City planners hosted an informal gathering over the weekend to gather input and offer information about a proposed park on the Wythe Street Post Office block.
“The idea for this meeting is to get as many people in the neighborhood exposed to what is going on here,” said Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Karl Moritz, who was at the Saturday afternoon meeting answering community questions.
The park was approved with the Braddock Road Metro Station Small Area Plan in March 2008 and in May 2010 the city purchased for $2.35 million with open space funds a property at 600 N. Henry St. as the first step in the park’s implementation process.
At the time there was no available funding for park planning or construction, according to an Aug. 28, 2012 memo from the city’s manager to the mayor and City Council.
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However, activity on the matter was recently spurred because the city’s lease for 600 N. Henry St. is coming to an end with no plans to develop it. Additionally, developer contributions for projects in the area, such as 621 Payne St., are due around the end of this year. Those funds include a developer contribution of $2.2 million for community open space and $600,000 for “community amenities” during the next two to three years, the memo says.
“I just want open green space in the area and some landscaping,” said meeting attendee Chrissa Benson, who recently moved to the area with her husband. “I’m excited about the redevelopment of North Old Town.”
The Braddock Small Area Plan also expects that there will be private redevelopment on at least part of the U.S. Postal System site on Wythe Street.
The city is working with the Postal System’s commercial real estate broker on the issue. Moritz said the city’s Planning and Zoning Office should hear shortly whether the post office has decided to move forward with conducting an economic analysis on the benefits of moving.
As the city moves forward with the planning process “we’re trying to find out which kinds of features the community is looking for,” Moritz said. Meeting attendees were offered the opportunity to take a “Park Programming Elements Preference” survey, noting their desired preference for elements including an amphitheater, play areas for children, interactive fountains, public art and adult fitness areas.
Neighborhood resident Peter Katz said he wants the city to focus on security in its park design, among other things.
"Alexandria needs a proper square...A place for neighbors and others to get together," he said.
Katz called downtown's Market Square "over-designed hardscape," explaining it has too much brick and needs more grassy or softscape elements. "The new square should be friendly for families," he said.
Moritz said the city has had discussions with the Braddock Implementation Advisory Group about the 600 N. Henry structure and the group supports its demolition. The one-story building built around 1940 is a “good example of the Streamline Moderne architectural style, characterized by the curving stainless steel canopy over the entry and steel windows with horizontal muntins,” the city manager’s memo notes.
The building is not within the Parker-Gray Historic District so demolition would not require a permit. It is listed as a “contributing structure” in the recently adopted Parker Gray National Register Historic District.
Moritz said perhaps some of the building’s architectural interests such as the entry canopy could be removed, for example, and reused as part of the new development on the site. Those solutions also appear in the city manager’s memo.
The city would have to reimburse its Open Space Fund the $2.35 million purchase price if the property is not used for open space. Additionally, the city would be faced with finding a use for the building, providing parking for it and the loss of park acreage.
“The goal has always been the park,” Moritz said.
For more information about the city’s Braddock Metro Neighborhood Implementation Plan, see http://alexandriava.gov/Braddock.