Eastside decision makers sway West Ends future

Eastside decision makers sway West Ends future

The commission charged with scrutinizing development in Alexandria has just two representatives on the citys West End, home to more than half the citys population and plenty of transit and growth issues. 

And thats a problem, say some west of North Quaker Lane.

The short answer is we do not feel were adequately represented. Its been a real issue, said David Dexter, chair of the BRAC-133 Advisory Group. I think the views of the residents of the West End are not being adequately shared with decision makers, i.e. the city council, ultimately. There are people currently on the planning commission that do not have even a rudimentary understanding of the issues here on the West End.

Those issues taken up by the Alexandria Planning Commission include the federal BRAC buildings at Mark Center, the Beauregard corridor plan, talk of high capacity transit upgrades and the perennially lagging redevelopment of Landmark. 

Unlike development on the citys east side, these projects are taking place in residents backyards, said Donna Fossum, who hails from the West End along with fellow commissioner Jesse Jennings.

Getting anybody to understand whats going on out here, to appreciate it and to take it seriously, youre outnumbered, Fossum said. Most of the activity is out here [on the west side] right now. 

Its also unique activity. If you look at Potomac Yard and Eisenhower East, neither one of them have had any people in them. Theyre on vacant land. There is a very different kind of development going on out here.

Underrepresentation at City Hall is nothing new to West Enders. Residents get the feeling officials have long looked at Seminary, Landmark and Alexandria West as dumping grounds for the city, said Dexter.

But the long-standing tension reached a boiling point in January when West Ender Phillip Voorhees was passed over during city councils annual appointments to the planning commission. 

Newcomer and eastside resident Mary Lyman joined incumbents John Komoroske, who cited Mayor Bill Euille as a reference on his application, and Eric Wagner, who in turn listed Komoroske as a reference.

I definitely feel that the West End is terribly underrepresented on the planning commission, Dexter said, noting Voorhees doomed candidacy. What makes it much more an issue right now is the fact that there is so much development, either ongoing or under consideration on the West End.

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, a West Ender who voted to appoint Voorhees, agreed representation is an issue but said city council factors more than just geography into their decisions. 

Quality candidates with a history on various city boards and panels are favored over inexperienced or under-qualified residents, he said.

I do think reaching that balance is important, but we shouldnt be appointing planning commissioners just by virtue of residency. They need to be qualified, engage active citizens; it does sort of cut both ways, Donley said. For the most part, I think the planning commission does a good job representing the city.

President of the Cameron Station Civic Association Dak Hardwick believes that as redevelopment in the West End continues to take center stage, more voices will emerge west of North Quaker Lane. 

Officials need to channel the anger in the West End largely over the BRAC controversy to cultivate new voices and perspectives, he said. 

For a long time the West End has needed more voices, Hardwick said. What youre starting to find is those voices are starting to come out and be heard. I envision over the next couple of the years youll have more voices come out of the West End and what they will be saying will be very different from other parts of the city.