Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Back on Track"

The Growler just came across this article in the June 1-7 issue of the Washington Business Journal:
Braddock Rd. Rezoning Back on Track
by Joe Coombs
Senior Staff Reporter

A long-awaited plan for millions of square feet of new development near the Braddock Road Metro station is moving once again.

For more than a year, Alexandria officials have pondered a broad proposal that would bring affordable housing, retail, restaurants and office space to a large chunk of property near the station. After months of meetings with property owners and residents, the city's planning division recently hired a consultant to facilitate more public sessions on the proposal, which could bring up to 2 million square feet of new real estate to the area through zoning changes.

The area's approximately 1.1 million square feet of total development is bordered on the west by the Braddock Road station railroad tracks, on the north by the Monroe Avenue bridge, on the east by Washington Street and on the south by Queen Street.

The older warehouse-style properties that dominate its landscape are ripe for new development, said attorney Duncan Blair, who is representing the D.C. division of Trammell Crow for a property it owns in the area.

"The Braddock Road Metro area's redevelopment is essential to the city," said Blair, of Alexandria-based Land, Clark, Carroll, Mendelson & Blair PC. "It's time. Alexandria doesn't have blighted areas, but the warehouses in this area are no longer useful for the city's economy."

Trammell Crow's project, The Madison, would include 300 residential units and about 75,000 square feet of retail space. The developer was in talks with Harris Teeter to bring a supermarket to the site, but the North Carolina-based grocery chain pulled out of the deal in early 2007, citing concerns with the configuration of the site's design.

Trammell Crow officials are still searching for a major retailer to anchor the site, at the juncture of North Henry and Madison streets and currently home to a warehouse complex.

The city was without a planning and zoning director for part of the time that the Braddock Road Metro plan was being reviewed, and that may have contributed to the plan being stalled. Faroll Hamer was named to the director's post in March.

In addition, residents have said they want to know more about the proposal before they get behind it. City planning officials and the project's consultant, Annapolis-based Kramer and Associates, will have a public meeting June 11 on the plans.

The proposal includes the creation of a retail overlay zone that would require stores, shops and restaurants in specific areas. A separate lane devoted to future "bus rapid transit" on the Route 1 corridor could also be part of the mix.

The planning commission and city council could sign of on the plan in the fall in a best-case scenario.

The Freeman Papers

Last night Mark Freeman posted his correspondence with the Planning Commission to the Braddock Road Community listserve, and the Growler thinks it's important to share it with readers who are not already on the list.

Here's his E-mail:

When the city announced that the next step in the Braddock Road planning process will be to bring in consultants to "identify the community's priorities," I was deeply skeptical -- how much more community input is needed before the City actually makes some concessions and alters the plan to reflect the community's repeated objections? So I sent the five questions below to the Planning Commission.

I received the attached answer today from Faroll Hamer, Director of Planning and Zoning. Needless to say, her responses are not reassuring. They do, however, contain at least some new information about the Braddock planning process, and for that purpose I pass them on. (Read the questions below first, then her answers.)

Subject: questions re: Braddock Road consultants

Dear Members of the Planning Commission:

I have a few questions about the Braddock Road planning process. I apologize for emailing you directly, but I was unable to obtain answers from the planning staff.

1. Could you explain why it is necessary to hire consultants to identify the community's priorities?

As I recall, Mr. Wagner and the other members of the Planning Commission indicated very clearly at our last community meeting that the Commission heard and understood the community's concerns with the current version of the Braddock Road plan: too much density, insufficient attention to the scale and feel of the neighborhood, not enough coordination with transportation planning (traffic/BRT/light rail), too little emphasis on preserving or creating large park-like consolidated green spaces, and too little attention given to the problems created by the ARHA projects nearby. What more do you hope to learn from consultants (at taxpayer expense)?

2. When does the planning staff expect to come out with a revised Braddock Road plan that reflects recognition of the community's concerns?

As several community members pointed out at the last community meeting, there has been no real effort so far by the city to change the Braddock Road plan to accommodate the community's concerns -- e.g., a decrease in density, a new large park, a decrease in building heights, a concrete plan regarding the ARHA projects. Instead, the city has focused on trying to convince the community that our concerns are misplaced. Rather than (or in addition to) hiring consultants, I would suggest that a genuine effort by the Commission or the planning staff to revise the Braddock Road plan to accommodate the community's repeated concerns is the appropriate way to proceed. Is any such revision in the works?

3. Assuming you go forward with the plan to retain consultants, how do you (or the consultants) plan to select the community members to be interviewed, and how many people will be interviewed?

Although I understand that the *content* of the individual interviews will not be made public (which strikes me as sensible enough), I hope the *names* of the interviewees, at least, will be public information. The public has a right to know whose opinions have been solicited for these purposes, and if nothing else I believe it is important for the Planning Commission to release the names just to avoid any perception that the interviewees were selected with a particular agenda in mind.

4. When will chapters 8, 9, and 14 of the Braddock Road plan be available?

5. When do you expect to publish meeting notes from the April 12 community meeting?

Thanks again for all of your efforts on behalf of Alexandria.

Click here for the response from Planning & Zoning Director Faroll Hamer.

And then click on the links on the right if you want to express your opinion about this process to the Mayor, Council, Planning Commission and City Manager.

The Growler will post an update later on last night's Democratic primary candidate debate.