Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pre-Holiday Roundup

Sex Offenders: They're Baaaack!

Oh no. Not again.

No sooner has the last registered sex offender left the neighborhood (the most recent via eviction) than two more take his place.

The offenders are living at 511 N. Payne Street and are reported to be wearing ankle bracelet monitoring devices. Click here and here to read information about each man and his conviction history.

You know the drill ... if this outrages you as a resident of Parker-Gray, then click on the E-mail link to the right and let the Mayor and Council know how you feel.

In the BEAG

Readers might be interested (or alarmed) by the assumption in the exercise that the Braddock East Advisory Group was asked to conduct at last week's charrette.

The big assumption was that none of the public housing units at Adkins (90), Samuel Madden (66) or Ramsay (15) would be offsited. We were simply told to figure out how to squeeze a total of 500 units on the three ARHA sites. Why 500? This represents a ratio of two market units for every public housing unit, which apparently is the magic formula the consultants say we need financially and socio-economically to make redevelopment work.

Can you say "dilution theory"?

In the exercise, if we wished to go lower than 500 units we were told we would lose amenities such as retail and yet more fantasy parks. (Keep in mind that as far as the Growler knows the City still hasn't made any serious overtures to USPS regarding the proposed park at the Wythe Street Post Office recommended in the Braddock Road small area plan.) If we wished to go higher ... well, it wasn't clear what rewards we would have besides a pat on the head by P&Z. It certainly wouldn't be more public housing units removed to other parts of the City.

The rationale behind this exercise is apparently that maximum density needs to go on the ARHA sites to pay for redevelopment, and even more density is required to handle any offsiting.

Accepting this assumption, however, means shutting one's eyes and ears to the recent Council/ARHA debates on Resolution 830 replacement units. Readers will remember that Council and staff have been pressing ARHA about non-ownership options when replacing Resolution 830 units and want the authority to explore alternatives, including 20-year restrictive ground covenants that would permit ARHA to put units in other landlords' buildings. Key ARHA board members are resisting this approach, but it's on the table.

This method of satisfying Resolution 830 would be much less expensive than building new brick and mortar replacement units, estimated at as much as $250,000 each, with another $200,000 needed for land if the unit is offsited away from ARHA-owned land.

Yet with lower replacement unit costs, less density would be required in our neighborhood to fund redevelopment and offsiting.

But that's apparently not a fit topic for conversation at BEAG, which has been dominated not by group discussion but by lectures from various experts flown in from outside Alexandria for the occasion.

The consultants tried sweetening the density pill by bringing up the notion of a grocery store once again, possibly at Samuel Madden. Yet the consultants themselves admitted that granting density and height at Madden would not absolutely ensure a grocery store, and given the unsuccessful efforts the City made to find any chain in the U.S. willing to replace Harris-Teeter at the Madison it's remarkable that this chestnut is still floating around.

What do you, dear readers, think of this exercise and the BEAG process? Is the outcome already determined?

A Sense of Unease

The Growler is hearing that leaders in other Alexandria neighborhoods like Old Town and Del Ray are becoming increasingly alarmed about the City's recent extravagent use of consultants and the attempts to disguse what is essentially top-down planning with foregone outcomes as some sort of spontaneous grassroots expression of community support.

Is that sense of alarm rising because they know their turn is coming? Both a Waterfront and Potomac Yard plan are in the works for the next two years.

It appears some of these activists finally woke up to what happened in the Braddock Road plan and recognized that we weren't just a pack of whiners. But in addition, there's been a lot of dissatisfaction recently about the Landmark planning process, which picked up again just as the Braddock Road process tapered off earlier this year. Click here and scroll down to page 5 to read about one West End resident's exasperation with Landmark process.

The mystery in all of this is how the City, which claims it is financially strapped, can find money to pay these ranks of jet-set consultants. Word on the street is that the Braddock Road Plan set the City back a million dollars. What is BEAG costing taxpayers, and what will the upcoming Waterfront and Potomac Yard planning require in the way of funding?

Paying the Piper

Here's an interesting tidbit about consultant rates from another Virginia community.

Braddock consultant David Dixon's firm Goody Clancy was hired by the City of Norfolk to come up with a plan to redevelop what is known as St. Paul's Quadrant, including the notorious Tidewater Gardens public housing development. Seems there were a few observers who were taken aback by the $435,000 price tag.

As reported by the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, "[Norfolk City Manager Regina V.K.] Williams defended the fee, which is unusually high for a consultant, saying Goody Clancy will be asked to take on a 'complicated and difficult task.'"

Click here to read Goody Clancy's recommendations for St. Paul's Quadrant. Except for the flood control measures, is it much different than what the team came up with for Braddock Road and does it suggest a lucrative cookie-cutter approach?

Last Thoughts

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!