Letter to the Editor: Council should learn the art of the deal

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To the editor:

Your editorial, “A tale of two tax bases,” in the Feb. 15 Alexandria Times asked two long overdue questions:

1) Can anyone remember the last time city council rejected a residential development?

2) While working to make our city’s environment for commercial development as appealing as possible, will we give away the store?

Although President Donald Trump is so politically radioactive around here that his hotel in downtown D.C. glows in the dark, he turned the politics of the trade issue on its head when he said that free trade is OK, but the problem is the U.S. didn’t negotiate good free trade deals. Our city council is the same: Because it can’t bring itself to say “no” to any development deal, it never forces developers to their real bottom-line offer and ends up accepting concessionary development deals.

The recent Pulte 142 at Potomac Yards is an example of where city council – over Mayor Allison Silberberg’s lone dissent – allowed more residential density. The developer only had to offer two “affordable” units and a contribution to the affordable housing fund.

Decisions like this exacerbate the 3:1 ratio imbalance of residential-to-commercial real estate. Residential real estate usually uses more services than it pays in taxes, whereas commercial real estate usually pays more in taxes than it demands in services. City council’s consistent rubber-stamping of residential density drives the big property tax hikes lately we’ve seen. In a vicious cycle, these tax hikes, which provide little benefit to commercial property, make commercial property here less desirable, driving down its value.

Even though hotels here have high vacancy rates and their assessed value dropped by $11 million last year, city hall OK’d another one at King and Harvard streets, not to mention the one slated – over much controversy – for Robinson Terminal North until the developer pulled out his hand calculator and figured out it wasn’t economically feasible.

Ever anxious to override the free market’s dictates, city council, finding itself in a hole it helped dig, responds by frantically digging deeper. Only occasionally do they look up from their shovels to chide Silberberg for sometimes suggesting they slow down. This city council was obviously elected by people who don’t read your newspaper, which is why your articles, editorials and letters to the editor, which warn of the current folly, so seldom see a response defending city council’s decisions.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria

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