Letter: Moving in Right Direction

Letter: Moving in Right Direction

To the Editor:

Imagine the perfect boyfriend (or whatever applies as your preference). Rich. Great family. Cultured. Shares your values. Educated. Treats you like a queen. The perfect boyfriend. Problem is, due to no fault of his own he’s not perfect for you right now. You’ve got problems that you need to resolve and as a result, you are not ready to receive him. This is my issue with the Beauregard Small Area Plan.

The coalescing nature of the five developers has been close to perfect. Interplay between developers and citizens directly has resulted in exceptional civic engagement. The developers are collectively offering over $150 million, more in proffers for community benefits than every development in this city combined since 1987 by way of open space, affordable housing and amenities (like a fire station). The perfect boyfriend. But the planned area and mounting public distrust in government create issues that make development not so good for the citizens affected. I moved that we defer our vote to fall and work through some things because our background work meant consideration was not ripe for prime time. My motion was voted down, however. Thereafter, I refused to vote and abstained.

Three big issues that plague plan passage for me are lack of public trust, transportation and affordable housing. These are city, not developer-driven issues. Transportation level of service does not and will not aspire to meet average grade level C, even with contemplated improvements in one of the most gridlocked areas in the country. And regardless of the forces, the fact remains that over the past 12 years, Alexandria’s market rate affordable housing stock has been reduced from more than 18,000 units to less than 6,000, of which 2,500 of the remaining are in the Beauregard Small Area Plan.

While I was pleased to press issues at a community meeting to increase the proffer from a preserved 700 units (which has now increased to 800 units), it remains that approval of Beauregard yields a net loss of 1,700 market rate affordable units, displacing by means other than natural attrition, thousands of people and predominately people of color who add to the diverse fabric of the city, something according to the city’s strategic plan, we collectively value. This is a problem that we have to work to solve harder. It requires more time and that we become more creative so that we may save more units.

I abstained rather than voted no because admittedly, I like the Beauregard Small Area Plan. Further, I appreciate the proffers and work of the developers to engage citizens and I did not want to communicate the contrary as I respect that the problems persistent don’t belong to our boyfriend. I did not vote yes because I did not like the signal it would send to the community in light of the issues we face that don’t have more complete plans of action: the absence of better transportation planning, an incomplete housing master plan and the failure to first complete the requested tenant survey, all of which collectively undermine public trust on quality of life issues on the West End.

In closing, I do give kudos to Councilman Krupicka, Vice Mayor Donley and Councilman Fannon particularly for offering a number of impromptu amendments related to affordable housing and transportation before adoption (I personally need more details than statements of intent). I remain exceptionally proud of Councilman Fannon for working to include language that would first and foremost give priority to families currently occupying market rate affordable housing units in Beauregard as part of the 800 dedicated units. Given that there is a natural attrition of 40 percent of renters annually in Alexandria developments, this move would go far to ensuring that residents desirous of staying are not displaced. As for transportation, all I can say is we need to do much “more better.”

To all citizens I say, please don’t be faint of heart. Saturday’s adoption was a beginning, not the end. Council must pass a resolution to ratify the vote on the Beauregard Plan concept and then later, vote on the rezoning that will essentially trigger the community benefits later in fall. I hope that as we continue to do our work, those disheartened (including me) will come to feel better and in the end, we do all continue to work together to perfect One Alexandria, even when the picture isn’t wholly to one’s individual liking.

Alicia Hughes

City Council member