Friday, May 25, 2007

Pre-Holiday Update

Master Planning

The Growler sees from a story in today's Alexandria Times that new Planning & Zoning Director Farrol Hamer is an advocate for developing a master plan for all ARHA properties.

Now that's a good idea. Let's hope we see more of this kind of thinking from Ms. Hamer over the next few months, especially in regard to the Braddock Road Plan.

Meanwhile, Melvin Miller is pinch-hitting for departed ARHA Executive Director William Dearman until another interim CEO can be identified for the troubled housing authority. The search for Dearman's permanent replacement will undoubtedly take months.

And City officials are mulling over rescue options for Glebe Park, including a scenarios that may involve paying the mortgage on ARHA's behalf of even paying off the $6 million mortgage and buying the property outright.

But don't forget, we've been told the City has no control over ARHA.

Slip Sliding Away

Something about bus rapid transit (BRT) and the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force has puzzled the Growler for quite a while now.

How were the three transit corridors (Duke, Van Dorn, and Route 1) identified and why were some corridors like Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues left out?

After all, Route 1 through Parker-Gray has never had bus service in all the time the Growler has lived here (27 years this month) while Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth are served by both Metro and DASH buses.

Well, it appears the answer is BRAC — the Base Realignment and Closing Act that is forcing the transfer of thousands of defense jobs out of Arlington and Alexandria to Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County.

Late last week, Congressman Jim Moran obtained approval for an amendment that would ban the Army from moving those jobs to Ft. Belvoir until necessary transportation improvements are in place. And those improvements include bus lines.

"Specifically, Moran's amendment would require the Army to ensure that transportation improvements are "substantially" completed before the transfer takes place. The Army has identified 13 transportation projects, with an estimated cost of $446 million, as necessary to prevent roads near Fort Belvoir from experiencing greater congestion. The projects include completing the Fairfax County Parkway, widening Route 1 and adding bus lines to serve the post." (House Delays Army Plan to Move Jobs to Ft. Belvoir, Washington Post, May 18, 2007)
We've been told that the Task Force's work is targeted at serving Alexandrians and protecting neighborhoods.

But is Parker-Gray going to be sacrificed to shuttle commuters through Alexandria to Ft. Belvoir?

And why would the City pursue a BRT strategy that will only encourage the further loss of jobs to other jurisdictions? That's what Planning Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn asked recently.

May we also ask why Alexandrians — and Parker-Gray in particular — will be required to pay for this through a special tax district?

Friends

According to the latest Alexandria Gazette, City Council candidate Justin Wilson "sees no inherent problem with accepting money from developers, who have a constitutional right to donate under the 1975 Supreme Court case Buckly v. Valeo."

Interestingly, Mr. Wilson also picked up an endorsement from Kevin Beekman of the Lenox Place homeowners group. This group protested the transfer of public housing units from Bland to Glebe Park, claiming they were getting more public housing units than they had before. (ARHA and the City countered that the total number of low-income units at Glebe Park was actually being reduced.)

The Growler also noticed that while Boyd Walker eschews developer contributions, he lists Engin Artemel as one of his supporters on his campaign Web site.

Mr. Artemel is the City's former Planning & Zoning Director and a consultant who has worked closely with attorney Harry "Bud" Hart on his projects in our neighborhood, including the Payne Street condos and the controversial 1261 Madison Street project at Braddock Place that has been fought by open space advocates.

V for Vendetta

Meanwhile on Monday night the Alexandria School Board voted 5-4 not to renew Superintendent Rebecca Perry's contract amidst accusations that a cadre of five members flouted state rules governing open board meetings.

Even though many Alexandrians including the Growler were conflicted about retaining Ms. Perry after her drunk driving incident in 2004, her record of achievement has been impressive. When she arrived in 2001 only two of 16 schools in the system were accredited but today all but 2 are accredited. Ms. Perry has also been responsible for boosting minority pupils' testing scores.

Yet none of the Board members who voted to oust her had any comment or could explain their actions after the meeting on Monday. What indeed are their benchmarks for performance?

The Gazette published a stinging editorial this week criticizing the Board's decision while letters of protest are streaming in from local heavyweights like businessman and philanthropist Jack Taylor.

Meanwhile, the principal question for those of us who live in Parker-Gray is what are the implications for Jefferson-Houston?