Our View: Destroying Alexandria’s historic character one decision at a time

Our View: Destroying Alexandria’s historic character one decision at a time
City staff and the Eisenhower project developer disagreed on a technical square footage detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

City Council is about to vote on, and will likely pass, radical changes to height, and therefore density, zoning in Alexandria. In practical terms, this means that Alexandria’s Old and Historic District, one of the country’s first of its kind – and long the engine that drives the city’s tourism industry – will soon be unrecognizable.

This transformation is deliberate, misguided and, to those who care about Alexandria’s architectural character, nothing short of tragic.

Quaint Old Town – with its cobblestone streets, 250-year-old homes and battalion of ghosts – will soon be dwarfed by towering buildings that simply don’t belong in a historic district. It will undo many decades of effort by hundreds of Alexandria residents, living and deceased, who labored lovingly to preserve our city’s beautiful architecture and historic character.

The looming decision will increase the potential height of buildings by 50% along Washington and King streets and, astonishingly, will more than double the possible height of buildings in the heart of Old Town’s residential neighborhood at the current sites of the Old Town Safeway and Departmental Progressive Club.

This transformation is not limited to Old Town. Del Ray will also undergo a dramatic jump in building height and density along multiple blocks of “The Avenue” in the heart of that neighborhood.

The destruction of Alexandria’s two most distinctive neighborhoods is being done for two reasons: first, as always, at the behest of developers concerned foremost with profits, and second, from a misguided, and mistaken, belief that greater density will make Alexandria more equitable.

It’s clear that the current council has little regard for the historic character of Alexandria’s Old Town and Del Ray neighborhoods. Equally damning is that the councilors seem oblivious to the history of Alexandria’s past 20 years: The city’s population explosion has corresponded exactly with the decimation of the city’s affordable housing supply. This is not a coincidence.

Redevelopment has claimed thousands of affordable housing units, which have been replaced by high-priced luxury units intermixed with token numbers of affordable units. The net result of replacing inexpensive housing with many more units of expensive housing is to drive the overall cost of housing in Alexandria ever upward.

Ruining the character of both Old Town and Del Ray is about to be done in the name of “equity.” Yet what exactly is equitable about degrading the quality of life in Alexandria to the point that residents with the means to do so will move away, while those without those means will be stuck?

Doesn’t City Council understand that opposition to seven-story buildings on Mt. Vernon Avenue, on King Street, on Washington Street, and, unbelievably, at the intersection of Royal and Gibbon streets, isn’t because of a nefarious desire to keep lower-income people out of those neighborhoods, but rather because residents don’t want behemoth structures towering over their homes, schools and parks?

It seems that current city planners and council members are both in thrall to the urbanist flavor du jour and also terrified of opposing anything that someone has branded as being “equitable,” regardless of whether that label is either warranted or worth the cost.

There are many types of costs. In this instance the cost isn’t money, it’s something priceless.