Echoing The Berg

Echoing The Berg

The Department of Planning and Zoning released their Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan Feb. 22, a 164-page document proposing high-density urban development of the neighborhood surrounding Braddock Road Metro Station. 

At the center of the proposed development currently sit 365 units of public housing.

The plan, constructed partly from neighborhood meetings, workshops and charrettes, outlines seven goals from creating safe pedestrian access and retail stores to multimodal transportation use that will take advantage of the areas value, bolstering the citys economic growth. But it has some residents holding their breath.

Nobody wants to say gentrification, said Lenny Harris, a 48-year resident of Alexandria who ran for city council last year. But it has to be mentioned.

According to the proposal, Planning and Zoning seeks to redevelop and disperse the public housing, currently spanning four predominately African-American and low-income neighborhoods: Samuel Madden, Andrew Adkins, Ramsey and James Bland. A combination of public, workforce, affordable and market-rate housing would be erected in their place, according to the proposal.

Harris said he remembers the neighborhood along the Potomac in Old Town known as The Berg where the new Chatham Square development displaced 48 of the neighborhoods 100 public housing units in 2001, sending some families to three sites around the city, while others moved beyond city borders.

The Neighborhood Plan references the Chatham Square development as a paradigm for the Braddock neighborhood, with its seamless integration of public housing and market-rate units a theme of the proposal, which champions the necessity of mixed-income neighborhoods to best reflect the diverse spectrum of residents in the city.

The document asserts that It is the interest of everyone Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), the residents who live in public housing, the City of Alexandria and the larger community to work together to create mixed-income housing to unite a diverse neighborhood.

We dont intend to let developers rush people out, Planning Commissioner Jesse Jennings said at a meeting of Alexandrians Delivering Smart Growth Around Metro Stations (ADAM). Jennings added that residents have a responsibility to make their voices heard at the neighborhood meetings organized by the city.

But despite multiple public education sessions held by the city, many residents that spoke with The Times said theyre voices have not been heard, and that change is welcome if all parties are included.

Anthony Williams, who has called Alexandria home since 1975, lives on the James Bland public housing site and said he attended a community meeting after receiving a flyer on his door. I think [the plan] is kind of sad because you have the Charles Houston Rec Center going up and single mothers could be pushed out, he said.  Wiliams said he would accept a moving voucher if it bettered his living situation.

Of the 365 public housing units in the neighborhood, only 44 were accounted for in the plan, which cited their relocation as Glebe Park in Arlandria upon completion of that sites development. The fate of the remaining 321 units was delegated to the broader Braddock East planning process, according to project manager Andrew Spurgin.

Because redevelopment and public housing is difficult and requires a lot of involvement with the residents that live there, we thought it would be better to separate it into a process that will take place over the next several months, Spurgin said. He added that the additional time will allow an assessment of how many public housing residents want to stay and how many will want to relocate.
Shawn Euell is a single mother of three. A year ago she moved to the Bland neighborhood from DC in search of a better place to raise her kids. Euille, who said she attended a community meeting last summer, and her neighbor, Alescia Ward, worry that shell have to move again.

She had no place to go, Ward, 23, said. I know personally people that live here who have six, seven kids. This is the hood. People need to concentrate on making it an environment for these kids.

Spurgin said AHRA is already working with Eakin Youngentob & Associates the developer that built Chatham Square on a conceptual plan to replace the Bland public housing structures with approximately 174 three-story townhouses.

The next community meeting on the Braddock Road neighborhoods will be held at Jefferson Houston Elementary School by the Braddock East Advisory Group on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 pm.