City council weighs in on fall session

City council weighs in on fall session
Alexandria City Council

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

As city council prepares to begin its fall term with a legislative session on Sept. 12, members say they expect a number of long-standing issues to reemerge.

The upcoming city council term will also be the last for one member. Councilor Tim Lovain announced Wednesday that he does not intend to seek re-election in 2018.

In prioritizing issues, affordable housing was constantly named a top concern by council members. Of particular importance are two projects: Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s redevelopment of Andrew Adkins in North Old Town, and the purchase by developer Morgan Properties of 2,664 affordable apartment units on North Beauregard Street.

Councilors Del Pepper and John Chapman said updating Resolution 830, which requires the city and ARHA to develop a plan to replace a public housing unit when one equivalent unit is eliminated, will likely be considered by council this fall.

City council members also expect new discussions on two issues that have previously generated controversy to be back in the spotlight. First, the proposed Old Town business improvement district, which council voted to kick back to City Manager Mark Jinks in June, will be considered again.

And, in the wake of renewed debate about Confederate monuments across the country, the renaming of city streets and potential relocation of Confederate monument Appomattox from its location on North Washington and Prince streets is sure to be controversial. Any move of the statue would require action from Virginia’s General Assembly.

Budgetary issues will also be front and center, several council members say, with major outfalls work, Alexandria City Public Schools facility upgrades, as well as infrastructure improvements like the Potomac Yard metro stop all in the city’s queue.

Changes to parking regulations are also scheduled to be considered in council chambers this year. Most recently, Alexandria’s Parking Standards for New Development Projects Task Force advocated exempting businesses occupying less than 10,000 square feet from providing new parking spaces.

The Alexandria Times asked the mayor and each council member to discuss their top priorities for this term. Their answers have been condensed for length and clarity.

Mayor Allison Silberberg: “Affordable housing is an issue I’ve been focused on for my career. It remains a deep concern of mine. We have continued to add affordable housing and we’re continuing to push hard … It’s been an issue for a long time. Regionally, it’s a top issue. For the commonwealth, it’s a top issue. We want to try any and all ways to promote it. It’s an issue for the business community, an issue traffic-wise and it’s a quality of life issue … We’re working with ARHA, who is hiring a new CEO soon. We’re certainly open to suggestions and we’re looking at all kinds of possibilities.”

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson: “The biggest issues facing us this fall will be fiscal in nature. We will be accepting the initial findings of our Ad Hoc Facilities group. With those recommendations in hand, the council will begin to make decisions around the release of new dollars for infrastructure investment. The council put a substantial amount of resources in the purview of this group’s recommendations, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they come up with; both as far as priorities and how the city should manage and organize these investments. Depending on the direction council adopts, we will have the opportunity to move forward with school capacity and municipal facility efforts. Additionally, we will be adopting our budget guidance for the upcoming year. This is the most important part of the budget process. With another significant projected shortfall, it will be important to give the city manager the direction to prepare a budget that protects core services, continues our progress in addressing deferred infrastructure investment, yet respects the significant burden our taxpayers have carried in recent years.” 

Councilor Paul Smedberg: “Over the past few years, we have seen reductions in federal and state funding and an effort to push more responsibility to local governments across an array of programs and areas that our residents value and support. The coming year will be no different. For example, the commonwealth is already preparing local governments for a significant gap in transportation and transit funding. This obviously will have a huge impact on our budget. With the tax increase we enacted we must, as never before, place primary emphasis on assuring programmatic efficiencies throughout the departments and agencies of city government. We must manage the increased financial demands with what I want to call ‘enlightened restraint’ whereby programs, initiatives and projects are carefully analyzed for both cost and benefit to our community.” 

Councilor Del Pepper: “We are going to have to find more and more affordable housing – not just low-income housing, but housing all over the city for all income groups, if we want to help the people who are here and keep the people who are here. Many of our seniors reach a point where they’re on a fixed income and feel they can no longer stay in Alexandria. I’ve heard a lot of stories throughout the years. … They feel they can no longer afford it, and they move out quietly.” 

Councilor Tim Lovain: “We will probably talk a lot about Confederate statues, but won’t be able to do much unless and until the General Assembly acts. The capital investment task force will report and council will then need to act on some major capital projects. Several land use issues will surely loom large but it’s a little hard to predict which ones and how.” 

Councilor John Chapman: “The biggest one for me is probably affordable housing. We’ve got a couple things going on within that realm… Vice Mayor [Justin] Wilson and I are on the ARHA taskforce, so we’ve been talking about the future of Andrew Adkins and trying to negotiate how the project works out for the community. This fall, we’re starting the discussion on Resolution 830 to modernize it and improve it for the community. We’re still hearing that some projects are moving forward, so I have no doubt we’ll hear about the projects on the West End of the city.” 

Councilor Willie Bailey: One of my biggest issues this fall is affordable/ workforce housing. We have lost thousands of units in the past 10 years or so. Where are these people going to live? We have to make sure our teachers, nurses, police officers and city employees have a place in the city to call home. Thank goodness for partnerships the city has made with local churches to help preserve affordable/workforce housing but we need to do more before it’s too late. Another priority this fall is our schools and with a growing population we need to make sure we have enough seats for our children. With the new joint task force in place I am looking forward to hearing some good ideas that will help address the overcrowding.”