To the editor:
Below is a shortened version of a letter The Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations sent to Mayor Justin Wilson, members of City Council and City Manager Jim Parajon:
The Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations supports the preservation and addition of affordable housing in our city but believes the challenge is to find a balance between density and achieving reasonable housing goals. The federation is concerned that density increases are overriding city-community small area plans. The federation has followed the discussions and decisions about the Heritage and ParcView II projects with increasing concern, and the comments during the Feb. 1 Planning Commission deliberations about the ParcView II project brought these concerns into sharper focus.
It is increasingly apparent that the 2013 Housing Master Plan, combined with the aspirational housing goals established by the Metropolitan Council of Governments in 2020, have now taken precedence over small area plans. Concerns about huge increases in density and its impact on traffic, school capacity, parking, infrastructure, financing and the quality of life for existing residents are quickly dismissed as long as a project contains affordable housing.
As Commissioner David Brown stated at the Feb. 1 meeting, “Affordable housing is the name of the game in the future.” The federation does not believe that the residents of Alexandria have had an opportunity to give input into this “game” for Alexandria’s future.
The Residential Multifamily Zone, created to allow approval of the Heritage and Olde Towne West III projects, is interpreted by the city to be a “floating zone” across the city, which diminishes the purpose of SAPs. Neighborhoods vary and the vision for each neighborhood, and the city’s 20 SAPs, reflects these important distinctions.
SAPs are the result of extensive community input to shape the vision for our various neighborhoods. As do many other SAPs, the Landmark Van Dorn SAP states that, “This Plan will serve as the basis for future City Council policy initiatives and actions affecting land use, zoning, capital improvements and programs.”
The plain language of the LVD SAP and other SAPs clearly states that they are not merely “guides,” but rather binding legal requirements for any redevelopment within the area of the respective SAP. The question now is whether imposition of an RMF zone supersedes the provisions of all 20 city SAPs and thereby permits a 3.0 floor area ratio anywhere in the city.
Section 3-1407 of the RMF zone states that “the maximum permitted height of buildings shall be the height as depicted in the governing Small Area Plan.” This strongly suggests that wherever the RMF zone is used, it must comply with the SAP.
The federation is well aware that more affordable housing requires more density. But at what point does density tip the scales to negatively affect the quality of life in Alexandria? How much density do we as a community want employed in our strategy to meet artificial goals for housing?
The question of density is one that we believe must be addressed in community discussions before the RMF zone is further expanded across the city. In recent years, many residents have asked the question, “How much density is too much for our city?” There has been no answer to that question from city staff or our elected officials. Abrogation of small area plans continues to be a common occurrence throughout the city without any city-community discussion of density and its impact on nearby neighborhoods and residents.
Therefore, we respectfully request that the city plan and implement a series of community meetings and discussions to address the question of density in all areas of our city for subsequent input in revising our City Master Plan. Crucial to this discussion is the role that affordable housing, with its two tiers of bonus density, should play in further increasing density.
Alexandria is already the densest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth, and a critical and long overdue community conversation about density should be a priority for City Council before the RMF zone is invoked again.
-Board of directors, Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations