Glebe Park questions still exist

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The Glebe Park stakeholders group has finished its work and concluded that there are real divisions among the members and that there is no consensus about how Glebe Park should be redeveloped.

According to Jon Liss, who represented Tenants and Workers United, Everyone got to express his opinion and the vote was pretty evenly split between two options. The city is going to have to decide.

Mayor William D. Euille established the group after neighbors expressed concern about the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authoritys proposal for redeveloping the property became public and after ARHAs application to the Virginia Housing Development Authority for low-income tax-credit financing was rejected. This gave us some time to take a look at just how this site should be redeveloped and get community input before proceeding through the development process, Euille said.

Glebe Park currently contains 152 apartments that are a mixture of public housing and market-rate units. Mold and aging electrical and plumbing infrastructure have caused a number of units to be removed from service with others likely to follow if something is not done soon. Last year, ARHA asked for redevelopment proposals and selected Eakin Youngentob, with whom they partnered on Chatham Square, the successful redevelopment of The Berg, to partner with them on Glebe Park.

The initial ARHA/EYA proposal would have reduced the number of units at Glebe Park from 152 to 103 with all of those units public housing. After community input, but before the low-income tax credit application, that proposal was modified to include six market-rate town homes.

Options
The stakeholders group asked for additional options. Ultimately they reviewed three concepts. Option 1 left the 48 units on W. Glebe and the 24 units on the west side of Old Dominion as public housing. The remaining units, east of Old Dominion, were a combination of market-rate, work-force and public housing: eight market-rate units, 10 work-force units and 12 public housing units.

Option 2 left the W. Glebe and the west side of Old Dominion as public housing and split the units on the east side of Old Dominion equally between public housing and market-rat units.

Finally, Option 3 was the ARHA/EYA original concept of six market-rate and 28 public housing units. The architect did a very good of drawing these different options on this very difficult site, said Connie Lennox, ARHAs director of development. We wanted to try and retain the same footprint but show the various options the group wanted to see.

At the groups last meeting on July 23, the vote was four members in favor of Option 3, four in favor of Option 1 with various modifications and two people who wanted something outside of the three options.

The economics
EYA and the citys Office of Housing produced a very preliminary cost estimate for the three options, which ranges from $2 million for Option 3 to $6 million for Option 2. And thats if everything goes perfectly, Lennox said. Those net costs include paying off our $5.7 million mortgage on the property, obtaining the tax credit financing, entitling EYA to James Bland and James Bland Addition for redevelopment, the sale of the land under the market-rate units and adequate density at James Bland and James Bland Addition. All of those variables make it very hard to guess just how much this is going to cost.

The next tax credit application is due in March of next year. By then, we must be through the Development Special Use Permit process and have approval for the project from City Council, said A. Melvin Miller, ARHA chairman. City Council is going to have to decide exactly how much they want to spend and what density they are going to allow.

Euille said that he does not want to make those decisions outside the Braddock Road Small Area Plan process, which is ongoing. Any decision about density at James Bland and James Bland Addition should be made in the context of this planning process, he said. The new planning director has recommended that we work on a master plan of sorts for all of our public housing and thats a good idea. I am absolutely committed to keeping the number of public housing units that we currently have but we need to do so as part of our over-all planning processes throughout the city.

The economics are, of course, an important consideration. We need to have a clearer understanding of just what each option is going to cost and how much of that the City is going to need to provide. Public housing is a very high priority for all of us on Council but it is not our only priority and we have limited funds, Euille said.

ARHA, too, has economic constraints. We cannot afford to take on another loan, Miller said. We have our land and the sale of some of that for market-rate units needs to help finance the Glebe Park redevelopment.

Decisions
The final stakeholder group report will be delivered to Council in September. Im not sure that is going to shed much light on what to do, Liss said. In my opinion, the housing market right now isnt right for a major redevelopment project that relies on selling expensive homes. It might be better to rehab the units that are there now and wait five to seven years to do some major project.

Waiting only works, according to Miller, if the City pays the mortgage. Then, they can do what they want so long as the public housing units that are there now are put back into service somewhere, he said.

With the Arlandria neighborhood concerned about the number of public housing units already there and the ongoing debate about just how many public and market-rate units are going to be permitted at James Bland and James Bland Addition, and with the constraints of a declining housing market and thus declining real estate tax revenue, any decision is likely to be unpopular with someone. We will all work together and come up with the best solution we can, Euille said.

That decision is likely to be made some time early this fall.

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