Your Views: Developers should have to play by the rules

Your Views: Developers should have to play by the rules
The parcel of land to be redeveloped. Some residents near the proposed site for the Seminary Road affordable housing development expressed concerns around flooding and the slope that ends on the property. (Photo/Frank Putzu)

To the editor:

Recently the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, on whose board sit some of the major developers in Northern Virginia, proposed demolishing two homes on Seminary Road, just east of the firehouse, to create a parcel on which to build a 40-unit apartment building and 15 townhouses, and sought a $250,000 forgivable loan from city coffers for the project.

The site chosen is a difficult one that falls off in a deep swale behind the properties and is carried on maps as a headwaters of Lucky Run. Since the properties involved are within the boundaries of Seminary Hill, the civic association asked City Council to suspend giving the loan until some vital questions could be asked of city staff and it agreed.

The problem is that if the project ultimately is seen to be not feasible, the loan ironically enough becomes a gift to AHDC. The director of Transportation & Environmental Services has assured that “a high level review” shows that there are no “show stoppers.” There is no indication that staff from Planning and Zoning or other pertinent city offices have taken into consideration issues that may indeed be “show stoppers.”

In 2006, the owner of one of the parcels involved proposed subdividing his lot and submitted a concept development site plan to the city that would have built out at roughly a quarter the size of the current proposal. It was met not by a “high level review” but a six-page document requiring the owner to undertake a range of preliminary activities in advance of any further city consideration.

The requirements included a topographical report, a report on marine clay by a geotechnical professional, a report on existing easements, a report by a professional storm water management designer and an archeological evaluation done by an archeological consultant. The report suggests staff skepticism of the viability of this site for development.

The AHDC has not done any of these studies. If such was required of a single landowner, who was discouraged by city requirements from going further, why is AHDC exempt?

Why should Alexandria taxpayers be on the hook for a quarter of a million dollars because AHDC has not exercised due diligence? That is just plain bad practice.

It should be clear to Alexandria residents and officials that AHDC should conduct studies similar to those mandated in the 2006 city staff report before being handed a loan that would be automatically forgiven should the site ultimately be determined unsuitable.

-Jack Sullivan, Alexandria