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Votes

Smart Growth Versus Affordable Housing at Potomac Yard

Clash between opposing visions raises questions about parking on Jefferson Davis Highway.

Arlington-based nonprofit AHC is moving forward with a plan to create 78 new units of dedicated affordable housing at 3600 Jefferson Davis Highway.

Arlington-based nonprofit AHC is moving forward with a plan to create 78 new units of dedicated affordable housing at 3600 Jefferson Davis Highway.

What happens when the principles of smart growth collide with affordable housing? That’s the case on Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria, where a new affordable housing complex is planned at the northwest corner of the intersection at East Reed. The project has 78 new units of dedicated affordable housing for a 60-year period.

“Probably this is the number one issue in the city, and it’s the number one issue on the campaign trail,” said land-use attorney Duncan Blair, representing developer AHC. “So I’m like the Easter Bunny bringing you exactly what you want.”

But some neighbors say this Easter egg is rotten.

“Duncan,” asked Lynhaven Citizens Association president Joe Bondi, “why does the Easter Bunny have to park his car on East Lynhaven Drive?”

Bondi and several other Lynhaven residents appeared at the public hearing to express concerns about parking. Despite a Planning Commission recommendation to bundle the rent and the parking, city officials recommended “unbundling” the two. By forcing residents to pay about $500 a year for parking, the theory goes, residents will be more likely to use transit services and less likely to use an automobile.

“If this isn’t the place to do unbundle,” said Councilman Justin Wilson, “I don’t know if there is a place to unbundle.”

THE VOTE ON UNBUNDLING the parking at 3600 Jefferson Davis Highway revealed the first divided vote on the new all-Democratic City Council. New Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and new Councilman John Taylor Chapman both voted against the parking plan, which they said would put residents of the new affordable housing complex at a competitive disadvantage. The stretch of Jefferson Davis highway will soon be home to a bus-rapid transit system, and the new Potomac Yard Metro will be a short walk away. Nevertheless, Chapman said, that might not provide the level of service needed by the affordable housing residents.

“Maybe they are a school teacher, and maybe they don’t work in Alexandria. Maybe they work in Fairfax or Loudoun County or wherever,” said Chapman. “Our BRT is not going to get them to their job. They are going to need a car.”

Chapman and Silberberg found themselves in the minority, though. Most of the City Council members agreed that the smart-growth philosophy of unbundling the parking was the best way to proceed with the proposal. Several Lynhaven residents spoke out against the unbundling plan. They said residents will forgo forking over the $500 annual fee and merely park along neighborhood streets, leading to a lack of parking for residents who are already using the streets.

“The choices that people make who will live in this building are different than the choices that people make who live in market-rate buildings,” said Bondi.

THE PROPOSAL has been in the works for years, the brainchild of Arlington-based nonprofit organization AHC. City Council members approved a $2.5 million loan to help finance the proposal, as well as use of a city lot at 3600 Jefferson Davis Highway. The project has 78 new units of affordable housing for households with up to 60 percent of the Washington Area Median Income — around $65,000 for a four-person household, $52,000 for a two-person household and $45,000 for a one-person household. AHC also plans to receive eight vouchers from Housing and Urban Development to make some of the units more affordable to residents with disabilities.

After the initial tax credit has expired, AHC will have an opportunity to buy out the investor’s share of the partnership and own the project, which is anticipated in 2031. Once this has taken place, the nonprofit will also have an opportunity to acquire the city’s partnership share. AHC and Alexandria officials have agreed that the city’s partnership stake will be its 2012 market value minus one half of any environmental mitigation costs that the nonprofit incurs in developing or constructing the project.

“Because the city parcel’s former uses as a gas station and a rental car lot, the city has proposed to share these costs,” wrote City Manager Rashad Young, “by deducting 50 percent of the total from the amount to be paid for its partnership shares in the future.”