The year began with budget discussions and is ending with those same discussions real estate tax revenue was down this year and is projected to be down in 2008. With little money and rising costs, how will the City pay for those services people have come to expect?
In February, City Manager Jim Hartmann met the very low budget growth targets that the Alexandria City Council set in November, 2006. He proposed cuts in almost every City departments budget and in the school systems proposed budget, which, for the first time in recent memory, was sent to Council on a 5-4 vote. In May, bowing to intense public pressure, Council exceeded its own targets and spent more than planned.
That budget decision was almost over-shadowed by the resignation of Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald the same night the budget was adopted. Citing personal reasons Macdonald made an emotional speech in Council chambers and left public life with only letters in local newspapers to thank supporters heard from him since. Del Ray citizen activist Justin Wilson won Macdonalds vacated seat in a special election in July that garnered very little voter interest. Wilson defeated former City Councilman and former Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland in a close race.
Alexandrias School Board spent the year conducting business on 5-4 votes, finally voting twice not to renew Superintendent Rebecca L. Perrys contract when it expires on June 30. Citizens on both sides of that issue made emotional appeals to the Board but in July, the Board voted to begin the search for a new superintendent and elected Claire Eberwein chairman. The Board appointed a 27-member Superintendent Search Advisory Committee in September and hired an executive search firm to facilitate the hiring of a new leader for the ten thousand plus public school system. According to the timeline that the Board adopted, there will be a new superintendent under contract by March, 2008. The new superintendent will take over a system that, in 2007, Forbes Magazine ranked at the bottom of school rankings in the country and in which SAT scores remain near the lowest in the region.
The good news, of course, for the school system was the opening of the new T. C. Williams High School in September. Though the project was neither on time nor on budget, students began the school year in the $100 million facility. Asbestos in the old building was found to be a bigger and costlier problem than previously estimated, increasing the price tag of the project by $1.5 million and delaying demolition of the old building and construction of the parking facility by nearly three months. The parking garage will now not be ready until October, according to the most recent timeline released by the school system.
Development and redevelopment
Potomac Yard development continued to move forward this year but there are still issues to be decided in 2008. Required infrastructure improvements such as the installation of utilities for the proposed 2000 homes that are planned are well underway. The easternmost span of the straightened Monroe Avenue Bridge opened to traffic in November and demolition of the old Route 1 has begun. The inconvenience of new traffic patterns in Del Ray will last for the next few months and the second span of the bridge will open in late 2008. There is still no final decision about building a pedestrian bridge to link the two sides of the tracks in The Yard or how to use Rail Park. The decision about whether Potomac Yard will have a Metro Rail station is all but made because of the low density in the development and federal, state and local funding for bus rapid transit down Route 1 is available.
The planning for the Braddock Road Small Area plan got a jump start in 2007 when Farroll Hamer became the citys new planning director and refocused those efforts. Council will get the proposed final plan in early spring.
Part of that process was a look at the extensive number of public housing units in the Braddock Road area. In late fall, Council approved a plan for redeveloping Glebe Park, an old Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority property in Arlandria. That approval included an agreement for the city to pay the balance of ARHAs mortgage on Glebe Park, $6.5 million. ARHA had proposed redeveloping James Bland and James Bland Addition, two other public housing developments, to help defray the cost of the redevelopment at Glebe Park. Those plans will be reviewed and decisions made in 2008.
Landmark Mall is still not redeveloped and efforts to redevelop the Vandorn corridor are stalled. A new task force has begun its work on this effort, though, and Mayor Bill Euille is in continuing discussions with General Growth, the owners of Landmark Mall about plans for redevelopment. These efforts are in the early stages and will continue into 2008 and beyond.
The city also received a gift from The Tauber Foundation of around five acres of property where the old Jefferson Hospital was located. The cost of the gift was $5 million to reimburse the foundation for certain expenses. The property is valued at between $15 and $30 million and will be redeveloped for city use. Agencies now in leased space will be relocated there as soon as the buildings can be demolished after current leases expire. Those agencies that will move to the west end of King Street are programs within the Department of Human Services, the Community Services Board and perhaps the public school systems administrative offices. The location is just across the street from the Alexandria Health Department.
The Economic Sustainability Work Group presented their final recommendations to City Council in December and Council adopted the report unanimously. The mayor appointed an implementation committee to oversee the process of putting the groups recommendations into place over the next year. The recommendations include better coordination for economic development; making the planning and permitting processes more business friendly and branding the city more effectively. City leaders have also been urged to increase development around Metro Rail stations to take advantage of mass transit.
City Council agreed to spend $1.3 million to attract National Harbor visitors to Alexandria. The Gaylord resort at National Harbor will open in April and Alexandria will be ready with a new water taxi service and a trolley that will carry visitors from the waterfront to the metro station.