Faroll Hamer, the director of Alexandria’s Department of Planning and Zoning, discussed current development trends, architecture and transit throughout Alexandria when he visited with the Del Ray Citizens Association last week for a question and answer session.
Hamer, who has led the city’s planning department since 2007, said there’s an emphasis on developing “an amenity rich life that you can walk to” built around transit. Those transit options include not just Metro, she said, but three high-capacity transit corridors that are being developed in the city (including the Route 1 BRT) along with other existing modes of transit.
“Change is always hard,” she said. “I respect that everyone doesn’t agree with the direction. I think it’s important to know that the direction we’re going is not the decision of the planning department. It’s completely a political decision.”
Hamer said her department informs City Council of the consequences of choosing one route over another on a given project. Council then determines which direction it wants to take and Hamer’s department implements the decision.
To hear what Hamer said about the future of the site that houses the shuttered GenOn coal plant, click on the attached video.
DRCA President Bill Hendrickson, who moderated the Q&A session, asked Hamer if it was time to slow down following a series of new small area plans, including the controversial waterfront and Beauregard plans.
Hamer said there are no new small area plans on the docket for the next six months. She also said her department is constantly evaluating what it has done.
“In 2000s, we built a ton of offices, but I don’t think anyone is going to tell you Carlyle is a great community,” she said, citing some issues in retail planning. “I think more residential development along Eisenhower would improve that community.”
The topic of walkable, amenity-rich, transit-oriented communities came up several times during the meeting. Hamer said she believes such communities are becoming increasingly attractive not only for young people but also members of an aging workforce.
“Baby boomers don’t want to live in an institution,” she said, citing The Oronoco luxury condos currently being built in Old Town as an example of a senior-focused residential development.
Hamer said Potomac Yard is being constructed with keeping that walkable, amenity-rich model in mind, though some philosophies have changed since that development was initially approved in the late 1990s.
“The thinking has evolved [on bicycle transportation],” she said. “We used to think commuters would use asphalt paths. There’s one on the eastern edge of the development [in Potomac Yard Park]. … Now cycle tracks and sharrows are becoming increasingly important. We agree that we need to look at that.”
An audience member asked Hamer to comment on a recent opinion piece published in The Washington Post about the urbanization of Alexandria. In it, Roger K. Lewis, a practicing architect and a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, expressed concern about the quality of the architecture in Potomac Yard.
“There’s a lack of iconic architecture we’re building today,” Hamer said. “Old Town is not famous for anything iconic. It’s the pattern, uniform nature, not one iconic thing. … One thing that could change is to use different architects. They’re not using different architects in Potomac Yard and I think he’s worried there will be some sameness.”
Hamer said architecture is something that’s very difficult to agree on. She said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Carlyle is the “one iconic building” the city has produced in the past 10 years.
Some attendees expressed concerns about the planned Potomac Yard Metro station and its effect on home values in the neighboring communities.
Hamer was confident home prices would rise once a station is built.
“Property values will go up,” Hamer said. “You mean how much? If you have more than a Metro station, you’re good to go. If you’re within walking of retail, health care, schools, your values are always going to go up.”
Hamer said the city is “100 percent committed” the pursuing the Metro station. Staff is currently plugging away at the comprehensive Environmental Impact Study for the station.
A decision on where the station will be located will be made by council at the end of 2014. The city's Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Group is scheduled to discuss three potential sites later this month.
“There’s definitely a sentiment to move forward [on a Potomac Yard Metro station],” said Councilwoman Del Pepper, who attended the meeting along with Councilman Justin Wilson. “There is a will that we will do it one way or another. It’s a value not just to this city but the whole area.”