City looks to streamline business development

City looks to streamline business development

City officials say they need to streamline its rezoning policy, but some residents fear the proposed criteria will lead to overdevelopment, higher taxes and lawsuits. 

Alexandrias Planning and Zoning Department staff currently reviews rezoning requests applications to redevelop land parcels before presenting them to the Planning Commission and then the City Council for final approval. 

Its when more study is needed, but not yet completed or even scheduled in the immediate future, that the process becomes bogged down and tedious for applicants who often represent additional businesses in the city.

For those cases, the existing system is often arbitrary and can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to settle, said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, a supporter of a written policy for rezoning parcels in neighborhoods where small area plans have not been finished or updated. Officials, residents and developers deserve a clear and flexible set of criteria, he said.

The idea is to establish criteria for how we would handle rezoning requests out of the small area plan, Donley said. Is it a little bit more business friendly? Probably, but it probably lends more flexibility in challenging economic times and it provides staff with more guidance and everybody is on the same playing field.

Councilman Rob Kupricka agrees. The lack of a clear-cut policy means all a developer or landowner has to do is convince city staff to get the ball rolling on a zoning change, he said.

Some people may come out and make an argument that we dont need a criteria, that were happy with the current system, Krupicka said. In my view thats really arbitrary and thats not a transparent way of thinking about significant land-use decisions. I think we should have a clear policy in place.

But Rosemont resident Katy Cannady worries the proposed criteria will lay the foundation for high-rise apartment buildings, land speculation and a less open rezoning process. She fears new towers will overshadow her neighborhood of single-family homes and townhouses nestled between two Metro stations. 

I really think if this goes through Rosemont is dead as a neighborhood, but thats just my problem, Cannady said. I dont have a good definition of economic [sustainability], but its probably anything a landowner or developer can build or make money off of.

Density could lead to land speculation as owners seek to reap the benefits of developing their property, in turn leading to higher taxes for the remaining residents, she said. 

She also fears the new policy could leave the Planning Commission toothless, unable to do anything more than register their objection with the City Council. 

Cannady isnt alone. Northeast Old Town resident Poul Hertel believes the city considers his neighborhood rife with opportunity for developers.

These type of changes are now draconian changes, he said. These are significant and very substantial changes and constitutes spot-zoning. Theyre legalizing spot-zoning, which probably wont stand up to a challenge in court. Theyre coming in and making mega-draconian changes and subjecting certain areas of town to it.

Donley and Krupicka flatly reject claims of any ulterior motives other than to put in writing the citys policy on a neighborhood where pressure for redevelopment exists. 

Illegal spot-zoning could occur without the written criteria, Donley said, and nobody is talking about circumventing the Planning Commission or building high-rises in residential neighborhoods.

I dont think anybody is looking to do large-scale high density development, he said. If anything, this policy is guidance to staff in terms of how to handle these requests. It would still have to go before the Planning Commission and City Council.

Alexandria residents can weigh in during a public hearing on the criteria during Saturdays City Council meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m.