Friday, September 07, 2007

In the Air

On Wednesday, the Growler ankled down to City Hall to get back into the swing of the civic thing after a long holiday.

The target: a meeting of the ARHA Redevelopment Work Group.

In attendance were ARHA Chairman and Vice Chairman Melvin Miller and Connie Ring, acting ARHA CEO Roy Priest, Mayor William D. Euille, Councilman Rob Krupicka, Planning Commission Chair Eric Wagner, City Manager James Hartmann, and key City staff like Housing Director Mildrilyn Davis.

And boy, the Cranky One's attendance was timely. There are some major developments underway that affect our neighborhood directly or indirectly.

First, the City still appears poised to partner with EYA on the tandem redevelopment of Glebe Park and James Bland. As before, EYA is counting on the greater potential value of market rate units at Bland to help subsidize the immediate redevelopment of Glebe Park.

To start with, however, the City will have to free ARHA from the troubled Glebe Park project's mortgage, which is in imminent danger of foreclosure by HUD. A bailout is apparently going to be discussed in executive session at the Council's first hearing of the new fiscal year on Tuesday, September 11.

At the same time, it's clear that the City has been using the possibility of a bailout as leverage to get a true picture of ARHA's financial position.

A joint ARHA/City strategic plan is being drafted, and ARHA has been asked to submit information about every topic under the sun, including sources of operating and capital funding, age and condition of its housing inventory, renter demographics and turnover, copies of organizational charts and policies and procedures, and detail on staffing levels. (Growler will scan and post a copy of the "Outline of Information and Analysis Needs" next week.) A financial consultant is going to be retained to help with the analysis.

Kudos to the politicians and City staff for trying to shed light on ARHA's viability as a going concern before they kick in more dollars.

But now there's another twist. In July HUD announced that significant HOPE VI grant money may once again be available for the transformation of traditional public housing projects into mixed-income developments. If readers remember, HOPE VI is the same program that made possible the evolution of the notorious Berg project into today's Chatham Square.

ARHA leaders believe they could potentially secure as much as $20 million in funding with a successful HOPE VI application. This would amply cover the payback of the City's bridge loans to ARHA needed to retire the HUD mortgage and get EYA started on the first phase of the redevelopment.

ARHA is definitely interested in pursuing the new monies. But City staff expressed their misgivings because the application for HOPE VI is due November 7 and will involve a substantial amount of work in a short period of time. Not only must three public and resident meetings be held prior to submission, there must also be a proposed plan — not just for Glebe Park, but also for Bland.

Planning & Zoning Director Faroll Hamer expressed her concerns on two fronts. First, she's getting ready to kick off the "Braddock East Concept Plan," a planning process that will review not only the redevelopment of Bland but also plan the future of all ARHA properties in our area, including Andrew Adkins, Samuel Madden Uptown, and Ramsey Homes. It seems there will be a stakeholder group formed, just as there was for Glebe Park.

There's also the derailed Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan. Ms. Hamer reminded everyone about the upcoming September 24 meeting, but on one of the handouts for the Wednesday meeting it appears she will also be proposing something called the "Braddock Metro Neighborhood Advisory Group" which will meet every two weeks through January.

Hmmmmmm .... What is that group's charter and who will be tapped to join it?

Ms. Hamer said she is worried the public is going to be confused by all of these meetings. She and Planning Commission Chairman Wagner also expressed fears that the neighborhood would misconstrue the draft plan for Bland that is required for the HOPE VI submission on November 7 — that we will take it as a done deal cooked up behind closed doors without public input.

As several members of the group were careful to point out, the initial plan could change after the HUD grant application is submitted, and veterans noted that the details of the Chatham Square proposal morphed considerably after HOPE VI monies were approved.

Nevertheless, Ms. Hamer is correct. This is going to be confusing.

And let's step back a moment to look at the bigger picture. It's now becoming clear that critical decisions are being made for the neighborhood through processes other than the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan. An ARHA track now needs to be added to the list, along with the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force operating under T&ES's umbrella.

This is a mess of the City's own creation. Who is going to coordinate the work of all of the groups? Which recommendations prevail in case of overlap or contradiction?

And there are still mysteries waiting to be unraveled. Last fall EYA proposed a three-pronged public housing redevelopment that included Andrew Adkins. Then Adkins abruptly fell off the negotiating table.

Why? With its proximity to Metro, Adkins is the most valuable property in the portfolio. Neighbors near Braddock Metro are going to be asking what happened. Do all trails lead to the Planning & Zoning Department and their rigid insistence on an unwanted ARHA high-rise and a reopening of the 700 block of Payne Street?

So brace yourselves for a even busier fall schedule than the Growler first anticipated. There will be a lot of balls in the air and its unlikely the City can juggle them all effectively.