Monday, November 12, 2007

Where's the Beef?

Tonight is yet another milestone in the death march known as the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan.

A community meeting will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Jefferson-Houston School. We weren't informed until nearly 6 PM on Friday what the topic of the work group would be, but it now appears it will cover (among other things), pedestrian walkways.

Oh, please. Where's the beef?

Let's take a little tally here, readers. To date we have spent some 25 hours in meetings, "educational" sessions, and walkabouts. At a time of financial constraint, the City of Alexandria has squandered, according to the Growler's rough estimates, anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 on consultants who are fundamentally repeating the same touchy-feely seminars that were conducted in 2005 and adding their own time-wasting tomfoolery to boot.

What do we have to show for this effort to date? Precious little. Has this process actually taken us any further than the 2005 charrettes? The answer has to be a resounding "NO!"

Why? Because the community's most critical issues continue to be swept to the side.

Let's take stock:

1. Like the Payne Street condos in February, the Madison project will be coming up to Planning Commission in December before the plan is approved, with a design that is essentially unchanged by anything the community is currently discussing and debating.

Once again, the notion of site plans slipping out of the barn door calls into question the very legitimacy and purpose of the small area planning process.

With the Jaguar project on the horizon and its attorney telling people at the charrette that it is already a done deal, just what is this grandiose new plan supposed to be applied to?

2. There's been no meaningful discussion of density and how much is either appropriate or fair for this neighborhood. An airing of the preferential treatment accorded Potomac Yard and the 7-11 site has been censored.

3. The Parker-Gray nomination to the state and federal historic districts remains in limbo.

4. We are told to cool down because Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Patrick and Henry Streets was removed from the last Braddock Road plan draft.

Yet BRT is very much alive and is proceeding to the Planning Commission and Council in the form of amendments to the Master Transportation Plan. Consultants even concede that these changes will trump anything in the Braddock Road Metro Plan.

5. Andrew Adkins, the single most valuable ARHA site (and the one which is most likely depressing our retail prospects) is no longer under discussion and will not be redeveloped. Public housing has been shuttled onto a separate track for discussion, although ARHA's properties are in the very heart of the Braddock Metro plan study area.

6. ARHA, the City and EYA intend to squeeze hundreds of market rate units onto the James Bland housing site to pay for redevelopment of a troubled project in Arlandria, yet are currently planning on relocating only a minimum 50 units of public housing out of Bland. Can you say "economic colonialism"?

7. We're being pressured to remain a "mixed-income" and "diverse" community. But take a minute to peer beneath the surface hypocrisy of this argument.

Only a handful of affordable units are actually being set aside here with high density development. It's really the millions of dollars in developer contributions that the City is after, and they are being drained from this neighborhood to support the politicians' housing agenda in other parts of town. Think Herb Cooper-Levy and the $10 million in recent City loans he secured for RPJ Housing to protect rental properties in Del Ray and in Northeast Old Town. Dream about the $1 million contribution from the Monarch, $1 million to come from the Madison, and more than $700,000 from the Payne Street condos.

Again, we get the density and its headaches and the nearly $3 million goes elsewhere.

8. The only filet mignon in this package of stale ground round was the presentation of Sarah Woodworth, who delved into developer economics and demonstrated profit margins under various scenarios.

But besides the dilemma of how to pry the City's cold dead hands off the developer money it wants for affordable housing, there hasn't been any identification of how builders' contributions can be reserved and plowed back into Parker-Gray or the community on the eastern side of the Braddock Road Metro station.

And where's the City's own investment in this community?


So after all this activity and churning, all of these meetings and charrettes, where's the beef?

It's time to ask Faroll Hamer to tell us in her own words, without consultants running interference, just what her vision is for this plan, what it is supposed to be and why we residents should waste any more time trying to shape it.