My View: The approach I would bring to city council

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Robert Ray at his Old Town shop, Cavalier Antiques (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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By Robert Ray

At its Jan. 20 public hearing, decisions made by our city council demonstrate the need for attributes and values that I would be able provide. Below are several ways that I will approach issues differently if I am elected to council.

One of the items on the public hearing docket was the parking task force’s findings. These findings have their beginnings about a year ago when a consultant made a presentation to planning staff. The consultant argued that cities should disincentivize car use by making parking less available. The consultant was hired for a weekend and was paid more than $7,000.

If I had been on council then, I would like to think I would have advised the staff to buy the man’s book instead. For the last decade, the city has continued to raise taxes while also going deeper in debt. The city spends on some things, like that consultant, as if it were the richest of times. Alexandria pays more than $1 out of every $10 of our yearly tax revenue to service our debt. Within five years it has been projected that more than $1 out of every $5 of our yearly taxes will go to pay interest. On council, I will argue that we should spend our tax money more carefully.

I might have also suggested last year that the staff read one of many books opposing the consultant’s position, an example being a book documenting the successful urban planning of Charleston, South Carolina. My studies at the University of Virginia’s school of architecture give me a familiarity with architecture and city planning that our city council dearly needs.

The approval of these task force findings will change our building codes, which should only be changed after a thorough evaluation of the consequences. That is not what the task force did; the potential impacts of spillover parking on residents and on already existing small businesses were not examined. Instead, the task force spent a significant amount of time discussing details of how to present and sell the proposal to the public.

The appointed parking task force had only a couple of members representing residents. The others were working at the direction of council/staff or had a financial interest in this
outcome. The selection of these task force members is not consistent with ethical
governance or with functional governance. With no consideration of the negative outcomes, proposals were not developed or shaped to best fit our city. On council, as a matter of
principle, I would review appointments with the goal of ensuring that all the parties affected have a place on the city’s task forces, commissions and committees.

The design of the Church of the Resurrection affordable housing project was also on the Jan. 20 docket. The proposal drew many nearby neighbors who shared their concern for the projected spillover of parking that would result from the project. I found it painful that, at the end of the day, the now approved findings of the task force will do away with any future, and likely much needed, appeals to council about parking issues. Now almost every proposal will be granted by Planning without case-by-case consideration.

At the public hearing, I was the only one who spoke in opposition to the parking task force’s findings. Even though I felt that the fix was in, I still spoke out because I felt, as I do now, that I have a duty to inform the public.

Karig Estates was also on the Jan. 20 agenda. Concerns over the ecological impacts of development of the Karig Estate wetlands motivated a crowd of informed people to speak, especially from the local civic association and surrounding properties. Like so often before, council ignored logical, convincing and moving arguments from the public and proceeded unmoved with its predetermined vote.

Because of my decades spent on civic association boards, I am very oriented toward the concerns of civic associations and locally affected groups. I will cast my votes on council accordingly. I promise that, if as a matter of conscience, I have to vote in opposition, I would attend that group’s next meeting and explain my reasoning … it’s time to
assess whether current zoning is serving the city we have and the one we want to bequest to the future.

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