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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Most residents oppose the plan for redeveloping the Beauregard Corridor

The shopping center on N. Beauregard Street would become a new town center.
The vast majority of the residents of Alexandria’s West End who spoke at a community meeting April 9 have major concerns about the city’s revised draft plan for redeveloping the Beauregard Corridor.

Among the major complaints from the public: The planning process is too rushed and more time is needed to flesh out the details and get more input from residents. A survey of  tenants should be completed before the provisions on affordable housing are approved. And the financing details are too sketchy and favor developers over the city and taxpayers.

The plan guides development of the West End of Alexandria for the next 30 years. It would turn an area with several garden-type apartment complexes, townhouses, single-family neighborhoods, strip retail centers, and office buildings into a  higher-density series of neighborhoods with high-rise housing, more office buildings, three new hotels, and a town center.
The number of housing units would nearly double from 5,500 to 9,000. About 700 units would be demolished and would be replaced by 800 new affordable housing units.

The six major property owners in the region are working together to coordinate their redevelopment proposals and have agreed to contribute $153.8 million for public amenities over the next 30 years. Because the funds are needed at the front end—for affordable housing and other purposes—the city would earmark a portion of the real estate revenues to be set aside with the developers expected to reimburse the city later.
To handle increased traffic congestion, the plan proposes a dedicated transit lane on N. Beauregard Street, a new grid of streets in the town center area, a new street parallel to Beauregard, and an ellipse at the intersection of Beauregard and Seminary Road, next to the BRAC-133 complex at the Mark Center. It also calls for a new network of bike lanes and paths and a new fire station at the corner of Beauregard and Sanger Avenue.

The revised plan addresses some concerns raised by residents about an earlier draft. Those changes call for more affordable housing, a slightly reduced building height (from 70 to 60 feet), an option to extend the housing affordability option for an additional 10 years, and a survey of tenants.

The Alexandria Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan May 3, and the City Council will hold a public hearing May 12. Helen McIlvaine, deputy director of the city’s Office of Housing, said the city council could vote to adopt the revised plan, reject it, or send it back for further revision.

Farroll Hamer, director of planning and zoning, explained the revised draft plan is a “policy guidance document” that lays out a vision for future development; it is not a regulation. Once it is approved by the city, the next step is rezoning and then the city would have to approve a special use permit for each development.

Speaker after speaker got up at the April 9 meeting at John Adams Elementary School to urge Alexandria officials to hold off on approving the plan. As one resident said, “there’s been too much of an emphasis on speed,” and the city should take the time to get it right.

West End resident Jack Sullivan called the revised draft an improvement over previous plans but asked, “Is this just lipstick on a pig?” He said the plan would transform the community into a high-rise urban area at “3,800 times the present density.”

Like several others who spoke at the meeting, he raised concerns that the developers might not follow through on their promises—on provisions like the tree canopy—and said when these things happen, “the usual response of the city is to roll over and beg for a tummy rub.”

Nancy Jennings, president of the Seminary Hill community association, faulted the plan for failing to account for the impact of increased density on the sewer capacity, and Katie Kennedy called the proposed tax increment financing “a gamble that may or may not work.”

“We are not ready to go forward,” said Don Buch, who questioned why the city is proposing to spend $1.5 million on an 0.85-acre property next to Dora Kelly Park to provide open space. “That makes no sense to me,” he said. Another resident noted the parcel is a parking lot; it’s not even green space. Those funds are from the Department of Defense in conjunction with the BRAC-133 complex which is bringing an additional 6,400 federal workers to the area.

Several people said that the proposals for affordable housing won’t meet the needs of existing tenants. Victoria Menjivar, an employee at T.C. Williams High School and candidate for the city council, said a lot of her colleagues—teachers, custodians, and food service workers—who live in the West End are concerned about being displaced.

Dave Cavanaugh called the proposed transportation component “haphazard, piecemeal, and crude” and said promoting increased density without a comprehensive traffic plan, that addresses the HOV lanes on I-395 and other issues, will only make conditions in the area worse.

Joanne Lepanto said the City of Alexandria is developing a plan “for people who don’t live here yet at the expense of those of us who live here now.” She expressed concerns about increased density, buildings that are too tall, and the destruction of existing neighborhoods.

The plan calls for significant amounts of property tax revenue that would otherwise go into the city’s general fund, leaving the rest of the city to make up the shortfall, Lepanto noted. And once the plan is approved, the value of property would rise. That means the original developers would have an incentive to sell, she said, and the new owners wouldn’t be obligated to provide affordable housing or the other proposed amenities.

One of the few people who spoke in support of the plan was David Baker, an administrator at Goodwin House and former chief of police of Alexandria. He said the plan will improve transportation and convenience for West End residents and noted that once it’s approved, “a lot of details can still be worked out.”

UPDATE: The Alexandria City Council approved the plan May 12 following an all-day hearing punctuated with chanting protestors.

1 comment:

  1. All comments have failed to consider the impact of the increase in traffic at one of the overburdened intersection in all of northern va ... N Chambliss @ 236. This intersection is impossible most hours of the day . What in the world are our "planners" thinking? Money money and an increase in the tax base which is never enough to cover the infrastructure such as sewers water police and hospitals