Monday, December 18, 2006

Steamroller

Last Thursday's public meeting on the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan was an opportunity for the community to ask some hard questions.

In return, however, we got platitudes — particularly when it comes to the impact of dense development on traffic and the future of public housing.

The session was led by Acting Planning & Zoning Director Rick Josephson, with an assist from Planning Commissioner John Komoroske. It featured yet another presentation on the dubious transportation segment of the plan by the City's consultants plus an update on development by P&Z Division Chief Jeffrey Farner.

The audience of about 50 asked polite questions about every topic, including open space, traffic on Route 1, buckled sidewalks, retail and WMATA's push to develop the parking lot at the Metro station. The Mayor and several members of City Council were present, as well as a few Planning Commissioners.

City staff sidestepped questions about public housing, although once the ice was broken several speakers did ask about housing, including the future of Samuel Madden Homes. (It's not part of the Braddock plan area but it's also not part of the EYA redevelopment proposal either.)

The most pointed inquiries were about the traffic plan. Under questioning, Josephson and Tom Culpeper of T&ES admitted traffic was going to become even worse with the new dense development at Braddock Road, with a 3% annual increase expected on Route 1 and a staggering 33% increase in trips originating in and around the Gateway at the apex of the study area by 2015. Their claim that they considered all of the new development on Route 1, including both the Arlington and Alexandria sections of Potomac Yard, when making these calculations was met with frank skepticism.

And repeatedly we heard what must be the single most fatuous description of Route 1 by City staff: "It is what it is."

One Patrick Street resident noted that the only traffic mitigation the consultant seemed to be proposing was a stoplight at Fayette and Henry, with a crosswalk for pedestrians, which seemed utterly inadequate.

In the course of the meeting, we heard the unexpected news from Mr. Farner that the Harris-Teeter project is in jeopardy. In the past week the company had presented new demands relating to street access, which the City was scrambling to address. This news settled like a blanket of gloom over the audience.

One participant who has been involved in the plan since the earliest days asked pointed questions about retail. He was concerned that retail space might ultimately be filled by non-retail activities such as brokerage houses. He also brought up the difficulties the Carlyle project is having in attracting quality restaurants with evening hours, as opposed to fast food restaurants serving the Patent & Trademark Office crowd during the week.

In response, City planners made the usual smooth assurances, but these trends should trouble everyone in our neighborhood who may be hungry for more local services and shopping.

Depressingly, one of the proposed retail uses that staff let fall during the meeting include "nail salons" and "hair salons." The glorious retail many were hoping for in our neighborhood appears to be now shrinking to a slightly upscale version of the Spa Court.

In the end, it appears that the politicians and planners are steamrolling everything in the path of completing this Plan, and after seven years it's somewhat understandable why. Let's get this thing done seems to be the philosophy of the day.

But there's some serious concerns that aren't being addressed. Is this plan really about protecting Parker-Gray or is it about another less obvious agenda that involves throwing a cordon sanitaire around Del Ray and Rosemont while pushing all of the problems into Parker-Gray?

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. the City Council will hold yet another work session on the Braddock Road Plan in the Sister Cities Conference Room (Room 1101 on the first floor of City Hall).

Be there if you care.