It’s refreshing when city leaders truly listen to residents. We’d love for it to happen more often, as what’s common- place isn’t noteworthy.
But when the Planning Commission voted unanimously on June 23 to defer consideration of a bonus density amendment – which would allow for buildings of up to 70 feet along most of Mt. Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood – they did so because residents strenuously pushed back and they listened.
The commissioners didn’t commit to voting against the amendment, and commission chair Nate Macek indicated that he was inclined to support it. But commission members nonetheless heeded resident concerns that this decision – which has the potential if enacted to completely alter the visage and character of Del Ray – needed further study and more time for affected parties to weigh in.
We commend commission members, particularly Macek and Melissa McMahon, for their words and actions at this meeting. We also encourage them, and their fellow commissioners, to remain open to persuasion on this issue.
There are other ways to gain more affordable housing in this city than destroying Del Ray, which is one of Alexandria’s treasures.
To be very clear: this publication has long not just supported affordable housing innovation, we have prodded city leaders to act on this issue. But this bonus height amendment is foremost a gift to developers, who, from where we sit, have been presented with far too many favors already from Alexandria’s local government.
We have seen residents post on social media that no six- story buildings are yet planned on Mt. Vernon Avenue as justification that this variation wouldn’t make much of a difference in Del Ray. This notion is ludicrous: the buildings are not yet in the planning stages because they’re not yet allowed. Make no mistake – if this amendment is passed, over time it will be heavily utilized, and residents will be unable to stop individual projects.
Equally ludicrous is the notion that those who oppose the bonus density gift to developers are in some fashion racist, and yet this nasty utilization of the race card is being trotted out by some. What many Del Ray residents oppose is six- story buildings – which, by the way, will be filled with mostly market-rate housing anyway – towering over their homes and their beloved Avenue.
Furthermore, some research indicates that increasing density raises overall housing prices, resulting in less total affordable housing, not more.
We live in a complex era, in a multi-faceted, medium-sized city – 160,000 residents is not “small” by the way. Our leaders, and we consider Planning Commission members leaders, as theirs is arguably the most important non-elected body in Alexandria, have to make difficult decisions while considering numerous stakeholders and often competing priorities.
We commend Planning Commissioners for pausing to let residents and city leaders grapple a bit longer with the implications of this proposed bonus density amendment. We also hope that they, and ultimately City Council, make this pause permanent.