Letter: Two Different Sets of Rules?

Letter: Two Different Sets of Rules?

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

We write in full support of the Parker Gray Board of Architectural Review’s denial of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) request to demolish Ramsey Homes and urge City Council to deny ARHA’s appeal. Ramsey Homes contributes to the scale, character, and livability of the neighborhood and should be preserved and rehabilitated.

The Parker Gray local historic district was created specifically to protect neighborhood housing from development. This is evidenced by then-Vice Mayor Ticer’s 1984 statement that the district’s establishment “would give the neighborhood protection from development anticipated around the Braddock Road Metro station.”

The 2008 Braddock Metro Small Area Plan similarly emphases the importance of maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhood — particularly those blocks that fall within the Parker Gray historic district.

Council should be under no illusion that the West Old Town Citizens Association supports some sort of “compromise” that includes a tear down and dense three-story buildings as a replacement. This is not our position.

Ramsey Homes provide much needed green space in the neighborhood. In fact, the green space at Ramsey Homes is the last remaining large swath of green space in Parker-Gray’s eastern quadrant and constitutes an important public benefit. Given the city has yet to deliver on the commitment that it made to the community in the Braddock Metro Small Area Plan to provide a 1.5 acre park, it is unacceptable to ask the neighborhood to give up limited remaining green space when the city has yet to live up to its obligations.

The Parker-Gray BAR unanimously voted in April that Ramsey Homes meets four of six criteria for preservation.

ARHA argues that it is too expensive to rehabilitate the 15 units currently at Ramsay Homes. However, ARHA has owned the property for well over 50 years, and its maintenance of the property has been substandard. A list of upgrades that ARHA argues the units need, obtained through a FOIA request, reveal a pattern of long-term neglect. ARHA’s poor track record on maintaining its properties is well known. The parade of horrors ARHA paints with photos showing how dilapidated the housing is — and by implication the attempt to paint opponents of demolition as heartless — needs to be dismissed outright. These conditions did not develop overnight.

ARHA’s neglect is not an acceptable excuse for demolition. The city formerly maintained a Blighted Properties list and went after those (mostly private) owners who did not keep their houses up. Even today, no single family homeowners would be able to let their properties slide into such disrepair and then argue before the BAR that they should be permitted to demolish because it would be too expensive to remediate the neglect.

The neighborhood will no longer tolerate one set of rules for ARHA and another set for single family homeowners. ARHA’s lack of maintenance of its property is not a justification for destroying buildings that the city itself identified as a contributing structure to the Uptown/Parker Gray listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Unless City Council is prepared to grant every private homeowner in Parker Gray the same latitude to tear down their historic homes when they find it financially beneficial to do so, then it must deny ARHA’s appeal.

West Old Town Citizens Association Executive Board Leslie Zupan, Heidi Ford, Donna Reuss, and Peter Prahar