Friday, June 08, 2007

Top Ten Braddock Plan "Gotchas"

Having read the draft Braddock Road Metro small area plan report cover to cover — or at least what is available, since key chapters are still missing — the Growler would like to point out the top 10 "gotchas" that may have eluded readers' attention.

10. The plan claims there is no parking problem in Parker-Gray and the Braddock Area. "In general, the study area is well-served by on-street parking" (page 13-2). The draft then proposes to create a special parking district that will let developers provide fewer parking spots in their new buildings. Is this recommended to encourage the use of transit or is it meant to cut developers a break, since building multi-level underground garages is expensive?

Yet in the same chapter the City also proposes installing parking meters in select areas (page 13-4). Why employ a rationing measure like meters if there is ample parking?

9. The plan calls for a special tax district set up to pay for transit (page 12-19). But as discussions at various forums including the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force meetings reveal, bus rapid transit (BRT) on Patrick and Henry Streets is being touted as a means to move commuters from the Pentagon to Ft. Belvoir.

Why should our community be taxed to make life easier for commuters? And if the tax is not assessed directly on residents but on the added value of new development (tax increment financing or TIF), why not send the money directly back into the neighborhood for our own amenities?

8. And that brings up the plan's vision of “safe, visually interesting and attractive streetscapes” (Executive Summary, page ii). Chapter 11 goes into great detail specifying everything from trash cans to benches and lighting, but ultimately admits there is "limited public funding available to undertake the suggested physical improvements," and notes that those improvements "in other areas where redevelopment is unlikely must be phased in over a series of years as funding for these improvements becomes available" (page 11-26).

7. The plan states that one of its guiding principles is to "preserve and protect" not only the Parker-Gray District but "the surrounding neighborhoods of Del Ray, NorthEast and Rosemont"
(page ES-vii). Funny, there's nothing in those communities' small area plans about protecting Parker-Gray.

6. On one page we're told the City will be creating “new open space” (page ES-ii). But a few pages later the draft mentions “consolidated” open space (page ES-vii). In fact, much of the open breathing space will disappear with development, including a significant parcel at Braddock Place that has been enjoyed as a park for decades. And while the draft plan pushes the notion that the open space that will be created will be "public," there is no means to require condo homeowners associations to maintain the amenities in the truncated open spaces left after development. In fact, there is no clear mechanism to prevent HOAs from reclaiming the space and reprivatizing it.

5. The plan admits there is not much new retail that can be added to our community. "[T]he market analysis found that there is a limited amount of new retail space that can be supported in the area [and] that there is substantial competition from nearby shopping opportunities" (page 6-2). Those other opportunities include King Street, Potomac Yard, Bradlee Shopping Center (!!) and even (gulp) Carlyle.

4. The Plan includes an “urban overlay zone” that will permit small restaurants and outdoor dining to be approved — not through the special use permit process with a public hearing, but by staff (page 5-8). This will make it easier to start up fast food joints and will weaken citizens’ ability to press for the types of stringent alcoholic beverage controls that helped clean up the neighborhood in recent decades.

3. Selected parcels north of the Metro station already zoned for high density mixed-use development will be rezoned for double or triple density as “Coordinated Development Districts.” CDDs allow the developer to create “affordable” housing units earmarked for City staff while also giving the developer a bonus in extra market units to sell for profit. But what does it do for us? And the high-density rezoning will not be achieved through the Braddock Road Plan but will be approved on a case by case basis as the properties come up for development (page 5-6). Citizens will have to fight every case individually.

2. The plan boasts that “ideas and concerns” about security raised during the Mayor’s April 2006 walk have been addressed in the plan. But the plan only includes measures to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from automobiles. There’s nothing that directly addresses crime.

1. And finally, the City continues to maintain that adding 3 million square feet of new development will not have a significant impact on traffic, claiming there will be a “negligible increase in volume [on Route 1] as a result of new development in the study area” (page 12-8). Even with the upcoming build-out of Potomac Yard...

And there you have it: the top 10 gotchas. See you Monday at Jefferson-Houston School.