Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hidden Agendas

Last night's final meeting on the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan revealed widening dissatisfaction in the neighborhood about the plan and its purported goals. But that may not serve to deflect the Planning Commission, which still envisions ramming the plan through Council in April.

The two key players in this putsch are obviously Chairman Eric Wagner and his good buddy Commissioner John Komoroske — the I (Heart) Del Ray duo. Under the polite mask of procedure, they seemed unengaged and uninterested in what the community had to say last night. Indeed, Mr. Komoroske's final comments seem to indicate he hasn't changed his mind a whit since the last public meeting. He clearly has a lot of ego invested in this plan and is not about to let citizens or facts get in his way.

The natives were definitely restless. Speaker after speaker talked about concerns with the proposed density at the Metro, potential traffic gridlock, the City's failure to address public housing (one speaker referred to it as "the elephant in the room"), the dearth of open space, and transitions between single-family homes and the monster buildings the politicians and planning staff are hungering to see built.

Some speakers identified the City's desperation for revenue as the prime motivator for dense development; others questioned the City's cop-out on dense development to the west of Braddock Road Metro in Del Ray.

The biggest backlash was against the proposed BRT. Despite the excuses of Larry Robinson, the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force and the boys of T&ES, it's clear they were plotting a force majeure implementation of BRT without so much as a nod to the wishes of those who live on Patrick and Henry. This crew is not to be trusted and will need continuous surveillance.

A lot of the angst in the room was fed by the presentation of City staffer Tom Canfield, who unveiled a "concept" plan for intense development at the Braddock Road Metro Station lot that left many participants gaping at its bulk and sheer ugliness. His boasts about the wonderful open space rang hollow too, since there were only slivers of open space left after the behemoths took pride of place in front of the station entrance.

To the Growler, the buildings tarted up by Mr. Canfield looked curiously like a hommage to HUD given their similarity to the federal agency's curvilinear facade on 7th Street, S.W. in D.C. Ironic, isn't it, given the fact that P&Z staff conspicuously failed to discuss a timetable for the redevelopment or dispersion of public housing, particularly Andrew Adkins?

Speaking of housing, the Growler was taken aback when P&Z Acting Director Rich Josephson went off on a tedious digression about affordable housing in our neighborhood. He seemed delighted at the prospect of squeezing our neighborhood to produce vast quantities of additional affordable housing — as much as 40% at the Braddock Gateway. Who was that fluff aimed at? No one in our neck of the woods is clamoring for more affordable housing, particularly if it brings even greater density in its wake. What this community wants are answers about public housing and how the politicians and planners plan to reduce it in the immediate future.

It finally occurred to the Growler that Mr. Josephson was playing to the politicians in the orchestra seats, not those of us sitting in the peanut gallery. And therein lies a clue to last night's meeting.

The meeting was not really a public forum for exploring the future of Braddock Road and Parker-Gray and working through the issues. Players like Eric Wagner and John Komoroske were reading from a political script that we're not privy to, responding to cues we can't see. That's why dialogue on both sides never met in the middle.

So the question remains: who's really pulling the strings? Is it Mayor William D. Euille? And what's in it for him?

Cui bono, baby!