Monday, June 11, 2007

ADAM 'n' Agnes

The biggest national mystery of the weekend was resolved last night, when the screen faded out on Tony Soprano, Carmella, Meadow and A.J. still very much alive and munching onion rings.

But the biggest local mystery has now been solved by the Growler. The person behind the recent postcard and the enigmatic ADAM group is Agnes Artemel.

Mrs. Artemel is the president of Artemel & Associates consulting firm. She sits on the board of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and in 2005 was appointed to the City's Industrial Development Authority.

Now, you don't get those kinds of plum appointments unless you are tight with the Mayor and Council.

Mrs. Artemel has attended meetings of the Northern Virginia BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) Working Group as a representative of Virginia Commerce Bank and is also listed as president of North Old Town Community Partnership.

But there's more. Mrs. Artemel is the wife of former Alexandria Planning & Zoning Director Engin Artemel. Her husband has been a consultant on several of attorney Harry "Bud" Hart's development projects in Parker-Gray. And didn't he take the Mayor on a trip to Turkey in the last few years?

So can you connect the dots?

A Few Final Thoughts

Tonight is the final public meeting this spring on the Braddock Road Metro small area plan, which will be held at 7:00 PM at Jefferson-Houston School (1401 Cameron Street).

The occasion inspires a few final thoughts and questions from the Cranky One.

First, this community is not against redevelopment. Everyone wants this neighborhood to thrive and improve, and redevelopment is an essential element.

Nevertheless, we have serious and legitimate concerns about the extent of development and density as well as the equitable treatment of this neighborhood.

We know what's in it for the City. They are proposing massive density to boost revenue and to get affordable housing units for City staff, all the while gratifying developers by handing them more market units and ensuring profit margins of 20% or greater -- a figure documented in the City's own studies.

But what's in it for us? We get the traffic, the competition for parking, the congestion, and the pollution. But where's the benefit?

The draft Braddock Road plan already indicates that there's little or no money for neighborhood amenities like streetscaping and there's only so much retail that can be supported. (Nothing in the draft indicates that the retail outlook is any different even with full buildout and a larger population.) And so far the City hasn't indicated that it's willing to disperse public housing in exchange for density.

In April and May there were two public meetings in which there was strong pushback from the Parker-Gray and Braddock Metro neighborhoods against the plan.

That's usually enough to convince the City to think about modifying its stance. Rosemont was listened to when the City proposed massive development on the King Street Metro parking lot. The Del Ray Citizens Association was listened to when the City pushed for massive development at Potomac Yard and got only a third of what it and the developer wanted. (That battle went on for a decade.)

Why then are we not heard? Could it be that the City is still locked in its segregationist mindset of the 1950s and continues to see us as a community to be ignored or exploited in turn?

We know what we want here. It started with a list that was first circulated anonymously at the March meeting, and has now been collaboratively expanded and refined to encompass nearly every concern expressed in this blog and in past meetings. The City has this list.

Yet officials are claiming they don't understand our priorities and are coming back now with an unprecedented plan to use a paid consultant to conduct secret interviews with unknown parties and their friends. Why?

Here's an excerpt from Faroll Hamer's E-mail to Mark Freeman, published in this blog last week:

It’s critical to ensure that the entirety of the community is well represented, as well as the interests of the City as a whole. The Braddock Plan affects not only the surrounding neighborhoods, but because this is a plan at a metro station, and because it involves public housing and public facilities, it will have impacts well beyond the boundaries of the Small Area Plan. [Emphasis added]

Does this inadvertently tell us who the City is willing to listen to? Is the City already saying that unlike the citizens of Rosemont and Del Ray we cannot possibly speak for ourselves and that the City must take advice from other groups about our future?

Does this indicate the City will ultimately invoke the public good (like revenue and affordable housing) to trump opposition when they have let other neighborhoods off the hook?

As for public housing, what consultations did the City take with the West End when Chatham Square's public housing was dispersed?

If the City is sincerely interested in taking neighborhood's political temperature about an issue, why was there no public meeting last year in Parker-Gray about the proposed transit corridors which will directly impact residents on Patrick and Henry?

And will the City please show us a list of all by-right developments in Alexandria over the last 10 years and explain how and why they harmed the community? If by-right is a threat, how can they explain the ugliness and bulk of the Monarch, which was vetted and approved through the special use permit process? How can they explain why the owners of the Madison have still not gone the by-right route after three or four years of negotiation? Clearly they think they will get something out of the SUP process, and the Growler guesses that something will be greater density and greater profit.

As much as the Growler would like to believe tonight's meeting will represent a fresh start, it seems unlikely. The City has a demonstrated track record of not listening, rooted in this neighborhood's old identity.

We must also be prepared that the City is going to hurl all of its resources against us. The politicians are already beating the woods looking for supporters, and the sudden emergence of ADAM suggests they may be using surrogates in the well-heeled development community to push their agenda.

So grab your Q-Tips and come on down to Jefferson-Houston tonight to see if we can poke the wax out of the City's deaf ears.