Don’t impose on the West End

Don’t impose on the West End

To the editor: 

The letter to the editor from September 7, “Density isn’t a bad word,” promoting Del Ray as the model for all Alexandria neighborhoods, seems to reflect the prevailing attitude of many, including City Council and city staff. I am a resident of the West End – which I define as Zone 1 on leaf collection maps of the city – or the areas west of Jordan Street. Some may argue this boundary, but I think it’s real having lived here for more than 40 years. This attitude begs some questions. 

1. Why do you presume that the neighborhood’s model is best for all neighborhoods in the city? We are totally unlike Old Town and Del Ray. We are neither historic nor touristy. I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t want to be, even if we could! Why should we want to model ourselves after you? Why do you insist we do? 

2. Do you even know the West End? We have high rise and garden condominiums and apartments – ever heard of Condo Canyon? – townhome communities and, yes, single family neighborhoods. We are a community with a lot of multi-family housing. And we have green space. We are a vibrantly diverse community. Stop by our restaurants or walk along Holmes Run sometime to check us out. 

3. Can you define our town center? We don’t have one, a situation I don’t believe the landmark replacement will solve. Truth is we are just as likely to shop and dine in Fairfax and Arlington counties as in Alexandria. Old Town, Del Ray and National Landing are not our focal points. 

4. Do you see us as a walkable community? We are not. Sure, there are neighborhoods through which we walk. But largely, to shop and dine as stated above, we drive. An interstate runs through us, for one. Metrorail is of no help to those destinations. Fairfax and Arlington aren’t building transitways to our borders. 

5. Why does the city want to surrender the vast majority of affordable housing for development in the Hamlets but then force single family neighborhoods in the West End to bear the cost? I can’t answer that. 

6. How can Council and others impose this on the West End? I actually can answer that. It’s because the West End lacks accountable representation. We have not had a member of Council whom we can hold accountable in elections. A representative living in the West End can betray our interests and be easily reelected. 

Why does the city resist ward-based representation? I suspect Council fears truly representative voices who might not vote with the at-large block. Isn’t an at-large Council effectively gerrymandering Alexandria to vote for one party? There is even talk of returning the School Board to that model. 

Why are democracy and divergent interests a threat? That’s not the Democratic Party I’ve supported all my life. 

It seems like the city did not annex the West End from Fairfax County as much as colonize it: Helpful for revenue, denied representation and an opportunity to exert Council’s at-large will on our area. In the 1960s, it was naming our streets after Confederate officers, which West End residents will now bear the cost of correcting. Now it’s to impose densification and its resultant costs on us. 

An Old Town friend once asked me, “You mean King Street goes beyond the Masonic Temple?” Yes, through large swaths of neighborhoods and, then even beyond them, there is the West End. I don’t want people to get to know the West End as much as I want Council and others to stop imposing their agenda on us without any real awareness or accountability. One size does not fit all. 

-Tom Suydam, West End Resident