Opinion Your Views — 17 February 2014
The city’s planning process is broken

By Linda Couture, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

Grownups and children can accept punishment or negative outcomes if — and only if — they feel they’ve been treated fairly. Ask any employee: If they are treated fairly at work, they feel good about their boss.

So, when I began to feel upset after almost every major planning decision, I questioned the root cause. It came to me that our planning process is the most unfair process in this city.

It is wrought with stacked decks and managed by city employees and appointed commission members who could care less about residents. They are primarily fulfilling the mantra of the city manager and his budget team, who want more and more revenue to underwrite the mammoth spending initiatives that they continue to hatch year in and year out.

Let’s take a look at the city staff for starters. Many of the senior staff members don’t live in Alexandria. Meanwhile, the majority of planning commissioners live in protected areas of the city. Some also have commercial interests.

The new waterfront commission is composed primarily of those who have commercial interests — even some of the resident representatives have connections to real estate.

This imbalance creates a bias in favor of revenue-enhancement and doesn’t give residents a fair chance to get development that respects the scale of Old Town, favoring the openness asked for on the waterfront and enhancing — rather than distracting from — the historic ambience. These so-called planning folks haven’t seen a special-use permit with increased density that they didn’t love.

And what do we get: inferior designs, bulk, more brick and cement, and absolutely no buildings that enhance the uniqueness of Alexandria. Instead, they create canyon after canyon of poorly designed, cookie-cutter buildings.

Drive along Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria, which keeps getting shortchanged. It’s losing its affordable housing to ugly buildings that hug the road, blocking sunshine. Drive up North Henry Street, and again you will see very unattractive block after block of tall, overwhelming buildings.

Now these planners are intent on giving us the same thing along the waterfront. This is simply egregious.

The people who attack those of us who want an attractive, open and welcoming redeveloped waterfront rather than monster buildings are being disingenuous. The Carr development along South Union Street will set the stage — now all forthcoming developers can point to the giveaways in this development as a standard.

Of course, this planning staff is biased to development. That’s what they’ve been hired or appointed to do. We need city staff members who live here and will be affected by outcomes — not planning and transit officials who live in Maryland, Mount Vernon and Falls Church.

This is just not fair, and it’s making me angry. Government is supposed to balance the normal tension between the wants and needs of the residents and the development community. Alexandria has stacked the decks so that resident concerns are not taken seriously. Well, it certainly shows in what the city’s becoming.

Someone once said one should never call another person’s baby ugly; however, Alexandria planners, your baby is fast becoming very ugly.

 

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