June 18: Council Notebook

June 18: Council Notebook

Wrecking Ball

Ever since members of the Alexandria City Council approved a zoning change that would allow developers to demolish thousands of units of market-rate affordable housing on the West End, low-income residents and their advocates have feared the wrecking ball. Now elected officials have approved the first demolition as part of the Beauregard small-area plan. Demolition of eight garden apartments will happen in two phases with 164 units to be demolished in 2015 and 132 units to be demolished in 2017.

City officials plan to create or preserve 800 units of affordable housing in the area over the next 21 years. As a matter of priority, though, focusing on affordable housing will fall behind creation of a new fire station, a traffic ellipse, a transitway and stormwater improvements. Funding for the 800 units of dedicated affordable housing won't begin until the year 2020.

"The picture that's going to be painted is 296 affordable units are going away," said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. "But it's not like 296 units are here today and you wake up tomorrow and they're all gone. It's over a five-year period."

Meanwhile, the Office of Housing has hired a bilingual relocation coordinator to manage a waiting list of eligible households.

Sticker Shock

How much will the new six-foot flood wall protecting Old Town cost? Nobody knows the answer to that question, but it's likely to be more than $5 million.

Whatever the cost, members of the Alexandria City Council didn't seem all that concerned with the price tag when they approved the new floodwall in theory on Saturday. The vote was part of an implementation scheme for the waterfront plan, which more than doubles density at three sites on the waterfront compared to what's there now. When council members approved the plan, one of the major selling points was that new development would finance flood mitigation, solving a constant nuisance on the waterfront. Every heavy downpour floods the foot of King Street and summons a fleet of television news trucks to document the moment.

"Every time there's any kind of flooding, zappo, the reporters are right there with their cameras to show it to the entire Northern Virginia region and I'm sure it goes beyond," said Councilwoman Del Pepper, expressing her frustration. "It's embarrassing."

Elected officials voted in favor of an elevated walkway that will act as a floodwall even though a cost estimate won't be available until this fall. Back in 2010, Maryland-based consultant URS conducted a study that concluded a floodwall would cost about $5 million. City officials now say that's an outdated cost because of the recent agreement with the Old Dominion Boat Club, which agreed to move from its spot at the foot of King Street to a spot at the foot of Prince Street. And they didn't want to use the $5 million figure because it's likely to be more than that, and city officials are concerned that when they announce the price residents will have sticker shock if they are expecting a $5 million floodwall.

"Staff is very much aware that cost estimates receive, and deserve, a very high level of scrutiny and confidence by the public," wrote Planning Director Faroll Hamer in a memo to council members. "While the consultant team and staff have begun developing and reviewing cost estimates based on the schematic design, the level of detail and scrutiny provided at this time is not sufficient to provide an appropriate comfort level on the accuracy of the costs."

When will floodwall to be constructed? That's another question city officials hope to get around to answering this fall.


Members of the Alexandria City Council were feeling a bit giddy toward the end of their final public hearing before the summer recess. After Councilwoman Pepper used the phrase "zappo" during the waterfront discussion, other members tried their hand at using the phrase with increasing frequency as the meeting dragged on into the afternoon. Sometimes it was used as a verb, other times it was used as a noun. Pepper interjected several times to clarify that the proper use of the word was as an interjection.

"Zappo!" exclaimed Councilman Paul Smedberg as the meeting gaveled to a close.