Our View – Should Antiquity Dictate The Future?

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There is much to be said for maintaining Alexandrias historic faade, specifically along Old Towns South Washington Street where current zoning guidelines prohibit the development company IDI from redeveloping Hunting Terrace and Hunting Towers, two prime real estate plots next to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Its not just about the physical faades of the buildings. George Washington used to mount his mare and trot down the trail to his Mount Vernon Estate along the very vista where Hunting Terrace sits. Maintaining our historical identity is a priority with which the Board of Architectural Review and Planning Commission are rightfully concerned. The National Parks Service has also expressed concern in preserving the historic view.

But there is also a lot to be said for the affordable housing units IDI has vowed to build for the city at the Towers if officials bend the rules and let the company construct condominiums up to 14 stories high (a height contrary to the Washington Street Standards and Guidelines) across the street at the Terrace. Without the revenue from the condominiums, IDI says, it cannot afford to build the affordable housing accounting for one-fourth of the Towers units needed desperately by a city whose municipal workers cannot afford to live here.

However, the question remains, just what is affordable housing? One Hunting Towers resident told The Times in February that he pays just over $1,000 a month to rent his efficiency. Thats affordable.

According to IDIs proposal, certain residents would be allowed to continue to rent their units indefinitely, if they so choose, under renewable long-term leases. Why cant the leases be grandfathered and frozen at the rate tenants have been paying for years?

City employees, who will have exclusive opportunities to buy the affordable units under IDIs proposal, would be offered the chance to buy units at rates closer to the median market value than affordable prices. City employees would pay $225,000 to $330,000 for a two-bedroom unit. The median price for a condo unit is $307,500, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. Where is the affordability?

We see IDI as having some noble intent here, but the prominent development company that built nearby Porto Vecchio and the famous Watergate in the District needs to appeal more to the current residents whose lives would be affected by the redevelopment. The company should also lower their affordable pricing to suit the high cost of living in Alexandria and the market-rate home values if it really expects municipal workers to move in and buy a unit. But IDI does not even own Hunting Towers yet. While it has two plans under review, there are too many contingencies on which the deal is predicated.

Before moving forward, we believe the city must ask itself some potentially divisive questions: First, if IDI can guarantee actual affordable housing at lower rates than the current ones, would the city bend the rules that play to historical preservation? And, if more affordable housing is in fact offered by IDI, could the city, in good conscience, overlook lower-income and municipal workers in favor of preserving antiquity?

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