Retired planning director looks back: Controversy ‘just comes with the territory’

By Erich Wagner (File Photo)

If you ask retired planning director Faroll Hamer about the controversies surrounding two recent major redevelopment proposals — along the waterfront and in Beauregard — she’s quick to argue that not all plans generate vitriol.

“The waterfront is controversial and it’s primarily residents of Old Town [that were opposed to it], and Beauregard was controversial because middle and low income residents were afraid they’d be forced out, but don’t forget plans like Landmark and Eisenhower West,” Hamer said. “People had been begging for those.”
Hamer retired this summer after spending seven years at the helm of the city’s planning department, overseeing redevelopment plans across the city, from Landmark to Braddock Road. Although the final years of her tenure were marked by controversy, she said that’s part of the job.

“It’s just part of the territory,” she said. “Every planning director goes through the exact same thing … And, like every planning director, you have to have faith that the plans are what is best for the city, and your legacy will be that — when they are built out — the general agreement is that it was a good plan.”

Hamer is proud of the proposals approved while she directed the planning department, and expressed pleasure at seeing a few of them already coming to fruition.

“Now we’re seeing the [Landmark] mall being redeveloped and there are new developments on Pickett [Street] and around the Cameron Station area that people seem generally pretty happy about,” she said. “[I] would say all in all, one of the things I’m most proud of is that we really stressed implementation.

“We established implementation advisory groups so that the community stays involved in the process and makes sure the city keeps its obligation, which is really important.”

Another sign that the planning department has produced good results is residents requesting redevelopment plans for their own neighborhoods, Hamer said.

“People in Del Ray and North Old Town are a really good example,” she said. “They want a plan and they understand the plan doesn’t just attract growth, but it brings control and management to growth. They understand that they’re going to get growth anyway, so they want the maximum amount of control over it.”

Hamer acknowledged that her position often put her at the center of debates among residents about the future of Alexandria, but said it’s a sign of a tight-knit and active community.

“I don’t think I was always at the center; I think [outgoing transportation director] Rich Baier had almost as many,” she joked. “I don’t know, a lot of jurisdictions go through very similar debates, and one of the reasons why it’s vitriolic is that so much of the community is invested and active, and that’s a good thing.

“I mean, booing and hissing at hearings, granted, that’s not a great thing. But even though it’s difficult while it’s happening, having the debate is a good thing.”
Since leaving her post, Hamer has spent a lot of time with her family and plans to travel over the next year.

“I’m having such a good time, and I am officially retired,” she said. “Maybe in a year I’ll be interested in some different kinds of work, but for at least a year I want to travel.

“I’ve already lost five pounds. No more stress eating for me.”

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