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West End Rezoned

Council approves plan to demolish thousands of garden apartments.

“We want to enjoy the benefits of redevelopment. Instead, they’re destroying our community and pushing working families out of the city."

— Hector Pineda, tenant leader

Like many of the residents who live along Beauregard Street, Salam Jawad is unsure about the future. Since he came to America last year, he's been trying to find his way in a new culture and a new environment. Now he's facing a new sense of uncertainty because his city government has approved a massive rezoning effort that will eventually demolish the building he lives in for something much larger.

"I wanted to be stable here for about two years," said Jawad while walking to a nearby grocery store. "But if this happens in the next year, this is not good for me."

City officials stress that the plan will take 30 years to implement. So not all of the residents will have to deal with their building being demolished all at once. Washington-based developer JBG will take one piece at a time, slowly remaking the West End into a luxury community with a new town center and a high-capacity transit corridor.

"We have listened to the community and to developers," said Mayor Bill Euille. "We have worked hard to ensure that, through this rezoning, our long-term vision for Beauregard includes affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, a strengthened transportation system, and a public/private partnership that will provide resources so these enhancements can be realized."

THE ZONING PLAN now before City Council members includes $167 million for affordable housing, a feature that supporters say makes the Beauregard plan a historic addition to the supply of dedicated units in the region. About $52 million of that will come from developer contributions, with the rest coming from tax-increment funding. Planning Commission members said that if they failed to approve the deal, those units would not be available and market forces would displace residents.

"It's kind up upsetting," said Hazam Khammash, whose family came from Jordan 15 years ago. "My mom works really hard and, you know, she has to work harder."

Many residents who live in the apartments now say the promise of 800 units in the future is small consolation for people who live in 2,500 units today. They worry that they might not be one of the lucky few who gets selected to live in the units, which will be a fraction of the market-rate affordable housing units there today. Many residents say the stress of an uncertain future lingers over their days, a phenomenon that has become even more pitched now that council members have approved the rezoning.

"It's like a disaster," said Heber Banegas, whose family came here from Honduras. "Many families don't know where to go. This is their home."

THE REZONING requires developer contributions for affordable housing, a new fire station, transit and open space. About $160 million will be directly contributed by developers, and $66 million will be used to pay for the affordable housing. Nevertheless, current residents say they feel betrayed.

“We clean the offices, drive the taxis, cook the food in Old Town restaurants, and care for the elderly," said tenant leader Hector Pineda. “We want to enjoy the benefits of redevelopment. Instead, they’re destroying our community and pushing working families out of the city."

The plan approved by council members last weekend also includes $52 million for transit and road improvements, $10 million to construct a fire station and $12 million for recreation and other public amenities. City officials say the redevelopment will take over three decades, a long-term plan that includes a new town center and a transit corridor. Developers expect to break ground in 2014, when the first phase of demolition and construction will begin.

"There will be many, many apartments that remain in place over time," said Kathy Puskar, a land-use attorney who represents the developers interested in redeveloping the properties. "So the first phase is not tearing down all 2,500 units."

COUNCIL MEMBERS praised the plan as an unprecedented addition to the stock of dedicated affordable housing units in the city. Many warned that if elected officials took no action, developers could move forward with a plan that included no contribution to affordable housing. Although tenant groups have been calling for 2,500 units of dedicated affordable housing to replace the current units, Councilman Justin Wilson pointed out that only 40 percent of the units qualify as affordable housing the way the city crunches the numbers. By that logic, the city is actually delivering one-for-one replacement of affordable housing.

"We are not moving the goal posts," said Wilson. "We have always had a common definition of affordable, and that's never changed."