Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday Roundup

Tunnelvision

Do you remember, diligent readers, how one of the excuses used for high density development in our neighborhood and low density on the western side of the railroad tracks in Potomac Yard is that the entrance to the Braddock Road Metro is on the Parker-Gray side?

Well, the Growler had an interesting conversation last week with a ranking Metro official. It seems that the City has never really discussed with WMATA the cost and feasability of creating a pedestrian entrance to Braddock Road Metro from the Potomac Yard dogleg. An underground approach would be much less expensive than an overhead flyway, running between 4 and 6 million dollars.

There are some engineering challenges to tunneling, since the CSX tracks are graded lower than the Metro tracks. But it could be done and the WMATA official felt the station mezzanine was long enough to lend itself to another entrance.

And if this is possible, why not spread out the density on both sides of the station by beefing up Landbay L and reducing the bulk here?

Fortress Mentality

Those who attended Monday's community meeting on the Madison were heartened to see that the proposed development is no longer as high or obtrusive as it was in earlier iterations, when the concept of a grocery store was still alive and there were plans for above-ground parking that would not count toward FAR.

It's also good that the developers are not seeking a parking reduction but are providing all of the parking required by zoning and putting it underground as well. The amount of retail space has been slashed but there's still hope for a CVS or other retail drug store.

But the issue of the open space remains problematic. There has been much outcry about the ugliness of the Monarch and its internalized open space, which screams "stay out" and is hardly beneficial to the community as a whole.

Unfortunately, it looks like the same pattern is being perpetuated with the Madison. The site includes two buildings; the first, which is mostly residential and will include much of the development's density and height, has an interior courtyard that is neither visible from the exterior nor open to the public. The second building to the south is separated from the first by a new street but is U-shaped, with a nicely landscape area set in the middle. Yes the space will be visible but apparently only from an angle.

This design seems to flout the very principles that Clancy Goody and the other Braddock Road Plan consultants are espousing, but it's important to note that the concept is appearing in several sites with different developers and architects.

At the second HOPE VI meeting, participants were shown a preliminary design for the redevelopment of Bland that seems to present a high impenetrable wall along the street with little open space. That led to some serious questions about open space and the loss of play areas for the children in the public housing who will remain on site.

But the Growler then learned that it was City staff that rejected EYA's more open design and came up with the new look.

So the Growler is wondering if the Planning & Zoning Department has its own design agenda, including not just interior-facing or inaccessible open space but limited street setbacks and scanty landscaping and green borders. Whose ideas are being foisted on the developers and their architects, and where is the accountability for staff notions of urban design?

MSM and Public Housing

The Washington Post's coverage of Alexandria continues to be a joke. The Thursday Alexandria/Arlington section is merely an advertising section with big, soft marshmallowy features that, while sometimes interesting, mostly ignore the issues that are most compelling to the community.

Let the Growler provide an example. Earlier this week the Post published a story detailing how many affordable housing complexes have been purchased and razed for redevelopment, but now sit vacant and chained, victims of the cooling housing market.

Alexandria's Glebe Park public housing project was thrown in as an example.

But Glebe Park is not privately owned and the reason it is mostly vacant is due to mold, not gentrification, the mania for condo conversions or developers overreaching themselves.

A search of the Post archives reveal the mainstream media giant hasn't written a single word about ARHA's protracted negotiations with the City to redevelop Glebe Park or the fact that the City has used its bailout of ARHA's HUD-backed mortgage to impose stringent new conditions about how the housing authority will be managed.

Today, nevertheless, the Post's Alexandria Arlington section did feature an article today about how the Green Party is pressing Arlington County to create a housing authority.

Go figure ....