Alexandria Letter: Why Develop Small Area Plans?

Alexandria Letter: Why Develop Small Area Plans?

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The City of Alexandria invests thousands of dollars, in the form of employee man-hours and contractor fees, to develop the small area plans. Citizens likewise contribute considerable time to attend public meetings, write letters, and testify before Planning Commission and City Council to provide input into these plans. The result is a coordinated and collaborative view of what is acceptable development within our neighborhoods, where that development is appropriate, and at what density and height.

The property at 699 North Patrick St., known as Ramsey Homes, is in the Parker Gray Historic District and is also governed by two small area plans that were approved only eight years ago: the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan (BMNP) and the Braddock East Master Plan — the latter of which was developed specifically to address development of the public housing sites in the Braddock neighborhood, including Ramsey Homes. These plans are specific on what the community and the city agreed was appropriate for the Ramsey Homes site.

The Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan states "new buildings east of Route 1 will remain as walk-ups or townhouses with backyards;” the Ramsey Homes site is located east of Route 1 and thus is subject to this requirement. The Braddock East Small Area Plan “recommends that Ramsey Homes should either be rehabilitated as part of the overall redevelopment program for the area, with some potential for infill, or be redeveloped with townhomes or townhouse scale buildings…” In September, nearly 30 citizens spent hours testifying before City Council in favor of the Braddock East Plan’s rehabilitation recommendation — an option City Council encouraged the developer, the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority (ARHA), to consider and for which city staff developed some good proposals that would have addressed community concerns. However, ARHA has ignored the community’s concerns and instead proposes to build two large apartment buildings that will shadow over the nearby 19th century row houses. The plans speak of townhouses on the site — not apartment buildings that require elevators.

ARHA seeks to more than triple the density on this small site, from the existing 15 homes to 53 apartments that will house nearly 200 people, but will only have 29 parking spaces. The Braddock East Plan specifically addresses the issue of appropriate density for each of the public housing sites, noting “these FARs are the maximum that is likely to be supportable on these sites.” For the Ramsey Homes site, the plan specifies 15-30 units.

ARHA’s development proposal for Ramsey Homes violates the most fundamental tenets of the approved area plans — necessitating ARHA to request that that the Planning Commission up-zone the site and amend an approved plan that is less than a decade old and was developed specifically to address development of the neighborhood’s public housing sites like Ramsey Homes. If small area plans are to have any relevance, planning commissioners and City Council must uphold the letter of plan

and require ARHA to redesign the project to conform to the plans’ requirements on density, parking, and green space. Otherwise, perhaps the city should stop wasting taxpayer dollars to develop small area plans that it ignores.

Heidi Ford