To the editor:
City Council’s seeming anxiousness to bring Braddock West back for reconsideration, after voting it down last month, exemplifies city hall’s lack of transparency, almost as if transparency is seen as an obstacle to overcome to “get things done,” especially controversial development projects.
Clearly, something has gone on outside of public view for this project to be returning for reconsideration. It is exactly this sort of thing which causes a wide segment of the public to perceive City Council’s decision-making as supplicant to special interests, rather than responsive to the general public.
At least when Ramsey Homes was reconsidered, it had to go through the DSUP process again, with a very satisfactory result of a compromise with which both the developer, the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and neighbors could live.
A decision to allow Braddock West now forecloses opportunities to develop the same site later with better conditions, such as the kind of affordable housing contribution the Heritage provided, versus the puny, minimalistic one to which Braddock West’s developer has acceded.
Because of the direction affordable housing contributions are moving, the public may well soon see city hall as having thrown away a major opportunity for lots of affordable housing by approving Braddock West.
The most serious fault, however, is that reconsidering Braddock West gives the impression that City Council can never say “no” to a development project, even one about which it is ambivalent, if the developer forces it to a vote. By always saying “yes” to developments, City Council loses much of its bargaining leverage for affordable housing and other contributions.
Developers get the sense that City Council can always be steamrolled into approving projects. When the City Council said “no” to Ramsey Homes, it had an immediate effect on the City Council’s relationship with ARHA and resulted in ARHA becoming much more constructive and cooperative with city hall and the public.
Lastly, reflective of city hall’s lack of transparency, many in the public did not understand, until the Heritage project was approved, that bonus density both applies prospectively to new small-area plans and retrofits existing, previously approved ones.
When the Braddock small-area plan was approved more than a decade ago, because bonus density had not yet been enacted, Braddock West’s height was capped at five stories with a particular set-back on its south side due to two-story houses being located directly across the street.
When City Council later enacted bonus density, it could not adequately assess how bonus density would impact every single parameter in each pre-existing small area plan. The DSUP process became the de facto vehicle for making such assessments, which is a further reason why this project would benefit from being forced back through the DSUP process so that an appropriate additional setback for the additional bonus-density stories can be adequately assessed.
-Dino Drudi, Alexandria