Thursday, May 10, 2007

Braddock Road Breather?

At last night's Inner City Civic Association meeting, the City's new Planning & Zoning Director Farrol Hamer was formally introduced to the neighborhood by City Manager Jim Hartmann.

After some initial pleasantries and discussion of the hiring process, Ms. Hamer proceeded to announce to the audience of about 15 residents that the stalled Braddock Road Metro small area plan would not proceed to Planning Commission or City Council until fall.

She added that there might be a public meeting or two on the plan before the end of June, but that these have not yet been scheduled. Mr. Hartmann stated there was no intention to schedule public meetings during July and August, when many residents are away on vacation.

The evening provided us with a glimpse into how Ms. Hamer plans to restart the stalled Braddock Road Metro small area plan.

First, although Ms. Hamer (who's only been on board a few weeks) confessed that she is not familiar with all the details of the current plan, "the plan will be changing." She added that there will be a final draft of the plan after the last of the public meetings.

She talked about the value of citizen input and observed "I never saw a plan that was not improved" by such feedback.

"It's important to create consensus," said Ms. Hamer, adding that her view of consensus was that people "might not agree on every detail" but that she wanted everyone "to feel good about the plan and about the process."

Nevertheless, Ms. Hamer also stressed that it is important to complete the Braddock Road plan because other scheduled projects like the Eisenhower West are piling up at City Hall.

Ms. Hamer seemed to be speaking from the heart about the "need to do a lot more listening. We need to make sure all voices are heard." She also noted that the revised plan would not run contrary to explicit public policy, such as Resolution 830 mandating the City retain 1,150 units of public housing. Ms. hamer affirmed, though, that public housing dispersion was still on the table.

There were questions about BRT and its relationship to the plan. It remains unclear how the Braddock Road Plan will be coordinated with the findings of the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force. It sounds like both documents will move on parallel paths, probably going to Planning Commission and City Council about the same time this fall.

Ms. Hamer asked two things from residents. First, she asked for a vision of what we want our neighborhood to be and how can we make it unique and distinct from other neighborhoods like Del Ray.

The second assignment is to develop a list of priorities, those things are the most important to us as a community.

The Growler was amused that Ms. Hamer and Mr. Hartmann acknowledged that Planning had failed to educate the community about what developers could build under current zoning, about the differences between public and affordable housing, about ARHA's independence from the City (let's remember that at the next bailout) and about the consequences of by-right development.

But for now the Growler will remain cautiously optimistic that we will be seeing a new approach to the plan that may help build and cement a compromise that most of us can live with.