Is the Waterfront Plan Eco-Friendly?
Members of the Waterfront Plan Work Group discuss whether the city's draft Waterfront Small Area Plan makes them breathe easy.
The Waterfront Plan Work Group recently looked at an omnipresent but little discussed issue among their months-long debate – the environment.
Group members were seeking to determine just how to consider much of the land along Alexandria’s waterfront that was just a few decades ago heavily industrial and riddled with toxic substances.
Karl Moritz of the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning gave a general overview, per the group’s request, about some of the city’s policies relating to buildings and the environment.
The city’s Green Building Policy adopted in 2009 expects that all new commercial buildings achieve an environmental standard known as LEED Silver. The city also encourages that all new structures promote energy efficiency, water conservation and reduce the city’s overall carbon footprint.
The presentation sparked a discussion over whether the city’s plan is truly eco-friendly.
“Is tourism really eco-friendly? We’re talking about bringing more people, more vehicles to the waterfront,” said Bert Ely. “It could add to pollution in the river. Is the waterfront plan in the broadest sense eco-friendly?”
Bob Wood said: “When we look at the plan statements. It doesn’t get a lot into achieving the city’s (environmental) guidelines.”
But Planning and Zoning Director Faroll Hamer pointed out that most of the existing development in Old Town doesn’t have existing storm water facilities and any new development would be required to have strong storm water management. “It would be better than what you have now,” she said.
On Robinson Terminals north and south the 100% untreated storm water goes right into the river, she said, adding that a redeveloped site would have more stringent environmental standards.
Work group member Christopher Ballard noted that environmental innovation “generally stops at the residential level once it’s built.” For example, many commercial buildings have adaptable technologies that can be upgraded, he said, but rarely are those features included or later added to residences.
Alexandria Office of Environmental Quality Director Bill Skrabak told work group members that only as part of redevelopment does the city have authority to require cleanup such as with contaminated land issues.
He told Old Town Alexandria Patch in a later interview that while multiple sites in Alexandria have had contaminated soil, there hasn’t been a case where the contamination hasn’t been cleaned satisfactorily and the site developed.
“This is not a new issue for the city,” he said. “Sites like Carlyle and Potomac Yards or the dozen or so smaller sites where there may be construction on a former gas station - we’ve dealt with all of those. In not one of those cases did the contamination prohibit the development of the site.”
In one case, at the foot of Oronoco Street that was previously occupied by Alexandria Gas Works, the city has entered into a voluntary remediation program with the state in which Virginia will give the city a certificate when it deems the site cleaned to its standards.
The city requires before development a site characterization and sampling of the land, ground water testing, risk assessment and a plan for remediation including a health and safety component of employees at the site as well as during the construction process.
Skrabak said the remediation can “cost a little bit more” because workers need to wear special, protective clothing and there’s a higher cost for toxic disposal.
As for the plan itself, he said it could cause more boat traffic and "there might be some slight increment in a small amount of air pollution because we could have a bigger marina, but even Robinson Terminal has truck traffic today."
Skrabak said a new infrastructure would be greener than what is on-site today.
“The Torpedo Factory and Ford’s Landing all have had their own issues from historical and industrial uses,” he said. “We’re prepared to have sites in the waterfront plan go through the remediation process….At this point in time we’re not aware of anything that would prohibit moving forward."