Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Smart Growth and the "Twin Pillars"

Participants at the final City Council hearing on the Braddock Road Plan may or may not realize that the majority of the speakers in favor of the Plan were institutional representatives.

For the final hearing, the City pulled out all the stops to thwart the neighborhood and rallied the affordable housing lobby; developers and their architects and attorneys, ex-City planners who failed to jump-start progress years ago with previous plans, and business coalitions from other parts of town.

Most intriguing, however, was the presence of Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Mr. Schwartz of course was present before Council to argue the principals of the smart growth movement, proposing high-density transit-oriented development centered on our Metro station. But what is more interesting is that Mr. Schwartz's advocacy is so selective.

It's useful to remember how Mr. Schwartz and the Coalition got their start -- successfully opposing a massive Disney Corp. development adjacent to the sensitive Manassas National Battlefield, site of the Civil War's first and second battles of Bull Run.

Since its founding in 1997, the group's focus has been on preventing surburan sprawl that eats into rural lands and supports the alternative, the dense build-up of inner cities and older suburbs. The Coalition also fights new road construction and promotes mass transit, opposing an earlier state sales tax increase referendum as well as the width for the new Woodrow Wilson bridge.

So where's the selectivity when it comes to Alexandria? Look at the Coalition's home page and its section on Alexandria you will see no reference to Potomac Yard and the discussion of increased density at Town Center to support and even pay for the Metro station that Del Ray kicked to the curb years ago with its insistence on lower density.

This topic should be meat and potatoes for the Coalition. So why has it maintained silence?

Instead, most of the emphasis on the site seems to be on the triumph of the Braddock Road plan. Even so, why did Mr. Schwartz and his group fail to advocate for 360 degrees of development around the station? Any other stance is paradoxical, but the silence is deafening.

Now take another look at the Alexandria section of the Coalition's new Web site. The first menu item is "Affordable Housing" with the text "Two pillars, a trust fund and Resolution 830, form the basis of housing policy." Click on the link and you will find the following text:

The City of Alexandria, VA ensures no net loss of affordable housing through its Resolution 830, which mandates a full one-to-one replacement of any redeveloped units. The City also created an affordable housing trust fund to leverage financing investment for housing creation and preservation.
This is followed by a link to the Office of Housing's page on the City's Web site.

Why would a group devoted to smart growth be concerned about affordable housing? Perhaps because the rediscovery and reclamation of cities like Washington D.C. and inner suburbs like Arlington and Alexandria have resulted in spiraling real estate values. That has pushed affordable housing out to the fringes in Loudoun and Prince William Counties, creating pressure on rural undeveloped tracts, the Coalition's core concern.

But why focus on public housing and specifically Resolution 830? This is getting pretty far afield, doncha think?

In light of the events of the last few weeks, the answer seems to be that the group was brought into the Braddock Road discussions to make the case for higher density development at the station, thereby giving the intellectual foundation for the City's upcoming argument that public housing units can be "diluted" by surrounding them with more development rather than deconcentrating some of them to other areas of town.

Wrapping this goal in the garb of smart growth gives segregation a new chic look. And segregation it continues to be.
Next up ... a look at Jefferson-Houston School and how public housing concentration contributes to its woes.