Our View: One BAR for all

Our View: One BAR for all
City staffers Catherine Miliaris and Stephanie Sample present information and research on the possibility of a BAR consolidation at a July 30 public meeting (Photo Credit: Mae Hunt)

It’s much easier to grow government than to shrink it.

Functions, staff positions, committees and departments are all added over time and are seldom eliminated. What pass for “cuts” to government spending are usually, in actuality, just occasional paring back of projected growth – not elimination in real terms.

This resistance to cutting government is sometimes rooted in philosophy, but more often it is due to complacency or from a bureaucratic self-protection instinct. Because any elimination is difficult, we applaud initiatives that seek to consolidate departments or committees, if doing so would be productive. In general, conserving staff time is a worthwhile goal that should save the city money and help limit tax increases.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor Paul Smedberg brought forward one such proposal this April that’s currently under consideration. It would consolidate the boards of architectural review for the Old and Historic District (the heart of Old Town) and the Parker-Gray District (a historically black neighborhood northwest of Old Town) into one BAR.

According to staff reports, most cities Alexandria’s size and larger have just one BAR that handles all architectural reviews. As city staff have started to handle more approvals in recent years, without requiring a full hearing, the need for two separate BARs in Alexandria has diminished.

The proposal would not change the boundaries of either the Old & Historic District, nor of the Parker-Gray District. It would also leave policies, guidelines and powers for the two districts as they are.

The benefits of consolidation would be a savings in staff and volunteer time – as fewer total BAR hearings would be held – simplification of the process for property owners and more frequent access to hearings for Parker-Gray residents. We think those are all admirable goals.

The Old & Historic District and its accompanying BAR were founded in 1946. The Parker-Gray District and its BAR were established in 1984 and 1986, respectively. While there was likely initially a racial element to establishing a separate BAR for Parker-Gray – to ensure that concerns of black residents were fully heard – this consolidation would be an acknowledgement that a separate entity is no longer necessary in the Alexandria of 2018. We view that as another positive element of this change.

Consolidation is not yet a done deal, as the public input process is ongoing and city council will not consider the issue until this fall. We encourage residents with strong views either for or against consolidation to check the city meetings schedule and attend to be heard – or write to us and we will publish your letters on the Times opinion pages.

We applaud Wilson and Smedberg for bringing this issue forward, and encourage elected officials and staff to seek out other possibilities for consolidation or elimination.

The city’s website lists 73 different boards, commissions and task forces prior to this potential consolidation. It’s highly likely that more than a few could be consolidated or axed entirely.