The Alexandria Planning Commission yesterday recommended approval of the master plan for a 13.7-acre bio-friendly park, creating two 86,000 s.f. athletic fields and public facilities between Duke Street and Eisenhower Avenue. The entire $62 million cost is being footed by the federal government to compensate Alexandria for the problems associated with redevelopment of the Woodrow Wilson bridge and 7 ½ of miles of beltway. The final plan will be presented at a public hearing by the City Council on October 13th at 9:30 AM.
The Witter Property at 2600 Business Center Drive will accommodate the two athletic fields, one multi-use baseball field, 141 surface parking spaces and a multitude of pedestrian amenities. The master plan calls for three unique solar powered structures: two open air pavilions and public restroom facilities, totaling over 1,800 s.f. Although the structures are far too small to qualify for LEED certification, the nationally recognized benchmark for “green” buildings, the entire facility has been designed to be proactively bio-friendly. The three buildings will house solar panels or photovoltaic roofing shingles in conjunction with an efficient use of natural and low-voltage light to reduce electricity consumption. The plans include bioretention systems throughout the facility to collect and reduce rainwater runoff coupled with dense rain gardens on the southern edge of the property to help absorb and filter the water, a “natural” way to continually recharge the soil in the park with clean, recycled water.
The property was purchased in 2006 by the City of Alexandria for $12 million, but reimbursement of the acquisition price and construction of the facility are being provided by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in a mitigation effort involving the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. The FHWA began work on the Wilson Bridge traversing the Potomac River and connecting Maryland and Virginia via the beltway, in 1999, finishing earlier this year. Along with the replacement of the existing bridge, the plan called for upgrades to four interchanges along the corridor, with the underlying theory being that the rampant traffic issues that plague the area would be alleviated upon the project’s completion.
The entire Wilson Bridge Project, which has cost an estimated $2.5 billion to date, has caused “collateral” effects including noise pollution caused by the construction and additional traffic congestion along the corridor. The new corridor cut into the green pastures of Jones Point Park and led federal archaeologists to research and excavate the neighboring lots two blocks west of the entrance to the park where a lost cemetery was thought to have stood, in an attempt to preserve any archaeologically significant material. Development on the site dates back to the 18th century, when it was divided into separate parcels of farmland and a lone family cemetery. The Fruit Growers Express Company (FGEC) purchased it in 1926, using the land for the maintenance of railroad refrigeration cars. In 1989, CSX Transportation purchased FGEC and took ownership of the site, converting it and its existing structures for industrial use. Excavation of the site uncovered Freedman’s Cemetery, home to more than 1800 graves of freed slaves from the Civil War era. Dr. Pamela Cressey, an archaeologist for the City of Alexandria for over 30 years, thinks that this type of archaeology will become more prevalent prior to construction. “In the DC metro area and slightly beyond, we now have County Archaeologists that are operating as managers. As a result, more and more developers are doing archaeological surveys in all jurisdictions as a part of their county’s codes, practices and policies.”
The FHWA promised recompense in the form of a new recreation facility for the community and a memorial park for the freed slaves. Initially priced over $62 million, the new facility was intended to be built to the east as a massive deck above South Washington Street, serving as a screen where the local roadway crosses above the inner and outer loops of the beltway. Because of technical problems encountered in designing the massive urban recreation deck, the city scrapped the initial plans and divided the project into two developments: a smaller recreation deck screening the beltway, and a new recreation facility – the inevitable fate of the Witter Property if all goes well on October 13.
A. Morton Thomas Associates Inc., based out of Rockville, Maryland is the design engineer and sports consultant for the project, and. has provided their expertise on a number of large projects in the DC Metro area including the Atlee/Elmont Interchange in Ashburn, the Pentagon Renovation Program and the Watts Branch Watershed Restoration Study in Montgomery County.