Opinion: Vote no on pricing out immigrants in Arlandria-Chirilagua

1183
(CORE Architecture and Design)
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To the editor:

Arlandria is one of the last neighborhoods in Alexandria comprised of low-income immigrants. Developers have had their scopes set on developing Arlandia for years, and this Saturday Alexandria City Council will decide the fate of a plan that proposes transforming Arlandria’s Mount Vernon Shopping Center into a massive five-acre, 636,000 -square-foot complex that includes 478 dwelling units, commercial space, parking garages and host of other amenities.

The problem is not redevelopment, but rather this particular plan. This redevelopment plan is wrong for Arlandria, and it should be rejected by the city council.

Most important is the issue of fairness. The owners can redevelop this site as a “matter of right,” meaning they can build within the confines of what’s legally permitted without asking special permission from the city. However, the owner and developers are requesting the approval of five separate permits that include a host of “proffers” including: (1.) permission to build two levels higher than legal in order to build above-ground parking (it’s more expensive to build underground parking); (2.) permission to build compact car parking spaces allowing for additional parking spots; and (3.) permission to move existing recreational space, i.e. basketball and soccer courts, farther away from the proposed project.

In exchange, the owners and developers are giving up 28 units of “affordable” housing at 60 percent of the area’s average income. Because most of Arlandria’s families’ incomes range from $25,000 to $50,000, these units will be out of their reach. In practice, the community is getting zero proffers.

Second, the plan simply needs improvement. For example, this plan ignores the traffic and parking impact on Bruce Street, a one-lane street on the north side of the proposed complex with public parking on both sides, and in turn, the residents of the 120-unit Arlandia-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative located across the street. This redevelopment would lead to a significant increase in Bruce Street traffic: 3,200 automobiles per day. Bruce Street needs to be widened enough to make it a two-lane street. The existing plan keeps Bruce Street as a single lane.

In addition, there is no Bruce Street turning analysis in the plan so it’s uncertain if fire trucks, trash trucks and 50-foot moving vehicles could make turns in and out of Bruce Street without causing traffic backups. And the proposed complex has an entrance/exit on that side of the building that service and emergency vehicles will need to use.

Furthermore, the redevelopment will lead to less parking in a neighborhood where public parking already is limited, and there is no plan to help the residents of the ACHC with parking.

Lastly, transportation also is a concern, given that the redevelopment will lead to more than 2,000 new residents in Arlandria. A housing project of this magnitude is usually built near a Metro station, but Arlandria doesn’t have one. At the very least, a transportation plan including a shuttle dedicated to transporting people directly to the closest Metro station should be furnished. The plan includes no such shuttle.

If the owners and developers would reach out in good faith to Arlandria’s community, we would be more than happy to share our views for how to make this plan work. This one doesn’t.

– L. Gabriel Rojo
Executive director, Tenants and Workers United

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1 COMMENT

  1. Obviously the vote has already occurred and the plan was approved. That said, I agree with your concerns over the traffic and parking impact. Dropping thousands of new residents into that area without doing something to improve traffic flow and ensure pedestrian safety is not helpful to anyone.

    I do not agree, however, with the idea that this development is inherently unfair to Arlandria’s immigrant population. Your language seems to suggest that you find 28 units of affordable housing insufficient. However 28 units is more than zero units, which is what the developer is required to set aside. The developer is not tearing down existing affordable housing and displacing residents – it’s creating brand new housing that will ultimately improve the housing stock in the area. There will still be just as many immigrants housed in Arlandria after development as there were before.

    Perhaps if those who opposed the development had focused on real-world parking and traffic concerns rather than some ephemeral and speculative impact to Arlandria’s immigrant population then some positive change could have been achieved.