Your Views: City prioritizes developers over residents

Your Views: City prioritizes developers over residents
(Photo by Aleksandra Kochurova)

To the editor:

I want to thank the Alexandria Times for your coverage and editorials highlighting our city’s administrative processes. I’ve found that content to be spot on, refreshing to read and frustrating to absorb.

As treasurer for the Alexandria Art Alliance, we, as a local non-profit, have advocated during these processes in the hopes that developers, current and future, will finally bring a better focus to Old Town history and culture through public art and enhancements and also promote that all public art commissions by private developments should be through local art calls only.

As we have enacted this new advocacy, it has been wholly revealed that our city government is not working for the Alexandria resident, but the Alexandria developer.

A recent Galena Capital Partners project that passed City Council – to be located at 116 S. Henry St. and 912, 916, 920 King St. – was able to finesse its way through the entire process without any public art contributions and other wide-ranging and ever-changing special permit requests.

Only after several public letters to the city did the developer “promise” an investment in the public art fund of nearly $30,000, or to implement public art into this project. To no one’s surprise, the implementation that was submitted is a pittance: A miniature wall mural designed in an alleyway at 912 King St., hidden to the public in an area meant for the private access to their residential entrances with no other outlet. Designed to avoid $30,000, not to create public fulfilment it would seem.

Other egregious events we witnessed included a June 3 BAR meeting, docket #24, where a member of the board, who has organizational ties with the developer’s design firm, ended a fruitful and relevant debate on sidewalk safety with the help of the developer’s lawyer on an incorrect basis. That was finally and conveniently confirmed weeks later by the city’s Planning office.

Or on Sept. 1, docket #15, when the Planning Commission discussed potential traffic impairments from this project, with the members agreeing that the developers must “know what they’re doing” so there would be no need for traffic studies or further discussions.

Or how city representatives have continually lamented at every stage how long the process has taken for this project and that the developers deserve special treatment because of it, as if due diligence by our representatives was something to apologize for. Even more baffling is that this project area was unique in that it was city-owned, allowing certain requirements to be part of this project. A public-private partnership to create an amazing public art enhancement was available here but was not even considered, especially during a political climate where they could have highlighted and bolstered the cultural history of Alexandria, focusing on our African-American roots and ties, to name one of many worthy themes and goals. Besides profit per-square-foot, what is the reasoning not to enrich this community?

The city and all developers should recognize how significant art and culture is to Old Town, be- cause in this instance our representatives and Galena Capital Partners have failed, and the worst part is – that might have been their intention all along.

-Jason Longfellow, treasurer, Alexandria Art Alliance