Monday, March 19, 2007

The Turn of the Screw

On the eve of the final public meeting on the draft Braddock Road Metro Small Area plan, a few things to keep in mind:

First, the large group agitating to keep 1261 Madison Street as City-acquired open space has had the door firmly slammed in their faces. Their leader received the following communication from Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald: "The consensus of staff and I'm afraid my colleagues is that it is too expensive to buy and not necessarily worth the price. That's the current situation."

The fact that our neighborhood is desperately short of open space or that our property taxes are funding the open space fund is apparently moot. Our tax dollars will presumably be spent acquiring the Old Dominion Boat Club or parcels in Del Ray. Meanwhile, we will have the privilege of paying an additional tax to support buses on Route 1 to carry commuters passing through to Ft. Belvoir or the Pentagon.

Second, though the Mayor and the other politicians may try to spin it tomorrow, EYA's redevelopment of the Adkins public housing project at Metro is kaput, DOA, off the table, as dead as Julius Caesar. There will be no redevelopment for at least a decade and possibly longer.

So what does this all mean? Why do we keep getting the shaft?

All the evidence indicates Alexandria's politicians and staff have spent the last five or 10 years quietly building up protected white enclaves of development at the expense of other more diverse neighborhoods like ours. Look at Cameron Station, Carlyle, Potomac Yard. They are getting luxury townhomes, huge swathes of open space, no public housing and little if any affordable housing. (The 60 units at Potomac Yard over the proposed firehouse have been carefully earmarked as "workforce housing," targeted at occupants with the highest percentages of median income.)

What do we get? We get to keep public housing and in turn get cheap stacked condos. And it isn't because condos represent the highest and best use of the land or because they constitute transit-oriented development. We now know density is a bogus argument, since the City isn't displacing public housing or promoting development completely around Metro — either at Potomac Yard or even at the 7-11 site. And research from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments shows that politicians and bureaucrats like T&ES Director Rich Baier are well aware that Metro is nearing saturation. (See the diagram "Metro Stations and Platforms will be Packed" on p. 5.) They are simply hoping to be gone by the time the congestion issues reach crisis.

No, the reason the City wants condos is the same reason Alexandria's Council serves at-large and does not represent individual communities. It's a technique to keep residents here powerless or silent. Condo dwellers tend to be single and childless. They seldom engage closely with the community and thus pose no political threat. They are also a bargain in politicians' eyes because they are perceived as being cheaper to service than families in townhomes or single family homes with children and lifestyle demands. (It's no accident that this was part of Vallery Stylianoudis's testimony on behalf of the Payne Street condos: clearly she was briefed and rehearsed on this argument by Bud Hart and his master the Mayor.)

This area was treated badly for generations because it was a historically black neighborhood. Times may have changed and so has the neighborhood in terms of race and income. But turning the screw on this neighborhood has become such a reflex action that politicians are more than happy to do so, particularly if they can keep it in a weak or supine position.

That's also where Patricia Schubert and the ICCA comes in: the politicians are thrilled to have a sock puppet who withholds information from the community, refuses to battle on behalf of concerned Parker-Gray residents, and who can be counted on to endorse any back-room proposal no matter how injurious the impact to the neighborhood.

The only way out of this quagmire is for citizens to show up at this farcical public meeting and start hitting the politicians, planning commissioners and staff hard about the inconsistencies in policy and the hidden agendas. This is no time to be polite.

Tuesday, March 20 at 7 p.m. at Jefferson-Houston School, 1501 Cameron Street. Be there.