To the Editor:
The following open letter was addressed to the Alexandria City Council, School Board, and the Patrick Henry Team.
We, a group of concerned Patrick Henry neighbors, want to summarize our concerns about the site plans presented to the community on April 22 and make some suggestions.
School Buildings: Designs that “anchor” the school at the corner of Latham Street and Taney Avenue, and any design that places buildings on Latham go against the neighborhood’s character. This is a quiet, suburban neighborhood.
Recreation Center: Adding such a large recreation center overloads the site. Parents emphasized that it was necessary for after-school programs. A smaller, attached rec center or an expansion of the school gym could meet this need. A 2008 study proposed an expanded rec center that would better fit the neighborhood and meet the needs of the school and community.
Outside Field: We prefer designs that keep the fields along Latham. The presence of the school is obvious while it preserves the character of the neighborhood.
Parking: Any parking or entrances on Latham are a major concern. This would disrupt the traffic patterns on our narrow streets. We ask that no entry or exit, or parking lots be placed on Latham.
The city’s own planning documents recognize the different character of Latham, a narrow street. Taney Avenue is classified as a “residential collector” by Alexandria City’s Major Thoroughfare Plan and its Comprehensive Transportation Master Plan. Latham is classified as “local or residential.” The plans state that “local traffic should be encouraged while cut through traffic should be limited and discouraged.” The Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program has a goal to “provide protection to residential neighborhoods from traffic operating at excessive speeds and excessive volumes of traffic.” The Seminary Hill/Strawberry Hill Small Area Plan states that “protecting residential sections from non-local traffic” is one of its objectives.
Any access point on Latham would be in direct violation of the city’s own plans.
Some of the neighbors have voiced their concern about site capacity. How many people will really be added to the neighborhood? The increase in population will have the following impacts: added traffic, a drop in real estate values, and security issues. Two of these concerns are addressed below.
The addition of a larger recreation center, the overloading of the site, and the loss of natural setting may reduce real estate values, thus decreasing the city’s residential tax base. The property owners bought their property before plans were made to change the neighborhood’s character. One of the determining factors for most was the quiet, suburban feel of the neighborhood.
The West End of Alexandria has already seen development in the form of the BRAC and the Beauregard Small Area Plan pressing in on our small neighborhoods. This must be considered.
The neighborhood will have a larger number of people coming to the site. While most will be there to enjoy the facilities, a small number of people will use it for illegal purposes. The designs feature a large recreation center surrounded by a fire lane at the back of the site along the woods. Criminal activities could occur there, a danger to all nearby residents.
Suggestions and Questions:
Although the community meetings in March and April come late in the process, we appreciate the efforts to integrate our concerns. We offer the following suggestions:
The designs that best conserve the suburban feel of this neighborhood are those keeping the fields along Latham.
The school gymnasium could be used and expanded, or a smaller recreation center be attached, to provide after school services.
We request that no entry/exit point or parking lots be placed on Latham Street.
We request that a different site be considered for the recreation center. Alternatively, we request that a smaller recreation center similar to the plans in 2008 be considered.
Some questions are still pending:
Who requested a new recreation center on this site?
What facts justify the site and scale of the proposed recreation center?
Why were the 2008 plans abandoned?
If the city requested the recreation center, why was a site chosen in a quiet, residential part of the city?
What will be the cost of the larger proposed recreation center to the taxpayers?
This is a condensed version of a letter signed by over 40 members of the neighborhood surrounding Patrick Henry Elementary School.