Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Home on the Range

The Growler is in a deep funk about the development at 1261 Madison Street (Braddock Place), and not just because of the potential loss of green open space. (It’s a nice space with lawn, a grove of trees and a fountain and is well used by neighbors and their dogs, who don't have much breathing space in the densest, tallest developments in the area.

Now nitpickers may say this is out of the home range. Well, quibble if you must, but the Growler says the site is on the same block as the old Parker-Gray High School. It's in the larger Parker-Gray neighborhood but not an official part, because the Historic Districts have gerrymandered boundaries. And it's not a protected area.

The Curmudgeon is grumpy because the project has revealed the depressing truth about some of the newest residents of the neighborhood.

Yes, folks, we no longer buy houses as homes, as residences, as safe havens of comfort from the world.

Homes are now investments. And the City of Alexandria is now responsible for our financial well-being. If you don’t like the rate of return on your investment – your home -- you should throw the rascals out next spring in the elections.

Kinda like rebalancing your investment portfolio.

The Cranky One slipped into a community meeting about 1261 Madison a little while back. While the questions raged on – and parenthetically the Growler asks why do people keep confusing public housing and affordable housing? Is it because the only affordable housing now is publicly subsidized – the Growler noticed a middle-aged diva who was impatient with the whole presentation by a newbie Planning Department drone, attorney Bud Hart and the architect.

Once they were through and the questions were flying, Miss Thang announced that she luvvvved density and in the following 60 seconds enlightened the audience of about 25 with the following facts: (1) her property in Boston was in a dense neighborhood and had appreciated much faster than her townhome here, (2) that the City “needs to get off its butt” and “improve” the neighborhood so her investment here would appreciate faster, (3) that she owns a thousand or so acres in Montana and goes there when she needs to bask in low-density solitude, and (4) she loved Rosslyn and only left when she married a man who made $500,000 a year.

The Growler can’t believe that Miss Thang’s mother didn’t take a paw to her jaw and teach her better manners. People with real money don’t air it in public meetings in front of strangers. And frankly -- if you are buying in our neighborhood, you don’t have the truly big bucks. Those with money buy elsewhere, in Beverley Hills, Jefferson Park, Rosemont, Chapel Hill, etc. or outside town in Potomac or Great Falls or Georgetown or Kalorama. Not at the Braddock Road Metro Station. That’s it in a nutshell.

But what the Growler thinks is really going on is that some latecomers are getting nervous about their investments. They got into this neighborhood late (i.e., early 2000s) and the rate of appreciation may not be as spectacular as they hoped. And now a slowdown is on the horizon.

The Growler thinks that Miss Thang sadly representative of the new generation. The first comers (including the Curmudgeon) were attracted to the City’s charm, history and reasonable house prices. Some first-comers were well-off but chose the neighborhood for its architectural interest, the greater green space (owing to open space requirements different from those in the Old & Historic District), and the unpretentiousness of the neighbors. There was confidence. We knew who we were and we didn't need to proclaim it at the top of our lungs.

With the new generation, the arrogance and entitlement is right there in your face. “By God,” they seem to say, “I’ve spent $500,000 [$600,000, $700,000] on my house so now it’s time the City clear those projects out so they can be razed for more luxury condos and townhouses." We all know what the code means. As though the black residents aren't long-time Alexandrians and entitled to live here too.

You just have to wonder about someone who buys an expensive home in the Braddock Lofts, and then expects the City to start evicting the less affluent residents out as soon as the moving trucks pull away from the curb. What did these owners think they were buying anyway? Didn't they look across the street during the walkthrough and understand they weren't moving to Bethesda? Or do they really want a Disneyworld urban experience -- you know, lattes and faux-Federal homes with nary a person of color in sight?

The Growler is going to explore this theme a bit more in the future. In the meantime, the Bearish one is going to get a quiet word out to the kin in Montana around Glacier Park. Next time Miss Thang is out sunbathing her ample form in the low-density scrub pine and going ballistic because she can't raise any bars on her cell phone .... chomp! One less speculator.

Grrrrrrrrrrr ... ...!