Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Ultimate Wish List

Happy New Year!

This has been a banner year for the Parker-Gray Growl. We're now 15 months old, and in the seven months since the Curmudgeon started tracking Web statistics, the site has had nearly 10,000 visitors and 17,000 page views, not to mention several hundred comments.

Clearly this activity plus the following that the blog has built over time shows that residents are hungry for information which is not being provided by any other source, whether it's the City of Alexandria or the somnolent civic association.

And 2007 will be a milestone year for the neighborhood. In February, the Planning Commission and City Council will undertake the final review of the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan.

Yet there's a curious gap in the Plan and the public debate on the Plan that the Growler thinks readers need to help fill over the next month.

We all know development is coming and it will open up new opportunities for the community. On this blog there's been a wide-ranging discussion about development and what it means for retail, public housing, transportation and parking.

But there has been surprisingly little discussion about what concessions and contributions residents of the Parker-Gray neighborhood can wrest from developers in terms of building design, streetscape, open and green space, and other meaningful amenities.

Developers know the planning game and know that these community contributions are one of the costs of doing business. So don't feel you are pushing them away by asking for a few things. They're a lot more robust (and have deeper pockets) than you may think.

But Parker-Gray is only going to get what residents ask for specifically. If we don't speak up now, Planning & Zoning staff will make those decisions for us. Knowing how we've gotten the back of their hand in the past, does that instill any strong feeling of confidence in you?

Let's put aside some of the weighty issues that have already been chewed to death on this site, and assume (1) that there will be increased density at and around Metro; (2) that we will get at least some of the key retail that we have dreamed of; (3) that Route 1 rapid transit is not going to happen; and (4) that the Andrew Adkins public housing project is going to vanish or be drastically reduced in density.

So with these sacred cows disposed of, what do you, dear readers, want from the development boys?

Let the Growler prime the pump to start with by discussing streetscaping. We should demand that developers contribute to a fund earmarked for the Parker-Gray District streetscaping, especially for established areas (blocks of single family homes) that are not going to be part of any new development sites but still need and deserve remedial improvements.

Such a fund could be used to move awkward utilities like the telephone poles on Fayette which disrupt the sidewalk. Or monies could be used to repair and repave sidewalks buckled or torn up over time by tree roots or damage. Perhaps it's time to think about putting in historic brick walkways like Old Town has by right. Alternatively, the funds could be used to install better and more uniform street lighting, preferably with a nicely appropriate historic design.

Why, you ask, do we need a fund? Won't the City do this anyway? They've outlined some of these elements in the proposed plan.

Well, the Growler's got news for you: the City isn't going to spend anything out of its own T&ES budget to do these improvements after the fact, particularly for Parker-Gray. And developers are only going to undertake some of these measures on their own sites and will not venture past their lot boundaries to improve the neighborhood unless citizens press hard.

What about the City's proposal to let builders build practically to the sidewalk? Should we be demanding more green buffer space between buildings and the sidewalks, or are folks happy with the idea of a brick canyon? Are we even going to be shortchanged with sidewalks that are too narrow, particularly on Fayette Street? Why not demand 14 feet or wider sidewalks where feasible? What about more attractive treewells and better tree plantings?

And why not require design guidelines for the new development? Potomac Yard has design guidelines, Washington Street has design guidelines. Why are there no standards being proposed to thwart egregiously bad buildings and mediocre architecture, or to prevent a jumbling of styles and amenities that shift from block to block?

So rise to the Growler's challenge and tell us you what want out of the developers. It may be your last and only chance.