Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Food for Thought

The jury is still out on Monday night's Braddock Road Plan town hall meeting. Is the City sincerely attempting to broker an agreement with the community, or is it simply repackaging and reselling the same old plan?

It's too early to tell, but the Curmudgeonly One would like to offer some food for thought:

First, while Kramer & Associates interviewed representatives from a cross-section of the neighborhood (homeowners, condo dwellers, public housing residents, non-profits, cops, landowners and developers), what really stands out was the dearth of successful retailers.

And yes, such retailers exist. They include small businesses located at Colecroft, adjacent to the Braddock Lofts, and opposite the Monarch on N. Fayette Street.

If better retail is a Holy Grail for our neighborhood, why not talk to the retailers, particularly those who have arrived recently, and find out what works, what doesn't work, how they have managed to thrive, and what their perspective is on the proposed Braddock Road Metro redevelopments?

Second, attorney and Parker-Gray resident Mark Freeman raised an important point at the meeting. With transportation and now public housing on separate tracks, which plan and its recommendations prevail?

Both the Braddock Road Plan and the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force recommendations are destined to be incorporated in the City's Master Plan.

If something is omitted from the Braddock Road Plan, say the proposal for BRT on Route 1, does that mean BRT is dead?

Or does BRT proceed simply because it is outlined in another section of the Master Plan? That would mean these separate track projects are designed to dovetail and not overlap, and they must be fought or supported separately by the community.

Finally, consultant David Dixon of Goody Clancy & Associates seemed to indicate on Monday night that there may be enough developer money or revenue available to address the neighborhood's needs.

Although the earlier drafts of the Braddock Road plan suggested there was insufficient money for amenities, particularly in the Parker-Gray historic area, Mr. Dixon seemed to suggest that density could be exchanged for cash that will fund things as diverse as public housing redevelopment or dispersal, affordable housing, and streetscaping and parks.

But what may be absent from the discussion — which is, after all, in its early stages — is the issue of how citizens can ensure that developer money is actually used for the purpose for which it was pledged.

What is the mechanism for protecting this money from a future City Council that would like to redirect it to another project or another neighborhood? Cities, like nonprofits, usually prefer to have unrestricted funds at their disposal. Earmarking or segregating funds limits their flexibility and freedom of action. If we are to exchange something of value (such as density) we need to be sure the City can be legally bound to deliver on the goods it promised in exchange.

So go ahead and chew on these three topics while we wait for the first workshop in October.