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Dreams Deferred By ACPS

To the editor,

I am a Latina student in Alexandria City Public Schools. I will graduate with an Advanced Diploma next year because I worked hard to find the information I needed and be scheduled in AP classes. Despite my efforts, I often got placed in classes that didnt build towards my career goal of becoming a lawyer. This year, I have tried repeatedly to make an appointment with my counselor about my classes, but she hasnt been able to meet with me. Now, its too late to change my schedule. So, Im stuck with Peace Studies instead of Business Law as Id explicitly requested.

For many of my classmates, the school administrations lack of responsiveness results in far worse things for their education. ACPS graduation rates tell the story all by themselves. In 2006, only about 46 percent of Latino and 51 percent of black kids graduated from high school compared to 81 percent of white kids.

This is not a new discovery. In fact, Alexandria United Teens (part of Tenants and Workers United) researched and identified the problems in ACPS over a year ago. We also developed a solution Personalized Education Action Plans (PEAP) and presented it to the School Board long before they cared to acknowledge the reality.

I am hopeful that our new Superintendant, Dr. Morton Sherman, comes to ACPS ready to understand the problems facing students in ACPS and to act fast to implement solutions, but I am also afraid that ACPS will continue to avoid tackling the problems by hiding in a prolonged research or investigation phase. Students cant afford to lose another day. Every day that goes by without the decisive action by ACPS to improve educational opportunities for black and Latino students is another day of trampled dreams for a generation of young people, like me, who want to contribute to the world in meaningful ways.

Without serious changes in ACPS, we will continue to receive an education that prepares us to flip hamburgers and clean floors; and while there is honor in that work, we want to be lawyers, judges, teachers, scientists, and great mathematicians. PEAPS will make sure that we are limited only by our desire to learn and ability to dream.

Jennifer Granado,

Why Are We Waiting to Sell Hunting Towers?

To the editor,

As a resident of Hunting Towers for 11 years, and as a member of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force for six years, I was informed earlier in the summer from a highly reputable source that VDOT, our current landlord, actually agreed to a purchase price for Hunting Towers offered by IDI Group and its joint venture partner, HGLC Associates, Inc., headed by Jack Kay of Kay Management, Inc.  It was actually the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which in 2001 loaned VDOT the funds to purchase what currently remains of Hunting Towers, that torpedoed VDOTs decision to sell Hunting Towers.

What we dont know is why.  Why would the FHWA want to hang onto Hunting Towers until 2012?  Why, when Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace were first offered back to their previous owner in August of 2005?  This ongoing tug of war makes no sense to most of us who live here at Hunting Towers, who have really been through the emotional ringer waiting for all of this to come to a positive conclusion.

That positive conclusion is the plan that Mr. Giuseppe Cecchis IDI Group has continued to fine tune for years now in response to continual community feedback.  Hunting Creek Plaza, planned for the Hunting Terrace site, is not a monolithic building as some naysayers would have one believe but it is a reasonably and artfully sized condominium residence for the site upon which it will gracefully sit.  If you are coming across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Maryland, Hunting Creek Plaza will be a welcome and much-needed addition to our Hunting Creek skyline.  We are not Historic Old Town.  If we were, Hunting Towers, which opened its doors in 1950, and Porto Vecchio, which opened its doors in 1986, would not be here at all.  If what Alexandrians want here in Hunting Creek is Historic Old Town then Hunting Towers and Porto Vecchio will have to be demolished and we beg you most politely that they remain here standing tall along the Potomac River.

A June article in this newspaper (Hunting Towers Deferred by John Arundel, June 12-18, 2008) mentioned the concern of some Hunting Towers Tenants Association residents who voiced concerns over the prospects for elderly residents who may not be able to buy the apartments when they convert to condos.  Well, for one thing, there is no Hunting Towers Tenants Association that we know of but the Hunting Towers Residents Association does exist. 

Moreover, all of us who live at Hunting Towers have been fully informed by the Cecchi familys IDI Group that all our elderly residents will never have to buy their apartments as condos, and moreover, they can live here until they die at 5 year fixed low rents.  This is an enormous win-win for our elderly residents and we are much obliged to the Cecchis for taking such good care of them.  The Cecchis have always emphasized that the lives of our elderly residents are a priority for them, and as Mr. Cecchi has often said, I am elderly too!

Lastly, there was a woman quoted in the article, and the article implied that she is a resident of Hunting Towers.  Well, she isnt.  She lives at Porto Vecchio, which of course was developed and constructed by the Cecchis IDI Group.  I would politely like to tell her that the Cecchis do not plan to uproot long term residents from our apartments either, but the only way to preserve and maintain Hunting Towers for another 50 years, and hopefully more, is to convert it to affordable workforce condos. 

Our buildings need major renovations, and the Cecchis plan to do this as well, but that, as we know, costs money.  My guess is that the Porto Vecchio resident does not want to live through the construction of Hunting Creek Plaza across from her luxury condo building and so is trying to kill the project in any way she can, which is unfortunate and disingenuous. 

What she does not realize, is that if the Cecchis IDI Group plan to build Hunting Creek Plaza, while saving Hunting Towers affordably, does not go through, she will have to endure construction at both the Hunting Terrace and Hunting Towers sites.

