By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
City council candidate Chris Hubbard flew in under the radar when he became the last Democrat to announce an intention to run in late March.
The timing was perhaps appropriate for Hubbard, an Old Town resident and an Arlington-based architect, who describes himself as a reluctant candidate.
“I love Alexandria, so my whole thing is the promise of Alexandria. I want Alexandria,
particularly the West End, to achieve that promise,” Hubbard said. “The issue and the motivation is the love for what I see here. … [My candidacy] is really coming from that and a bit of reluctance. If I didn’t see these gaps in expertise, I would just enjoy my life.”
He said he first became interested in running for council when he started noticing that finding a parking space near his Old Town home was difficult. Hubbard said he felt that difficulty could be prevented through better planning on the city’s part.
He started writing letters to local newspapers on the subject of parking and talking to city councilors, the mayor and city staff.
Through his involvement with instituting new measures like the Old Town
parking pilot program, he said, he noticed a lack of expertise throughout city hall.
Hubbard said he noticed a similar trend with a number of other issues, including the waterfront plan and the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens small area plan.
“I think there needs to be a reset. I didn’t bring my reset button, but there has to be a reset button for the process,” Hubbard said. “Someone needs to get in and we have to find out what’s going on.”
Hubbard said, if elected, he would seek to end free parking in areas of Old Town lacking in capacity for residents while encouraging visitors to park in garages and work with developers on mixed use projects to incentivize innovative approaches, including more affordable housing units and more mixed income residential developments.
He said his background as an architect, a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and a member of the community qualify him to step in to create that change.
“I have great expertise at that because I’ve worked with developers for 27 years and I understand building in Alexandria,” Hubbard said.
He said his approach on city council would be informed by the style of architecture he’s embraced in his career: New Urbanism. That style, founded in the early 1980s, emphasizes creating walkable neighborhoods that harkens back to the days when Old Town was built.
“What New Urbanists like are form-based codes, where you try to read the codes of what’s there and extend that to the new and infill places,” said Peter Katz, a former director of the Congress for New Urbanism and a colleague of Hubbard.
Katz, a former Alexandria resident who still owns property in the area, said an architect who is informed by the New Urbanism style could add a new perspective to city council.
“He’s always struck me as a decent guy, no nonsense. The fact that anyone’s got the ambition to serve in local government. … It appeals to two kinds of people – people who care and want to get things right and others who are small-minded despots who like the power it brings them,” Katz said. “I would put Chris in the former category. If he’s looking to serve, it means he’s genuinely fed up after years of struggling to get projects approved.”
Temple Washington, the founder and principal of Hubbard’s firm, WHA Architecture & Planning, has known Hubbard since recruiting him just a few years after his graduation from Virginia Tech University. Hubbard has been a partner in the firm since 1990.
“He has very high integrity; he’s very intelligent; he has an analytic mind. He has a science background and it definitely shows,” Washington said. “He’s a pretty critical thinker. He knows how to analyze a problem and get down to the root of the issue.”
Washington, a former resident of Alexandria himself, said he was surprised when Hubbard told him he planned to run for council. Still, Washington said, Hubbard has brought up a number of issues he’s passionate about in the city over the years, including the waterfront plan and parking.
“I think creative thinking and experience there would benefit the discussion because, from what I’ve heard and read, I don’t see much that’s really going on to solve the issues,” Washington said. “Chris has always been very effective, either in debate or discussions or one-on-one with people.”
Hubbard said, while he respects the desire of each city council candidate to run, he sees something missing in both the incumbent and first-time candidate field.
“The one thing missing is the experience doing what everybody is saying they want to do, which is walkable, mixed use development,” Hubbard said. “… What concerns me, based on my scientific background, I want to see evidence they can achieve that. If they don’t have the expertise, which they don’t and the council doesn’t, then where is it going to come from?”
Hubbard said, though there are disadvantages to coming to the game later than the other candidates vying for a seat on the dais, he’s also found silver linings.
“There is a fringe benefit – I tell people, when I knock on doors, ‘You can find me, I’m right at the bottom [of the ballot].’ I’m easy to find. You don’t have to look through names,” Hubbard said. “There is another thing I’ve noticed that’s nice coming after everyone.
… You do get to see what’s missing, what’s off the table.”
Hubbard joins a long list of fellow Democratic council candidates on the ballot, including incumbents Willie Bailey, John Chapman, Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg and newcomers Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Matt Feely, Dak Hardwick, Amy Jackson, Robert Ray and Mo Seifeldein. One Republican candidate, Kevin Dunne, is running for council.
The Democratic primary takes place on June 12.