Your Views: Old Town needs a quality growth plan

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Your Views: Old Town needs a quality growth plan
Old Town
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To the editor:

I’ve watched many major new housing projects in the Old Town area, including the old bus terminal, Venue, Muse and Robinson Terminal and I walk most days through Old Town, the cozy neighborhoods and the wonderful waterfront. I’ve listened to voices on both sides of the development vs. historical conversation. And I see all the empty office buildings throughout town.

What I see is the possibility of an Alexandria that is an even better place to live, with high quality of life and something for everyone. All mixed together in a walking town.

What I don’t see is leadership from the city administration to develop a quality growth plan for Alexandria. Development is good when it adds value and compelling attraction. When it adds shoddy construction and exacerbates flooding, traffic, access and parking shortfalls – well, that’s not quality growth.

Our experience has been that the city goes out of its way to favor and pass development, no matter how poorly planned and executed, and refuses to step up and resolve problems its developer-friendly stance creates for residents.

How many of you wonder if the city administration has any idea what the population of Old Town will be every weekday at 5 p.m. when all the new residential developments and the offices are populated again? We could have a congestion nightmare.

I don’t see any evidence that the administration has investigated the future scenarios or developed a plan. For example, the city touts the Amazon headquarters win, but has had no strategy to make all of the empty Old Town office buildings part of the Amazon footprint.

I believe the city administration is project-, data- and developer-driven. More development means more tax revenue, and that’s a good thing. But, too much of one good thing can devalue the experience of living in Old Town.

What I have not seen from Mayor Justin Wilson and his administration is the necessary understanding of the effects of development and growth. We need a set of quality growth guiding principles that incorporates great ideas into Old Town that will improve the quality of our lives, in part through a thoughtful mix of residences, offices and services.

Maybe a group of residents, representing all points of view, possessing the necessary planning, quality of life, development, environmental impact and business expertise, ought to develop a quality growth plan and provide it to the city. If we can’t depend on the city to do it, maybe we need to take responsibility for Old Town’s future and give the city the guidance it needs.

-John Skibinski, Alexandria

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