Opinion Our View — 18 April 2013
Our View: A silver lining in the Beauregard debate

As expected, the city council voted overwhelmingly in favor of rezoning the Beauregard corridor Saturday, giving developers more density in exchange for contributions toward public amenities.

What was less expected was the thoughtful discussion of affordable housing and the council’s strategy for preserving homes for Alexandria’s low- and middle-income families. The debate, if not city council’s ultimate action, marked another small step in the right direction.

Residents of the neighborhood — one of Alexandria’s last remaining holdouts of market-rate affordable housing — believe redevelopment will force them out. They claim that the 800 units secured from developers as part of the deal for rezoning does not go far enough. And we tend to agree with them.

Thankfully, this is not the last time we will debate the future of Beauregard. As Mayor Bill Euille noted, individual projects in the neighborhood will require special-use permits. And that leaves the door open for more negotiating.

Euille also made it clear that he views the 800 dedicated affordable housing units as a baseline figure. The goal, he said, should be somewhere above that mark.

City Councilor John Chapman likewise deserves praise for a last-minute amendment that shifts leftover dollars from the public amenities, specifically the fire station and any transit improvements, toward affordable housing efforts. The city council wisely allowed that money — if it becomes available — to be spent anywhere in Alexandria.

And at least one developer offered to put more affordable housing units upfront during the redevelopment process, though they will be available for a much shorter period of time than outlined in the neighborhood’s small area plan. That goes a ways toward meeting one of the main concerns of residents: that homes for their families won’t be available early enough in the demolition process.

We haven’t been shy about pointing out the flaws in the Beauregard plan. It is an imperfect vision for the neighborhood’s future, one that largely puts redevelopment before residents despite the much-touted public amenities and boost to the city’s tax base.

But at least on Saturday, through their words and actions, Alexandria’s top elected officials publicly recognized the city can — and should — do more.

It’s too late to dramatically overhaul the Beauregard plan. That ship has sailed. But when the next major project comes up, securing affordable housing must be at the forefront of negotiations — and not as an afterthought.

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