Your Views: Development agenda threatens open space, affordable housing

Your Views: Development agenda threatens open space, affordable housing
​Renderings of the proposed mixed use development as seen from The Strand. (Rendering courtesy of The IDI Group Companies)

To the editor:

Your editorial from June 6 asks, “Is development a net positive?” For those of us saddled with the tax burden higher density brings, clearly it isn’t. Your editorial acknowledges that city hall sometimes seems incapable of saying “no” to development proposals. But your editorial would do well to go one step farther: If developers know city hall will never say “no,” city hall will never force developers to their bottom line.

City hall should be willing, occasionally, to walk away from a seemingly good development deal so that developers know it isn’t a push-over. Giving concessions for one or two extra affordable housing units is an example of city hall being a push-over. Out of hundreds of affordable housing units lost, one or two more is trivial. But were city hall to say “no” to such a development, the next developer to come along might understand they have to offer not just one or two, but 10 or 20 units.

But let’s understand how we got here in the first place. In 2013, city council tried eliminating the open space and affordable housing set asides by the equivalent of tweaking a footnote. They pilloried then-Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg once she caught onto this trick and called it out. When the nouvelle regime controlling city council responded by abandoning the open space regulations and restoring the affordable housing requirements, they set the template for how development would henceforth be handled: open space, sacred to the ancient regime, was to be sacrificed, while affordable housing was to be but a smoke screen for green-lighting dense development.

Much ado about an extra affordable unit here and there, while hundreds are being lost, cannot be taken as serious policy. It can most plausibly be understood as window dressing disguising fidelity to a development agenda backed by large campaign contributions from special interests. These contributions were threatened by Silberberg’s insistence on not taking campaign contributions from folks with business before city council.

Most of the time city council spends discussing affordable housing is theater disguising the nouvelle regime’s agenda of highly profitable high-end apartment towers and similar manifestations of dense development.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria