An Alexandria city official has circulated without City Hall approval a plan calling for construction of a 1,157-car garage and four seven-story office buildings near the King Street Metro station.
Current city plans for the two-block area recommend only improvement of the existing structures.
The planner's proposal, including five pages of schematic drawings, drew an immediate protest from civic activist Marian Van Landingham. "I don't think the city should be encouraging such massive development," she said. "We have never heard about this before."
City officials vehemently denied earlier this week that the documents represented anything other than a possible plan for the area, which is expected to come under heavy development.
The controversy represents one of the latest signs of tension over development in the area, which is occupied by abandoned buildings, car lots and small specialty shops. Property values are expected to double when Metro opens next year, city officials said.
The current controversy started last month when developer V. Rodger Digilio, who owns or controls three peices of property in the 1500 and 1600 blocks of King Street, was contacted by senior city planner Larry Grossman. bDigilio said yesterday that Grossman and another city staff member showed him what he called "a plan for those two blocks," including a four-story garage surrounded by four seven-story office buildings.
The two blocks are bounded by King, Payton and Prince streets and by Daingerfield Road. Properties on the site are within two to four blocks of the Metro station.
"I had the idea the staff wanted this plan implemented and wanted me to consider how my properties would fit into it," Digillio said. "Grossman said the staff had been working on this for some time, and he didn't present any alternative plans."
Grossman, 31, who has been in charge of planning for the King Street station for the past two years, expressed shock yesterday at Digillio's conclusions.
"There has to be some coordinated control over parking in the area," he said. "This was not a plan, but only a sketch. We are developing other possible plans for those blocks."
Grossman acknowledged that he had not shown the document to his boss, Planning Director Engin Artemel. "There was no need to," Grossman said."This was only one preliminary alternative."
Artemel said yesterday, "I would have preferred seeing his ideas on paper, but I can defend them anyway. Larry was trying to encourage cooperation among property owners to avoid hodge-podge development."
The city has limited control over what property owners can do in the King Street avenue. It has limited building height there to 77 feet, or about seven stories, and required that new buildings provide one parking space for each 4,000 square feet of floor space.
Harold Polk, who runs a Volvo dealership on land he owns on King Street, backed up Grossman. "When I met with him, I had the impression these drawings represented a possibility for development. He didn't say the city was backing his plan," Polk said.
Digilio, whose upper King Street properties are assessed at $261,500 also claimed Grossman's plans were at variance with published city recommendations to improve existing property on the street, including his own, rather than put up new buildings. Artemel flatly denied that assertion.