By Derrick Perkins
Planning commission members voted unanimously to rezone the Beauregard corridor early Wednesday morning, sending the ambitious — and controversial — land use change to city council for final approval.
Following a marathon public hearing, which began Tuesday evening and ended after midnight, the commission’s decision dashed the hopes of West End residents who called on members to delay the measure. Many fear the neighborhood’s redevelopment, expected to occur over the next 25 years, will force them out of the city.
Few rejected the rezoning plan — which paves the way for more open space, a new fire station and transit improvements — outright. Instead residents asked officials to strike a new deal with developers that would set aside more affordable housing.
“The first thing I want to say about the plan is we are not against it,” said Veronica Calzada, a tenant who has led resident opposition. “We want to be a part of it.”
The roughly 196-acre neighborhood represents one of the city’s largest areas of naturally affordable housing. Worried by the prospect of by-right redevelopment, city officials offered the area’s five major property owners — including real estate giants JBG and Duke Realty — increased density in exchange for public amenities and at least 800 affordable housing units.
City council approved the framework for redevelopment, known as the Beauregard corridor small area plan, last year. In all, developers will put up around $160.2 million in various types of contributions.
But that’s not good enough for tenants like Alex Santiago, an independent security contractor who thinks the city could have asked for more affordable housing.
“They could definitely do much better; they could do better than what they’re doing right now,” he said before the meeting. “I don’t think that’s a crazy demand. Give us more affordable housing — let us have a future in your future.”
Like many in the neighborhood, Santiago worries he will have to move his family outside the Beltway, which means a longer commute and taking his children out of a safe community. Just thinking about it causes anxiety, he said.
“The stress is also having to look for yet another apartment. We have played with the idea, and there’s always a waitlist,” Santiago said. “Pretty much every complex you [visit] has a waitlist. The reality is something that bothers me. I don’t want to have to put my kids through that. I don’t want to have to deal with putting my family in a basement apartment. This is where I prefer to live; this is where my kids prefer to live.”
Their concerns caught the ear of planning commission member Derek Hyra, who made a failed push to incorporate more affordable housing in the neighborhood.
“It is difficult for me to support the rezoning without an additional upgrade of the affordable housing component,” he said.
As a compromise, Hyra and his fellow members passed a resolution asking for affordable housing units to be made available upfront during redevelopment — though the overall number does not increase.
Having cleared the planning commission, the rezoning proposal will go before city council April 13. Like many of his neighbors, Santiago plans to keep the pressure on the city’s top-elected officials.
“I don’t think it’s fair that I’ve been frequenting this area for the past years, putting money into the local economy, and now I’m being forced out,” he said. “I’ve put my time in here. I’m not a quitter. I’m from Brooklyn, and if we’re wronged, I’m going to fight.”