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Planning and Design Workshop for 'The Berg' Brings Optimism for Development

The process for redeveloping the Samuel Madden Homes, The Berg, continued with a community planning and design workshop on March 2.

Approximately 50 people attended the all-day workshop at the Old Town Radison Hotel on Saturday. Residents of The Berg, the neighborhood and prospective developers listened to presentations by the consulting firm that will manage the project, members of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board, ARHA staff, the mayor and city staff. The goal is to incorporate feedback from those in attendance into final design guidelines on which developers can bid.

“I wanted to make sure that everyone is talking to each other,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “As was seen with the renovation and expansion at the hospital, when we all work together, good things happen.”

The project will contain a maximum of 170 units, 52 of which will be public housing. This density is decreased from the 200 units that were originally proposed.

“We just wanted to emphasize the need to retain open space and to use bricking and other design mechanisms to make this project blend in with the rest of the neighborhood,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of planning and zoning for the city. “Also, the parking should be internal to the project and not easily visible form the street. We don’t want to see a lot of garage doors facing the street. What we do want to see from the street is open space and landscaping.”

Many residents of the surrounding neighborhood are unhappy with the density of the project. Councilman David Speck said that it is time to compromise and move forward. “Both sides seem to have gotten entrenched in their positions and this is not helpful,” Speck said. “We have been trying to redevelop this project for more than a decade and we just need to move on.”

Speck, Donley and Councilman Bill Euille were members of a joint ARHA/City Council task force that helped get the project to this point. Speck and Donley are cautiously optimistic about the outcome. “I am much more comfortable with the process now than I was six to nine months ago,” Donley said. “There is still a long way to go before we have a final project design but we are moving forward. To keep things on track, it is essential that ARHA stay in regular touch with the neighbors.”

Speck has reservations. “I guess that I am comfortable with the city’s role in this process but that is a lukewarm I guess,” he said. “The city is going to have to fund this project at some level and we need to make sure that it is viable, both as appropriate housing for our citizens and financially.”

The city has committed to spending a maximum of $3.5 million on redeveloping The Berg and on locating off-site housing. Fifty two of the public housing units that are currently in The Berg will remain at that location while the remaining 48 units will be located at scattered sites throughout the city. “I am concerned about those 48 sites,” Speck said. “Finding them is easier said than done.”

Consultants will present the results of last week’s workshop at a wrap-up session on March 9, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Old Town Radisson.