An unusual gathering of friendly adversaries took place last Tuesday afternoon in the City Council workroom. Their assembly was a tribute to one person — Barbara Ross, deputy director, Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning.
The occasion was her retirement after 11-plus years of official municipal service. "I have lived here for 15 years but have never had the time to really enjoy it," she confided, as the festivities got underway.
"I think the city is strong and the planning that is now going on is great. There's a lot of good communication between the citizens, businesses and the elected leadership. And Planning has a lot to do with that," Ross said.
"In this city the Planning Commission and staff do not automatically agree with one another. Usually we do, but there can be differences. And when City Council upholds a staff recommendation that the Commission disagreed with, we can hardly be disappointed," Ross added.
Gathered to wish her well in the years ahead were not only Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper, and city manager, Philip Sunderland, but also citizen advocates, lawyers who regularly represent clients before the Commission, staff of various city departments, including nearly all of Planning and Zoning, and a host of friends.
"My colleagues on City Council and all the citizens of Alexandria will miss you Barbara," Euille said in his opening remarks. "I became an ally of Barbara's when I first came on City Council because she convinced me she was right in her vision for the city."
Director of Planning and Zoning, Eileen Fogarty, acknowledged, "While this is a great opportunity for Barbara and Jim (Ross's husband) it leaves a tremendous void for us. Barbara has always tried to balance our goals with those of individual citizens."
Fogarty noted, "She has always been dedicated to the public good. Barbara always makes sure she speaks for the people with quieter voices. Every employee in the department appreciates Barbara's insights. No one could ask for a better deputy director than I have had."
VICE MAYOR Del Pepper recalled that Ross was the beacon that got Council through the complex issues of developing the city's master plan. "I knew when I called her I'd get the straight facts," she said.
Prior to officially joining the Planning and Zoning Department, Ross had been hired by the city as a consultant to help develop the Master Plan. In his remarks, Sunderland recalled that time.
"It was Barbara who guided us through the process of selecting the consulting firm to develop the plan. There were two very different firms — one more flashy and the other more conservative. She directed us toward the latter. And it proved correct," Sunderland said.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Ross, and her years of public service, came from Mildrilyn Davis, director, Alexandria Office of Housing. "I view you as the consummate professional," Davis said.
Following some summer travel, Ross said she expects to return to some level of city service in a consulting capacity. As a lawyer, she specialized in Land Use Law and served the city in that capacity prior to joining the planning staff.
Each month Ross has served as the primary staff liaison to the Planning Commission during its public hearings. In a professional capacity, it has been her responsibility to guide them through the often difficult and tricky intricacies of the Special Use Permit process that is at the very heart of Alexandria's land use development and long-range planning vision.
When asked her future plans, she answered, "I may go back to practicing some law."