Thursday, March 30, 2006

Skeleton at the Feast

At Tuesday’s Council briefing on the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan, Eileen Fogarty was her usual bubbly self. There was the same yada yada about smart growth, walkable communities, vibrancy, and transitions. The politicians weighed in with the inevitable posturing about affordable housing and making sure the City gets maximum return for granting developers a density bonus.

The discussion touched on tax credits for Parker-Gray homeowners, but more talk was reserved for open space, green building, and WMATA's interest in developing at the Braddock Road Metro Station.

There were signs of successful neighborhood pushback. Ms. Fogarty admitted that parking is a major concern in Parker-Gray and says her team has conducted a comprehensive study taking all new and future development into account. (It remains to be seen if her solution to parking stays on target or is just a cover for controversial traffic moves like lifting the rush hour restrictions on N. Fayette Street.)

But after seven years, there seemed to be a shortage of true enthusiasm among City officials about the plan. Instead, the briefing was oddly subdued. The Growler wonders if Council are having some concerns about the direction of the plan. Mayor William D. Euille brought up office development, a possible land use that has had little discussion in recent public meetings. Andrew Macdonald and Rob Krupicka ruminated about the loss of historic warehouses and light industrial space.

To which the Growler responds: it's a little late for the pols to start lamenting that they have turned Alexandria into a bedroom suburb monoculture overreliant on residential property taxes.

There was also reticence about retail, and the Growler suspects Council may be wondering how successful the much-ballyhooed "mixed use" mantra will work at Braddock Road Metro when there are already vacant store fronts on King Street.

But the real skeleton at the feast seemed to be ARHA and the role of public housing.

Mayor Euille solemnly declared that "they [ARHA] need to be at the table" and must start talking to their residents soon. "Everyone knows it's coming." Which implies that ARHA hasn't really been at the table all along and has been mum with its residents.

ARHA representatives have attended meetings about the plan. P&Z staff have spoken with ARHA about redeveloping their properties along the lines of Chatham Square. Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks says ARHA knows that HUD is not going to pony up new funds to rehab old units.

But Ms. Fogarty admitted that redevelopment of public housing is unlikely in the next five years as other projects at Braddock Road come online. And if redevelopment comes, it will transform the older Samuel Madden Homes Uptown first -- not the newer but more troubled Andrew Adkins project.

So the Growler suspects that the prospect of having to push ARHA uphill into the future accounts for the sombre meeting.

ARHA is Banquo at Macbeth’s table, the guest that has lingered too long. But it's seated front and center and the City hasn't figured out how to eject it ... yet.