Saturday, June 24, 2006

Assume the Position

The Growler has been chuckling at the City's latest efforts to circle the wagons around the embarrassing issue of Parker-Gray's long-delayed listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a prospect which opens up the possibility of tax credits for residents.

After a strong editorial appeared in the Alexandria Gazette about the City's exclusive focus on white history, the chairman of the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission (HARC) wrote an apologia revealing that the Office of Historic Alexandria simply ran out of space in an unusually long press release, which is why it failed to mention the Parker-Gray district.

Right. Pull the other leg, it has bells on it.

But the Growler is no longer laughing. It appears now that Parker-Gray is being set up for another betrayal at the hands of City staff and the historic preservation "community."

On Tuesday, June 27 City Council is scheduled to hear a report from the City Manager on Parker-Gray's proposed nomination. Interestingly, the very next item on the docket is a report on Planning and Zoning's Historic Preservation Program for FY 2007. And you've got to read both to understand what's happening.

In the first report City Manager James K. Hartmann stated that "P&Z is moving forward with the process to nominate the Parker-Gray Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, beginning with an education and outreach effort starting immediately and a community meeting in September 2006" (page 6).

So we're on our way in Parker-Gray ... or so one might think.

In the second report, Mr. Hartmann states that one of the issues for upcoming historic preservation summits in fall 2006 will be "whether or not the Parker-Gray area should be added to the national and state listings" (p. 3).

And who is advising Mr. Hartmann and his staff on historic preservation and suggesting topics for the summits -- including whether not Parker-Gray deserves nomination? A group that includes such Old-Town centric groups as the exclusive Historic Alexandria Foundation (no plaques for YOU, Parker-Gray), the Old Town Civic Association, the memory-impaired OHA, and a couple of somnolent City commissions like HARC that are packed with Old Town stalwarts whose principal activity is to protect their good friends at OHA.

One group that was included in the advisory panel is the Black History Museum. That's fascinating because it is not viewed by anyone around here as a resource on historic preservation issues.

Just last weekend the Growler confirmed with staff there that the Center has little if anything in its collection on the history of Parker-Gray from the end of the Civil War until the modern civil rights era and nothing on its architecture. The Museum serves principally as a platform for general black history consciousness raising as well as a clubhouse for Parker-Gray High School alumni, most of whom haven't lived in the neighborhood for years and are now 65 and older.

The Growler notices that Black History Museum staff are suddenly being trotted out by OHA to speak to community groups about history. But it looks like their inclusion in the historic preservation advisory panel is an attempt not to demonstrate that City staff care about the history of all Alexandrians but to co-opt the current residents of the Parker-Gray neighborhood. And since the Museum is operated by OHA, it is directly under the heavy thumb of City staff.

Mr. Hartmann further states in the Parker-Gray report that "In 1999, a workshop was held in the Parker Gray neighborhood to inform the community about the availability of state tax credits, approved in 1997 by the state" (p. 2). The City Manager added that the workshop was initiated by P&Z and was held with the cooperation of the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office.

What workshop? The Growler remembers no workshop and neither does anyone else around here. If there had been a workshop, why did former Mayor Kerry Donley state in a May 18, 2002 Council hearing that Parker-Gray residents needed more education about preservation issues? And why was there was no mention of the district's eligibility for the national register at a seminar that the Growler attended on Parker-Gray history at the Black History Museum in May 2005, where P&Z staff spoke extensively ... but not about the national registry or tax credits?

Or was it a workshop on a much different topic, with staff now trying to post facto stretch the meeting's purpose to make it appear they did indeed inform the community about tax credits.

It's all very suspicious.

So prepare to assume the position, ye residents of Parker-Gray. And try to smile while you take it from your betters. Because tax credits may never materialize in this neighborhood.