Many residents who have rented here for years will be relieved to have the opportunity to purchase their apartments as condos, and reap the benefits of home ownership, which will contribute to the revival of the residential real estate market as well as the city of Alexandrias coffers.  Yes, there will be some residents who have moved in recently who will be unable to remain here, but that is the chance they have taken, moving into an apartment complex currently owned by VDOT.  Residents who are elderly, disabled, or have special needs will never have to buy their apartments as condos, and that is most wonderful of all.

As Mr. Giuseppe Cecchi himself was quoted in this newspaper in the My View section on June 19, IDI is proposing to rehabilitate and preserve all 530 existing units at Hunting Towers as affordable workforce condominiums by developing a luxury condominium community on the Hunting Terrace site.

We hope IDI Group is allowed to do this, and we will fill up the Planning Commissions October 2008 meeting to make sure our voices are heard.

Ardith Campbell Dentzer, Alexandria
The writer is a current member of the Hunting Towers
Residents Association.

Good Times

To the editor,

We came across The Alexandria Times by accident a month ago, and weve now seen several issues. Each one has been a nice surprise, with well-written stories that piqued our interest.

Congratulations on a welcome addit
ion to the Alexandria newspaper scene!

Art and Aletha Jaeger

Are Tour Buses Worth the Cost?

To the editor,

During my entire year-plus as Old Town Civic Associations representative on the National Harbor Collaborative, I asked the members of the Collaborative at every meeting to consider three major issues adversely affecting all 30,000 citizens living in the Old Town area. Those items were: the control of the uncontrolled tour buses, the development of additional parking up the King Street corridor and the parking of motorcycles off King Street. None of these three issues were ever seriously addressed.

However, after the Collaborative broke up, the city finally decided to establish a task force to address the tour bus problems. I was asked to be a part of that task force by the city manager. However, based upon my experiences on the Collaborative, where I was continuously co-opted on the three issues of importance to the Old Town citizenry, I needed another experience like that like I needed a hole in the head.

To date the Motor Coach Task Force has met five times. The first three meetings were a total waste of time as nothing gainful was accomplished. The fourth meeting allowed the participants to come up with what they deemed as priorities for action. These priorities were only set after the Mayor acquiesced to the whims of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, the Alexandria Conventions and Visitors Association (ACVA) and the Alexandria Hotel Association. Their desires are stated in the Chambers July 24th letter to the Mayor in which they essentially rejected every proposed recommendation proffered by the citizens of Old Town. In essence, it was the business communitys way or the highway. This is real democracy in action! Where is the due process? ACVA is funded as a public/private partnership at a cost of $2.5 million annually. We, the taxpayers fund their operation, so you would think that their first allegiance would be to the citizens. Not so, they could care less about the citizens desires. This organization ought to be abolished as it is an impediment to our existence.

The fifth meeting was held on the 8th of September. It concentrated on determining the routes buses were to take to the hotels, boats, restaurants and other drop off points, most of which are in the Old and Historic District. Some of the routes are absolutely bonkers. For example, running tour buses the entire length of Union Street is unimaginable as it puts bikers, joggers, walkers and skate boarders in harms way. Running tour buses up or down King Street will conflict with the automobile traffic. The majority of this Task Force just doesnt get it. They should be considering parking all of these tour buses out of mainstream Old Town and then trolleying the visitors into the historic area.   

This Task Force has totally failed to understand all the physical constraints regarding tour bus operations in Old Town. The humungous 45-60 foot buses have great difficulty in traveling the streets especially in the Old and Historic District. They impede traffic and cannot efficiently turn the corners, especially if cars are parked near the intersections. However, if you do-away with those parking spaces, you continue to contribute to the overall shortage of residential parking spaces. A number of times when I have stopped at a stop sign the next thing I saw were one of those tour bus monsters sitting in front of my car while the arrogant and unmannered bus driver dared me to move. Luckily in these instances I have been able to back up. Old Town contains a number of 18th and 19th century residences the sheer weight, density and excessive speed of these vehicles causes vibrations that have an adverse effect on our historic structures. They also cause damage to the sidewalks and on occasion they even brush some of the residents parked cars. On a number of our narrow streets there is no way a citizens car can traverse safely with a tour bus staring them in the face. The tour buses ignore the current set of regulations already in force. No one has pre-briefed them before they come into Alexandria and spelled out what is permissible and what isnt. They park in unauthorized places, block traffic, idle for very long period of times adding to the already high levels of pollution in Alexandria, and display an arrogant attitude that defies belief. You have no rules in this city is their common retort when confronted after breaking the law. 

In answer to all these tour bus shortcomings, a number of residents and the Old Town Civic Association have recommended that all tour buses coming into the city proceed to a central holding area where the buses are all parked. There are a number of locations where this could occur: the Masonic Temple, Metros Car Barn when its vacated or on Eisenhower Avenue. Passengers wanting to visit the Old and Historic District will then be transported by shuttle buses or trolleys. This is the essentially the same process used in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and Key West. All in all, this plan proposed by the citizens would have been a great leap forward in controlling the numerous uncontrolled tour buses that come into Old Town every day. Without a plan of this type we have not improved our current situation, and thats exactly what the dysfunctional Tour Bus Task Force is doing. We need to let the Mayor and Council hear our complaints now and at future public hearings. The citizens are not trying to adversely affect the businesses in Old Town, who by the way are a great part of the citys economic engine. However, the citizens deserve a greater role in the tour bus process. Just remember, without citizen spending there will be no economy in Old Town regardless of how many tourists the ACVA and the Chamber bring in.

Townsend A. Van Van Fleet