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St. Albans VA project must fit with surroundings

I am disturbed about the direction the St. Albans Veterans Facility project has taken. Reports that the bids submitted include 10-story buildings totaling 4,000 residential units, a commercial strip mall and a magnet high school have angered the community. Residents believe that adding 10,000-15,000 people on this site would devastate the community. This has led to rallies, meetings and threats of lawsuits to try to block this project. I am asking the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, the property's owner, to review this bid process, convene meetings with all affected stakeholders and work to develop a project acceptable to all.

The VA-CARES project is primarily designed to provide veterans services. The project as described plans to use 30 acres of the 55-acre site for veterans service, with the remaining 25 acres to be leased to a developer as an Enhanced Use Lease. The VA conducted a public process soliciting input on the project and the EUL. Among the stated goals were serving veterans and creating a project compatible with the community.

Former VA Secretary R. James Nicholson pledged in 2006 that the project would be "sensitive to the surrounding community concerns, especially regarding the height of the buildings." The properties surrounding the St. Albans site are zoned for a maximum height of 35 feet and require one parking space per residence. The VA's Request for Proposal addresses these issues, stating that "the local zoning ordinances for the surrounding neighborhood dictates low density residential usage" and the bidder must show that developing the EUL site can be done in compliance with federal, state and local laws.

Reports of a large-scale project in the bids are provoking shock and outrage. This project would alter the community's character and violate its zoning; tax the existing sewer system; create transportation and parking problems; and add many students to local schools that are already overcrowded. Linden Boulevard, designed as the primary access for the new residences and facilities, is inadequate to handle additional traffic. These changes would decrease the quality of life for area residents, affecting the value of their homes and making St. Albans a less attractive place to live.

These concerns could be alleviated if the VA considered modifying the monetary payment or services being requested of the bidders. The VA proposes contributing only the land for this project. Requiring the developer to totally finance the facilities guarantees that the EUL bids submitted would be large-scale to meet the VA's requirements and maintain a reasonable return on investment for the bidder.

The VA has the authority to modify this project, thereby resulting in more compatibility to the community while meeting veterans' needs. I urge VA Secretary James Peake to consider what is presented here and meet with the community and stakeholders to develop a new plan for the St. Albans facility.

William Scarborough


(D-St. Albans)

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