City councilors prepare for busy fall legislative period

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City councilors prepare for busy fall legislative period
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The height of election season is approaching, but Alexandria city councilors have a full agenda as they prepare to reconvene at City Hall September 8.

All five incumbent city councilors are running for re-election November 3, with Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg running unopposed as the Democratic Party’s nominee for mayor. Mayor Bill Euille is considering a write-in campaign after losing the primary to Silberberg in June.

A busy fall is a certainty with looming debates on Ramsey Homes, Robinson Terminal North, Eisenhower West and other development issues. One item sure to generate robust debate is a discussion on the references to the Confederacy around Alexandria, after Euille instructed city staff to compile a list of all references and displays of the flag.

“It can potentially be controversial, but it also could be refreshing and educational at the same time,” Euille said. “The list the staff put together is mind-boggling in terms of names associated, particularly with streets. One would never have guessed the number of street names that were somehow tied into names of military folks who fought in the Confederate Army and so forth.”

The issue of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Ramsey Homes property at 699 N. Patrick St. is sure to dominate discussion early this fall, as the proposal to redevelop the homes into a 52-unit mixed-use community comes under scrutiny. With the historical significance of the homes, used in World War II to house black defense workers, and their ongoing utility as affordable housing, city councilors know it is a contentious issue.

“It’s the kind of situation where it would be nice if there was some compromise, but I think a big obstacle for me is figuring out just how expensive it would be to modify and rehabilitate those homes to make them ADA-compliant and meet modern standards, just what that cost would be,” said City Councilor Tim Lovain. “That’s a big obstacle in my mind for trying to preserve them, but I’m really interested in hearing more of the information and arguments
on it.”

“A lot of folks have set up the issue as affordable housing versus preservation, and I think it’s in our best interests as a city to get away from that because then we start talking about what is the important thing, what is not,” said City Councilor John Chapman. “There are so many pieces and parts of our history that are important. We don’t want to minimize or overplay any of those, but we also do need to deal with current realities, and the current reality is we have a housing crisis in this region.”

Another issue sure to generate controversy is the redevelopment of Robinson Terminal North. Plans have gone through various iterations for the former warehouse, and councilors say they are hopeful of further progress.

“I think everyone, both supporters and opponents of the plan, want to see us achieve the vision, and a lot of that vision is requiring some significant private partnership to make some of these things happen,” said City Councilor Justin Wilson. “Negotiating that is an important part of this process to make sure we have the kind of amenities on the waterfront, the public accessibility, that both sides really wanted to see out of this.”

Also in the pipeline for city councilors is their annual budget retreat, slated for November ahead of the fiscal 2017 budget process. With the city facing a number of capital and infrastructure needs, it is seen as a crucial period of time for city councilors.

“From my perspective, declining funding sources from the federal government and the state obviously has changed a lot of things; funding formulas have changed, [and] more and more they’re expecting local jurisdictions to pick up the tab on a lot of these things,” said City Councilor Paul Smedberg. “That’s really to forced us to examine what we do, how we do it and why we do it, which is good.”

With the West End still abuzz after the U.S. Transportation Security Administration chose to relocate to the Victory Center at 5001 Eisenhower Ave., timing could not be better as city councilors are set to review a report on development in Eisenhower West as well as the Oakville Triangle. That, combined with the ongoing discussion about Landmark, excites city councilors, who see a real opportunity for positive growth in the West End.

“Having TSA at Victory Center kick-starts Eisenhower West in a way that I don’t think we ever anticipated,” Wilson said. “If you believe the analysis, had Victory Center not won this bid for TSA, they may have knocked down that building and started over again. So this is big, it’s very big, and I think it will cause a lot of dominoes to start falling in a positive way in Eisenhower West in making that plan work and come to fruition. In the end, the council’s decision to move forward with that plan when we did two years ago was a very good one and ultimately is panning out in a big way.”

“We’re really hopeful [of what] that’s going to bring; it’s really a plus for us, really a coup,” said City Councilor Del Pepper. “I think we’re going to have some really exciting things happening there, I think the only concern that I have at this time is we’ll undoubtedly need to put a school there and I want to be sure that’s part of the plan. With a few new developments there at Pickett and Van Dorn and all around, things are coming to life in a way that is very exciting. As I like to say, the West End will rise again.”

In addition to those projects, the Potomac Yard Environmental Impact Study process is scheduled to finish its final phase, while discussions will continue on the redevelopment of Patrick Henry Elementary School and Recreation Center in addition to a proposed commuter ferry service from the waterfront.

Silberberg will be similarly busy, although she declined to comment in detail because she is recovering from surgery following an Achilles tendon injury she sustained while playing tennis in her hometown of Dallas. Silberberg’s surgery was Monday, and she said she expects to make a full recovery and is looking forward to the upcoming legislative session.

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