As The Waypoint at Fairlington moves forward, some old traffic concerns and misconceptions about the project have resurfaced.
The Waypoint, and 81-unit affordable housing development at Fairlington Presbyterian Church (3846 King Street) was approved in 2018, but old criticisms of the project’s added density flooded the comment sections when the city applied for federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships.
Some nearby communities are supportive of the project. The Fairlington Citizens Association, which represents roughly 7,500 residents near the project, was generally supportive of the project.
“While the FCA Board takes no position on the specific design of the pending proposal — though we have heard no complaints about it from any of our residents — we believe it aligns well with the church’s history and mission,” the FCA said in a statement to city staff. “The FCA also supports the effort to provide affordable housing, which is essential to the sustainable growth of our community, and believes that the proposal would make an important contribution to expanding affordable housing in this part of Alexandria.”
Others like Carter Flemming, president of the Seminary Hill Association, which represents many of the neighbors nearest to the church, said the lingering discontent is a result of residents both feeling like they were ignored during the civic process and a general fear that the project will only exacerbate problems at the intersection of Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive.
“It’s a tricky intersection at best,” Flemming said. “Adding this many cars coming out from a garage, people are concerned about that.”
A traffic study by contractor Wells and Associates looked specifically at that intersection, and found that traffic levels were within acceptable parameters, although there were some delays at the site.
“Field observations and knowledge of existing travel patterns, particularly during the A.M. peak hour, indicate that greater delays are experienced by vehicles at this location,” the study said. “The oversaturated conditions in conjunction with the closely spaced traffic signal at King Street, limit the amount of vehicles able to be processed.”
The study concluded that the project would not significantly impact the traffic conditions at the intersection.
“The results of the traffic analyses indicate that the additional vehicle trips generated by the proposed residential development would have a negligible impact to the roadway network,” the study said, “with only minor increases in the overall intersection and turning movement delays.”
Flemming said the traffic study was still based on assumptions that other neighbors didn’t agree with.
“There’s an assumption that if you’re in an affordable unit you can’t afford a car, and I don’t think that’s true based on experience,” Flemming said. “Seminary Hill did not feel the parking impacts and traffic study was all that on target for this development. Once it’s built and done, if it’s all jammed up, it will be too late.”
Still Flemming noted that there’s a fine line her organization walks when discussing concerns about a project like this without seeming opposed to affordable housing.
“We’re not opposed to affordable housing and don’t want to be perceived as against affordable housing,” Flemming said. “You have to increase density to pay for affordable housing units, that’s just reality. But no one acknowledges that most of the time. When we say we want to add X-number of affordable units, means we have to multiply that density by a lot.”
Reverand Juli Wilson-Black, Pastor of Fairlington Presbyterian Church, said her church had no reason to doubt the results of the traffic study.
“We are aware of long-standing concerns about traffic back-ups at the intersection of Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive that predate this project,” Wilson-Black said. “The City traffic studies indicated negligible additional impact from the Waypoint and we have no reason not to believe the reliability of the City’s studies.”
Flemming said the other thing that upset many nearby neighbors was a feeling of not being included in the development process. Many residents felt very connected to the development at the Church of the Resurrection, though that project too faced backlash from some neighbors.
“It’s the thing all neighbors are concerned about when things change,” Flemming said. “Usually in our city, even if in the end we don’t agree with the conclusion, we have a more inclusive process… This was a closed circle. People went to the meetings and raised questions, but they were brushed aside.”
Wilson-Black said the church has seven community meetings on the project and made changes based on community feedback. The FCA said they were involved and invited to briefings on the project.
“As the plans for affordable housing on the church’s property have developed, the church and Wesley Housing Development Corporation have invited FCA to community briefings on the project,” the FCA said. “In addition, they provided FCA a special presentation on plans for the development last year… We appreciate the city’s effort to keep us informed as this proposal has gone forward, and we thank you for the time that you and Sara Brandt-Vorel have given FCA in briefing us on proposed development in the part of Alexandria that borders Fairlington.”
Wilson-Black said limited work is scheduled to begin this summer to move the church’s playground to the front lawn.
“We are excited about the creation of a new playground/park space in the front lawn that will be accessible to all of our neighbors, outside of the operating hours of our tenant the Potomac Crescent Waldorf School,” Wilson-Black said. “Further construction on the site is scheduled to begin this October. We are especially glad to be able to build affordable housing right now in light of the pandemic, which has brought to light the chronic housing insecurity that so many of our neighbors live with.”
Image via Wesley Housing