By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Council voted unanimously at its public hearing on Saturday to consolidate Alexandria’s two locally regulated boards of architectural review, putting a relatively agreeable end to a once-contentious issue.
Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor Paul Smedberg first proposed the consolidation of the Old and Historic Alexandria District BAR and the Parker-Gray District BAR in April. In the months that followed, the topic became a source of contention on council. It drew sparks between Wilson and Mayor Allison Silberberg, who repeatedly expressed concerns about the merger’s impact on the black community in Parker-Gray.
Leading up to council’s vote on Saturday, city staff worked with the community to ensure that the two BARs could fuse without compromising the separate history and culture in each district, especially the black history in Parker-Gray, according to Catherine Miliaras, a principal planner with the department of Planning and Zoning.
The new BAR will be composed of one property owner from each group, two architects and three at-large members.
Silberberg said the new board’s composition eased her initial qualms about the proposal.
“I certainly had expressed concerns about the possible diminution of the historic African American role in terms of the BAR and the Parker-Gray area … [but] I think that the way [staff] laid out the selection and the process and balancing it will be key, and I’m happy to try it. I do just want to make sure, given the history with the African American community with regard to the city, that we were mindful of those concerns.”
Wilson praised the final proposal.
“It is rare that something that starts off relatively controversial ends up [like this],” Wilson said. “I mean, we had all kinds of letters from all kinds of different spectrums in the packet that support this proposal, and I think that’s really impressive and I think is a testament of the great work that staff did to engage the community.”