Hundreds of residents from across the city converged in Market Square Nov. 25 to protest the city’s Zoning for Housing initiative just days before the changes were unanimously passed by City Council.
“There is an unfortunate atmosphere that surrounds zoning debates in America today,” said Will Shen of the Coalition for a Livable Alexandria. “All Alexandrians should have a say in what gets built here. Do not let anyone shame you into thinking that your concerns about traffic, parking, privacy, flooding, trees, schools or crime are frivolous or selfish compared to the need for housing.”
Opponents of the initiative sought to have the city defer its vote, which took place during a marathon City Council meeting Nov. 28, due to concerns about lack of sustainable infrastructure for new development.
“The Coalition is not against affordable housing,” Shen said. “And we are definitely not against helping Alexandrians or city workers to remain living here. We are for change but change for the better. Zoning for Housing is clearly a change for the worse. The only winners will be the developers.”
Residents, many holding signs in opposition to the zoning changes, joined Shen in seeking to have the city revisit the initiative.
“We want the city to slow down and not vote on Tuesday,” Shen said. “We want the city to deal with the nine pieces of this proposal one by one so they can be discussed in detail rather than bundled in a take-it-or-leave-it package. And we want them to actually listen to and act in the interest of the people who live here.”
Sylvia Alimena, a 38-year resident of the Lincolnia Hills neighborhood of Alexandria, also addressed the crowd.
“Our population since the last census has dropped by 5,000 people yet we are building all of this housing,” Alimena said. “Most of it is luxury housing that few can afford. We know that housing is a huge issue in our city but it is not availability, it is affordability that is the issue. What the city has allowed to be built in the last 8-10 years has segregated the city even further just on socioeconomic terms.”
A large makeshift taxi was part of the protest display, playing the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi, known for the lyrics “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”
“This is a manufactured housing crisis,” said Roy Byrd, another speaker at the event. “The city’s own website touts that we are in 100 percent compliance when it comes to fair housing, meaning I can live anywhere I want. But that is not what Zoning for Housing tells you. It tells you the exact opposite. But what we are really fed up with is the lack of trust and transparency in city government.”
Much of the opposition to the Zoning for Housing initiative centered on the changes that will allow townhouses and small apartment buildings to be built in neighborhoods currently zoned for single family homes.
“In all my years here I never expected the city to want to change zoning in residential neighborhoods,” Alimena said. “Keep writing to city government and keep expressing your opinions. This will not be the end.”