Friday, June 02, 2006

Hot Flashes

Historians in Hot Water

Staff at the Office of Historic Alexandria were taken to the woodshed recently – not just by irate citizens but by the venerable Alexandria Gazette Packet editorial page.

OHA’s blooper? Failing to mention the Parker-Gray Historic District in a recent press release celebrating 60 years of preservation in Alexandria.

The press release went out under the byline of acting OHA director Jim Mackay and listed each of the districts that are on the state and federal preservation registers, including Fairlington.

Which is a stretch, since most of Fairlington is in Arlington County and its nomination owes more to County efforts than to any action by the City of Alexandria.

The press release referred in passing to two Boards of Architectural Review, but didn’t refer to Parker-Gray by name.

The irony is that the press release was issued to coincide with the visit of the Godspeed. Nearly every other state agency and group that has been involved in the 400th anniversary of Jamestown has stressed the theme of diversity and the role of blacks and Native Americans in the birth of our state and nation. Everyone, that is, except OHA.

And OHA forfeited an opportunity to pat City Council on the back by mentioning their recent vote for additional funding to ensure that Parker-Gray will soon be listed on the state and national registers.

But then, where was OHA during the 16 years that the Parker-Gray application was languishing?

A big Growler bear hug to the Gazette Packet for reacting to this myopia and finally insisting – in an unusually strong editorial – that history in Alexandria needs to encompass all of its citizens and its eras, not just the white colonial bits.

Just a last minor point. The Gazette Packet editorial mentioned that OHA’s mistake had been rectified, but in fact no correction has been sent out that the Growler (who received the original release) is aware of. The release itself cannot be found anywhere on the City Web site now.

Priorities

The Growler has learned that preservation staff are going to tackle updating the City’s 100 year old building list first – not the Parker-Gray District survey and nominations. And we’re being told the Parker-Gray survey will take two years.

So why aren’t City staff tackling Parker-Gray first? The case of Parker-Gray is a blatant injustice, not an oversight. Both tasks are important, but Parker-Gray has the superior claim.

Some in the neighborhood suspect that bureaucrats may be taking their cue from Councilman Andrew Macdonald. They believe Mr. Macdonald rode the coattails of Parker-Gray outrage to leverage the $100,000 funding from City Council for preservation projects, but is nudging City staff to take care of the Old & Historic District projects first.

Spoilsports?

And speaking of Mr. Macdonald, there’s an interesting letter about his re-election in the Gazette Packet and more here than meets the eye.

The Growler has been hearing of rumblings among Council, who are embittered about Mr. Macdonald’s unexpectedly strong showing in the May election. The talk is that there may be an attempt to deny him the Vice Mayorship, which by courtesy goes to the Council candidate who pulled in the highest number of votes.

Oddly enough, the rumor doesn’t seem to be emanating from the Del Pepper camp. Ms. Pepper, the current Vice Mayor, finished second immediately behind Mr. Macdonald.

Are there others on the Council willing to try to buck Ms. Pepper as well as Mr. Macdonald because they feel they should be entitled to sit at the right hand of Mayor Euille?

Braddock Road Planning Redux

Planning & Zoning staff held a work session with the Planning Commission on May 5 about the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan, which has been wending its torturous way through City Hall for more than three years.

Much that was presented was a recap from other meetings and other working sessions, but one thing the Growler heard is not going to make folks around here happy.

The Andrew Adkins public housing project, a block away from Metro, will probably be around for another 20 or 30 years.

Why?

In part because Andrew Adkins is relatively new, and in part because its units are larger than those in other projects. And ARHA needs those units for disadvantaged families.

If you remember, the Growler pointed out that ARHA is slowing being forced to yield the oldest, most decrepit projects to private developers because HUD is no longer freely dispensing rehabilitation funds for older, crumbling public housing dwellings.

But the City is still committed to replacing every single demolished public housing unit with another unit, preferably on site but possibly somewhere else in town. That’s the key to redevelopment, but also creates a dilemma for the disposition of Andrew Adkins.

It’s less challenging for developers to squeeze in replacement public housing units if redeveloping a low-density project like Samuel Madden Homes (the site of today’s Chatham Square development) than an already dense site like Andrew Adkins. The only recourse would be to find land elsewhere for the replacement units (which is getting harder) or allow the developer to build even more densely and higher than is usually permitted.

QSABA Kickoff

Parker-Gray has now acquired its own business coalition: The Queen Street Area Business Association (QSABA), which had its inaugural reception at the King Street Hilton in early May. Wilson Thompson of Calhoun’s Tax Service will serve as President. Other officers include Rev. James Beck of Ebenezer Baptist, Guy Boston, and Keith Calhoun.

The group started to coalesce about a year ago, with support from Mayor William D. Euille and funds provided by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership for storefront refurbishment.

In his opening remarks, Mayor Euille offered encouraging words for business owners in Parker-Gray but also issued a mild warning that the group should start sprucing up their establishments and push away undesirable elements.

Are the proprietors of the infamous Spa Court listening?

The Torch Passes at Jefferson-Houston

With the upcoming retirement of Melissa Luby from the School Board it looked like Jefferson-Houston would once again be left without a strong local champion. The Growler is happy to report, however, that one of our newest residents, Bill Campbell of Fayette Street, has now been elected President of the Jefferson-Houston PTA.

Mr. Campbell relocated from Washington State last year with his wife Ruby and two children.

Here’s what he has to say about his new role:
My goal is to make the JHAA PTA a formidable entity that can work together with groups such as the ICCA, KSCA, School Board and City Council. Clearly the parents of the students ought to be as strong an advocate for each of these issues as anyone.
If more of our new, prosperous and well-educated residents like Mr. Campbell take the time and interest in Jefferson-Houston, there may yet be hope for the troubled school.

But Mr. Campbell would be well-advised to read some of the Growler's past postings ...

Happy Summer!