Your Views: Staff again choose developers over residents

Your Views: Staff again choose developers over residents
A rendering of the proposed Heritage redevelopment in Old Town. (Rendering/Hord Coplan Macht)

To the editor:

For nearly a year, civic associations and residents around the city have been asking to play a bigger role in city decisions, from Seminary Road and Taylor Run to flooding in Del Ray and the slaughterhouse. Tragically, these pleas are not being heard.

At the recent Traffic and Parking Board meeting, staff showed that civic association outreach isn’t even an after-thought when it comes to big issues or hyperlocal ones like removing parking.

Transportation & Environment Services staff outlined a proposal to remove two parking spots along the 500 block of Montgomery Street in North Old Town. In presenting the issue, staff highlighted three separate conversations with the developer on the placement of the BikeShare station. But there was zero outreach to the North Old Town Independent Citizens’ Association, NOTICe, which has represented the area since 1999.

Let me restate that: In planning to remove parking in a very dense and congested area, city staff talked to the developers three times but never reached out to the community. Why?

However, this is not the first time that staff has failed to reach out to local civic associations. In fact, it seems to be a pattern. Over the last five years, I know the T&ES director and deputy director have personally heard from numerous city boards about the need to engage residents and civic associations more regularly. These requests have fallen on deaf ears time and time again.

Why and how does this continue to happen? Who do they work for – the developers or Alexandrians?

Because staff has proven unwilling to conduct this outreach, City Council should mandate it and refuse to allow boards, commissions or council to hear any proposals unvetted by the locally impacted civic associations and the residents they represent. The civic association might not always agree with the staff opinion, but they deserve to be asked.

Staff needs to hear the voices of residents, not just developers, when making decisions.

-James Lewis, Alexandria