," Pickering said. "This is the first time the City Council has taken deliberate action."
Following the public hearing, the council is expected to take action on the plan during its regular meeting, Macdonald said.