To the editor:
As I reflect on City Council’s vote on 301 N. Fairfax St. that took place January 20, I conclude that the incentive structure in Alexandria is engineered for a predetermined outcome that favors developers when any unpopular proposal is challenged by citizens. It’s this demoralizing system that disappoints me far more than the outcome of the vote because city staff and elected officials tip the scale for developers who dangle the irresistible catnip of taxes in front of desperate Council members.
The January 20 vote was a predetermined charade that was performative theater masquerading as good faith engagement. Citizens’ input was arrogantly swept aside, and the developer got everything they demanded.
When our 11-808 petition successfully forced a super majority vote that threatened defeat for the developer, Council compliantly granted the developer a deferral for extra time to lobby members. It worked.
Our request that our attorney be granted extra speaking time was summarily denied via email the night before the Council session. If there ever was a vote on the denial, it certainly was not public, as required in Alexandria. The developer’s attorney enjoyed unlimited speaking time, while ours was restricted to three minutes, successfully muzzling us.
Council members paid lip service to the core issue of scale, focusing instead on everything but. It worked.
Planning staff relentlessly advocated for the developer’s position, forfeiting all credibility. They never spoke to the conditions necessary for the special use permit, even though we documented how the developer failed to meet them. Staff claimed the Waterfront Plan was moot, despite our citations to the contrary.
Staff took the preposterous position that because one can walk from 301 N. Fairfax St. to the Old Town and Braddock Metro stops – both more than a mile away – the property therefore lies in an “enhanced transit corridor.” Anything to justify the density they seem hell-bent on building. It worked.
The subtext of the engagement process was clear. In opposing a project meant to have easily sailed through the approval process, we citizens apparently annoyed officials, got too much face time and caused them stress. We had the temerity to organize, plan, advocate and engage legal counsel! One Council member’s disdain for us by refusing to meet tells me that she feels listening to constituents is a favor, instead of an obligation of office.
It all worked. The developer’s mantra that a smaller building was “never going to happen” proved true. Over nine months, not one square foot was removed from the plan. The developer knew that the tax argument would prove irresistible and that selling out would be easy for a Council with no members from Old Town. Talk about “not in my backyard.”
I will support only those running for office who commit to soberly examine the systemic flaws in the city’s machinery that permitted the 301 N. Fairfax St. debacle, who respect their electorate and don’t genuflect to developers and who will seriously examine how ward voting can help repair Alexandria’s broken system and restore confidence in elected officials.
-Scott Corzine, Alexandria