When will Alexandria be “full?” Cities – like any vessel – have limits. And Alexandria, restricted from growing any larger than the 15 square miles it occupies, will never have any more land that it has now. Nor will it get any more roads to traverse this land. All Alexandria can do is become more dense.
However, to learn about the many projects to build more structures within the confining boundaries of Alexandria, you’d think there’s space galore for ever more houses, people and their vehicles. Several examples of this mindset were subjects of recent news stories.
One article detailed how a declining parish revitalized itself by converting open space into an architecturally bland, but massive structure entirely set aside for affordable housing. Another story described the Planning Commission decision to permit venerable woodland on precarious soil containing the last free flowing spring in Alexandria to be replaced by McMansions.
And then there’s the mega church that will swallow an entire city block (and destroy affordable housing in the process). This mega church is but another Planning Commission error: a massive structure that will disfigure a neighborhood but will pay no property tax despite the real cost to city to render services to it and its occupants.
Concerned citizens have made any number of suggestions to redress the anti-resident mindset of our Planning Commission and City Council. Kevin Dunne recently proposed a genuine master plan; Townsend Van Fleet and others would like an ombudsman. Nearly all decry the community-deaf, imperious Planning Commission decision-making process. Some – including me – have proposed replacing the current Planning Commission members with individuals from each ward in the city.
These wards exist; they do not have to be created from whole cloth. Nor does the city need permission from the state to use them for more than their current purpose: electing school board members. What’s lacking is a will to make the Planning Commission, much less the City Council, an instrument of the citizens whereby neighbors elect someone who lives among them to represent them and their interests.
Except for Mayor Silberberg, our current City Council lacks this will. Its decisions and explanations, certainly those made by Vice Mayor Wilson, dismiss citizen concerns in favor of pave and build; more is good, ever more is better. Wilson and his council colleagues are oblivious that there are limits to everything, including how dense a small city can become before its taxes become onerous, its schools and street parking never adequate, and its charm and quality of life diminished.