At Potomac Yard, the numbers suggest a frontrunner for the Metro site

Alexandria has not reached a conclusion as to where it will recommend putting the Potomac Yard Metro Station, but the numbers suggest there’s a leader in the clubhouse.

It is Alternative B, the preferred choice of the area’s largest landowners, and the option that would generate the most jobs, the most new development and the most new tax revenue.

The city expects to have a draft Environmental Impact Statement completed by November, which will include a preferred local alternative. It will be released first to various local and federal agencies for several months of review and comment, and then to the public. A public hearing is likely to follow in April, with a formal record of decision coming in early 2016.

In the meantime, consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff has finished a financial feasibility analysis of the four possibilities — two of which had been ruled out months ago. The report was presented to the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group Thursday evening.

The competition comes down to Alternative A, the southern option adjacent to the Potomac Greens residential community, and Alternative B, a northern option much closer to the existing Potomac Yard shopping center.

Alternative A is the least expensive station, at $209 million. The debt service would run $15.4 million a year (or lower, if the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority provides additional funding for the project), and the station would net a positive cash flow — the cost of constructing and operating the station versus the revenues it generates — by 2020.

Alternative B is roughly $60 million more expensive, at $268 million, and presents a host of environmental issues that A does not. Except, area developers have agreed to contribute $72 million to Alternative B, and nothing to Alternative A. The maximum annual debt service for Alternative B would be $20.5 million.

Alternative A, described the city staff as the “lower risk/lower reward scenario,” would spur the construction of an estimated 4,300 new residential units, and Alternative B 7,100. Alternative A would create 20,000 jobs, and Alternative B 26,400. Alternative A would produce 9.3 million square feet of new development, and Alternative B 13 million.

“The Metro is what drives all of this,” said former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley, a member of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group, which was briefed on the Parsons Brinckerhoff report on Thursday evening.

The other two alternatives, which will be documented in the EIS, were both ruled out with the approval of the Federal Transit Administration. One was an aerial option that would cost upward of $500 million, a price tag that immediately forced it out of contention. The second (located basically where the Regal Potomac Yard is now) would require Alexandria to move the existing CSX tracks to the west, delay the station opening by three years and eliminate 1.3 million square feet of potential development.

The city spent $1.5 million and 15 months studying those two options, with nothing to show for it.

Jason Hansen, a Potomac Greens homeowner, is pulling for Alternative B. He told the work group of his concerns about noise and light pollution, vibration, damage to homes, fissures in the roadways and an “increased likelihood of crime.” In any case, he said, it makes more sense to put the Metro nearest to the shopping center.

“I don’t want it in my neighborhood,” he said.

The development community is, too, squarely in the corner of Alternative B. The 600,000-square-foot Potomac Yard Center, currently home to Target, Best Buy, Shoppers Food Warehouse, the theater and other big boxes, is slated for redevelopment by owner Lionstone Group and the JBG Cos. In 2010, the City Council approved a small area plan that would permit up to 7.5 million square feet of new construction.

Mark Jinks, Alexandria’s deputy city manager, said Thursday he expects JBG to start a formal replanning process in 2015. The first redevelopment at North Potomac Yard, Jinks said, may be the Regal site. The theater’s lease expires in 2018.The building could be razed and redeveloped by 2021, a couple years after the Metro station opens.

Read the full story from the Washington Business Journal.

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