City council to apply new housing contribution rules to oft-delayed projects

City council to apply new housing contribution rules to oft-delayed projects

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

City councilors want to ensure developers working on long-delayed projects don’t eventually make contributions to the affordable housing fund based on outdated formulas.

At a hearing earlier this month, city councilors voted to apply the most recent affordable housing formula to the Stevenson Avenue Condominiums project, whose representatives were seeking a second three-year extension on its permitting.

Local officials last year updated the guidelines for what developers must contribute toward preserving Alexandria’s dwindling supply of affordable housing. City councilors agreed with developers at the time that the new rules should not apply to previously approved projects needing extensions on rapidly expiring permits.

But City Councilor Justin Wilson noted that they overlooked the prospect of a project needing more than one three-year extension — a rarity.

“I understand that in extensions, we’re not generally going to modify the contribution levels, but at what point do we continue that?” Wilson asked. “This is the second extension, but if there’s a third or a fourth or a fifth, are we in a position where we have very ancient conditions that we’re still holding on to because it was originally submitted under that regime?”

Local land-use attorney Cathy Puskar — who was in city council chambers representing the condominium’s developers — said the project, originally approved in 2008, should move forward as redevelopment at nearby Landmark Mall begins.

On behalf of her clients — DYN Res, LLC, Steven A. Hansen, LLC and WWIV Stevenson Avenue, LLC — Puskar agreed to increasing the affordable housing contribution from $121,000 under the old formula to $147,000. In exchange, her clients received a longer, four-year extension on the project’s permits.

But Puskar pushed city councilors to codify the rule change.

“The development community has worked very closely with the housing department over the years, so everyone understands what the rules of the game are,” Puskar said. “[For] me to be able to represent [my clients] fairly, the rules need to be fair and applied equitably. … If you make this distinction, you need to clarify the policy.”

That is what Wilson hopes to do. He directed city staff to look into how best to amend the policy so that the new affordable housing formula applies to repeat permit extension applicants.

“When you buy a property to develop it, you’ve already done this pro forma, ‘This is how much I’ll have to pay for affordable housing and for taxes, and this is how much I’ll sell the units for,’” he said. “But once you’re onto that second extension, that’s six years and all of that [planning] is probably out the window.

“[They] shouldn’t be able to kind of cling to a policy, a number, that was a decade old. That would be like letting them cling to a building code from the 1970s.”

Although some members of the development community may resist the change, Wilson said the new policy could prove a boon for everyone.

“I’m sure there will be some pushback, but I’m hopeful we can come to that agreement,” he said. “At the very least, it provides an incentive for folks to get going. … Usually by the time a project reaches approval, the community has bought into it. We don’t want things to drag out, particularly in situations where we have vacant properties or eyesores, so we do want them to move along.”