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Votes

ARHA Votes Scattered Public Housing Sites

Alexandria City Council and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) met jointly Monday on the three proposed sites for scattered public housing being triggered by the redevelopment of the Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown) known as "The Berg." (See related story in this issue)

The three proposed sites are 423 S.Reynolds St., 325 S. Whiting St., and 1706 Braddock Road. A total of 48 units will be relocated to theses sites. Two prior community meetings were held on the subject on June 10 and 12.

THE BERG is a 100 unit public housing development owned by ARHA located in the North Old Town section of the city. The entire site is planned for demolition to be replaced by 118 units of private market housing and 52 units of public housing. The 48 scattered units make up the difference for the original 100 Berg units.

Overwhelmingly, the 20-plus speakers registered their objections to the proposed sites, particularly to the Reynolds and Whiting streets locations. The Braddock Road site is presently in the joint ownership of ARHA and the city.

While City Council and the ARHA Board of Commissioners sat mute, speaker after speaker raised several issues including a lack of adequate planning by ARHA in relation to the impact on such community considerations as parking, open space facilities, and school population.

Other issues raised were, where do the proposed residents fall in the income spectrum; density and traffic are already problems in both the Reynolds and Whiting areas and the additional residents will only exacerbate the situation; no representatives from the proposed neighborhoods were included in the planning.

Residents also cited enrollment at Samuel Tucker School could be increased by as much as 90 students. There was no input from the school board or parents. This proposal puts minorities in areas of the city that are already heavy in that category according to the 2000 census.

Residents also pointed out that the primary element missing from the entire proposal was the impact on the residents, both those at the scattered site locations and those being evicted from The Berg.

CENTRAL TO nearly every speaker questioning the selection of the three sites was a request that no decision be made by either body for at least 60 to 90 days to allow for further involvement from the residents.

This brought forth counter arguments that the process had already been underway for 10 years. "Why do we need another 60 to 90 days?" asked a resident.

Even among the speakers endorsing the selected sites, there were questions about the depth of planning and analysis that had gone into the final selection. One critical point raised was whether enough thought had been given to their special needs of persons with disabilities.

"Do not put people with disabilities in harm's way," one speaker implored. "Ask us to participate in a meaningful way." Even though certain units have been designated as ADA designed, the speaker noted that all units should be designed as being disabled friendly. "Disability can occur at any time in life," she emphasized.

PRIOR TO THE public testimony, Connie Lenox, ARHA's Administrative Director of Development, and Steve Tise, an ARHA Hope VI advisor, gave a broad overview of the scattered site plan. In her opening remarks, Lenox sdaid the purpose of the hearing was "to gain public input about the suggested off site locations."

This was buttressed at the beginning of the meeting by Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley who said, "All three sites will require further public hearings. There will be other opportunities for further public hearings."

Immediately prior to the first public speaker, Lenox alerted the audience, "We anticipate hiring an architect by September so as not to hold up the final target date."

Following the speaker presentations, Donley asked ARHA Executive Director William Dearman, for clarification of several of the points raised, particularly dealing with parking in the three proposed locations and the opportunity for additional public input.

Dearman responded that ARHA issues parking permits to all its residents at scattered sites. They are allocated on a ratio of one and one half spaces per site based on a five year study, Dearman explained. He blamed crowded parking on other coming to the sites and not on the residents.

As for plans pertaining to additional public input, Dearman assured Donley that ARHA representatives will continue to attend community meetings and schedule more public meetings. No specifics were stated.

At the close of the public hearing, Donley stated, "I, for one, support the three sites proposed. Council will decide tomorrow night." This statement seemed to preclude any further delay in his mind as had been requested by the majority of speakers.

FOLLOWING THE public hearing, ARHA held its regular monthly meeting at the Ladrey High-Rise and summarily approved the three scattered sites with minimal discussion. ARHA Vice Chairman Carlyle Ring C. Ring, Jr., in making the motion to approve the three sites stated, "No matter what sites are proposed we'd be hearing the same complaints."

The only Board member to raise any of the points made at the public hearing was Shirley Marshall. "There were issues raised that should be kept in mind as we move forward such as children, open space, school impact, parking, and accessibility for the disabled," she reminded her colleagues.

ARHA Chairman, A. Melvin Miller, assured Marshall, "We will be working with the community as we move forward." The Board then voted unanimously to approve the three scattered sites as proposed without further reference to the testimony offered by the citizenry at the just completed public hearing.

THE OTHER MAJOR Berg project actions taken by the ARHA Board were:

* Selection of Eakin/Youngentob Associates as the developer.

* Selection of EEI Movers, Inc. to serve as the primary movers for the remaining 48 households in The Berg. The fiscal impact is estimated at $33,350.

* Authorization for staff to advertise an RFP for architectural/engineering services for the off-site replacement housing.

* Approval of architectural services for demolition of The Berg by Architectural Design Group,Inc. The fiscal impact is estimated at $53,700.

The final decision for the developer of the Samuel Madden Homes site was between Eakin/Youngentob and the Communities Group, according to Dearman. The selected firm was founded in 1992 and received "America's Best Builder Award" from Builder Magazine and the National Association of Homebuilders in 2000.

They have a history in urban infill development such as The Berg. Other Alexandria projects which they have done include Ford's Landing, Rivergate, Old Town Village, Carlyle City Residences, and The Lofts.

One of the primary reasons for selecting Eakin/Youngentob, according to Lenox, was their assurance ARHA would be dealing with only one entity rather than several firms divided between developer and contractor services. The other reason she gave was that Communities Group had proposed a ground lease to be sold one lot at a time.

The Board approved a motion to begin negotiations with Eakin/Youngentob. Commissioner Carter Flemming abstained due to a potential conflict of interest.

IN OTHER ACTIONS, the Board:

* Approved a 2.5 percent cost of living increase for ARHA staff effective July 2. Its anticipated impact on the ARHA budget is anticipated at $79,000, and

* Seated Thomas "Pete" Jones as the newest member of the ARHA Board. He replaces Thelma Towles.