Monday, April 09, 2007

Talking Down

On Friday afternoon, the Planning & Zoning Department published "minutes" of the March 20 public meeting on the Braddock Road plan, which the Growler finds highly amusing.

Staff still don't get it. Their stance all along has been that we residents are "confused" and "misinformed," but in fact as more and more residents have been independently digging through documents and attending hearings involving not only P&Z matters but also the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force and ARHA, they've come to their own conclusions about what is really going on. And it isn't the version of reality that the staff and politicians desperately want us to buy into.

The Q&A format is no accident. The concerns expressed at the March 20 meeting are not being viewed as an opportunity for dialogue and compromise but are being carefully interpreted as signs of our ignorance. We the citizens question, and they (the staff) enlighten. There's no give so far on the staff side.

Nevertheless, staff are on the defensive and in the notes present some increasingly convoluted arguments. For example, at the recent Planning Commission hearing on the SUP renewal for the Braddock Road 7-11, P&Z Acting Director Rich Josephson claimed there would be no comparable dense development on the Del Ray side of the Braddock Road Metro because the entrance to the Metro was on the eastern side.

Yet on page 2 of the notes, the staff argument is now that discussion of development on the western side of Metro is off the table, because that turf is part of the Potomac West Small Area Plan.

So listen to the Growler already: reopen the Potomac West Small Area Plan, and let's talk about equity in density, about 360 degree development around Metro. Let the City prove that smart growth and transit-oriented development is really what this plan is about, and not about reinforcing discriminatory land use patterns forged in the days of segregation.

The Growler was also amused by the continuing defense of the City's traffic study for Braddock Road. In essence, P&Z and T&ES are saying that you can add 3 million square feet of primarily residential development and have minimal impact ("only 8% more peak trips") on traffic. Does anyone believe this?

"The study found that irrespective of redevelopment in the Braddock area, through traffic levels on Route 1 in particular and the area in general will increase whether or not the envisioned development occurs."

That sentence on page 5 of the notes says it all. The City is using projected increases in pass-through traffic on Route 1 as a shield, claiming that things will be so bad anyway that we might as well not worry about a thousand more local residents and their cars. That's an easy point to make, since most of the staff as well as the politicians will be gone by the time traffic in our neighborhood reaches crisis point.

We are also treated to an unusually long discussion of Metro, undoubtedly contributed by the WMATA team (which is hungering to develop the lot at Braddock Road, having been denied at King Street). While there's a lot of discussion of capacity and the Metro Matters capital program which is supposed to add more rail cars to the system, there's nothing about the physical constraints at the tunnel under Rosslyn. That's going to be a significant choke point for years to come and a far more complex and expensive problem to solve. And given the architecture of Metro's stations and platforms, there's only so many cars that can be added to each train.

As for public housing, staff are being coy about the question of dispersal. We are told that Adkins will be redeveloped as mixed-use and that the "residential component could include market rate units, or a combination of market rate and public housing units." But the only semi-concrete proposals we've seen so far for Adkins involve compressing the existing lower-density public housing into a high-rise with essentially the same number of units, and a market-rate building being constructed next door. That isn't dispersal.

Further down the page, we learn "any redevelopment of the Andrew Adkins, James Bland or other ARHA properties will require the provision of replacement units, some of which will be relocated off-site in other areas of the City... In particular, the density proposed for the Adkins site will likely mean a majority of the ARHA Adkins units will likely need to be relocated to off-site locations." But a few sentences later "Future redevelopment/relocation of existing public housing units will depend on the availability of suitable sites."

Oh ho, the Growler can see what's coming: by the time redevelopment happens, those "suitable sites" like Potomac Yard, Eisenhower Avenue, and Van Dorn will be fully developed and no longer available. Somehow we will be stuck with public housing forever.

In conclusion, we in this neighborhood are still getting a full-court press to accept the Braddock Road Plan at face value. Let's see if the meeting on Thursday, April 12 is more of the same.