Vulcan redevelopment discussion derailed at Planning Commission by illogical traffic problems

The Vulcan Materials site (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Planning Commission didn’t have much by way of criticism for the proposed redevelopment of Vulcan Materials, but it opened the floodgates for Commissioners to dunk on the state of Van Dorn Street.

The plan is for Lennar Corporation and Potomac Land Group II LLC to remediate the industrial site and replace it with a hotel on S. Van Dorn Street, along with retail, condos, townhouses and more.

Sash Impastato, representing the Cameron Station Civic Association, said the nearby neighborhood had concerns that the project was still using a pre-pandemic traffic study as a reference for the project.

“Something needs to be done to do traffic studies closer in time to their bringing a project forward for approval,” Impastato said. “Using pre-pandemic data that is not adequately adjusted to account for current post-pandemic conditions is just not helpful.”

Staff said that the traffic study used pre-pandemic data because the alternative, at the time, would be using data from mid-Covid, which created anomalous traffic patterns.

“The reason why we did pre-pandemic numbers was… at the time of scoping of the traffic study, it was at the time when we didn’t know what traffic would be like during Covid, because the traffic study was implemented in 2021,” said Ryan Knight, division chief of transportation engineering. “At that point, we weren’t comfortable with what the numbers were showing. It wasn’t really until 2022 that we were like ‘Traffic is what it is.'”

Knight said the pre-pandemic numbers were “conservative,” but Planning Commission members said their first-hand experience is that driving on Van Dorn Street is nightmarish.

“Nothing works,” said Commissioner Mindy Lyle. “I was up and down Van Dorn four times today: it is a nightmare. There are three high-crash intersections between Edsall and Eisenhower. At Pickett, you sit through two or three light cycles to get out. Not one person in this room drives that as much as I do, so what you’re doing doesn’t work.”

Lyle said previous efforts to fix the corridor have also mostly flopped.

“When staff decided to redesign South Pickett with Modera Tempo it took over two years of badgering staff to get someone to come out and look at the stacking and admit it was designed incorrectly,” Lyle said. “It was redone, and it’s still incorrect. Staff has to be conscious that there is a traffic nightmare out there and no one is listening.”

Knight said the city acknowledges that Van Dorn is “something of a mess” but that there are efforts underway to improve the corridor. Knight said some of those changes could come when the city does its audit for the dangerous intersections Lyle mentioned.

Overall, the Planning Commission mostly praised the Vulcan development and said it’s unfair to expect that development to fix the poor state of Van Dorn. City Council member Melissa McMahon said the project was “making lemonade from lemons” at the site. With some amendments, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the project.

The Vulcan Materials project is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting tomorrow (Saturday) .

“This project is not the straw to break the camel’s back: the camel’s back is already broken,” said Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek. “This is an area that isn’t working presently and needs investment.”