“I wake up at 3 or 4 every morning worrying about this,” said Pineda, president of the Beauregard Tenants Association. “My wife is crying. . . . We don’t want to move. We say, ‘No, this is our home.’ ”
The Alexandria City Council is scheduled to vote Saturday on a far-reaching plan that would allow the five developers who own the apartments to replace them with bigger, more expensive housing as well as new hotels and offices, turning the leafy low-rise neighborhood into something more akin to Arlington County’s stands of dense residential towers.
The stakes are high not only because the plan would make over the neighborhood but also, some argue, because it would more broadly influence who can afford to live in this increasingly affluent inside-the-Beltway city.
The decision could be as politically definitive as the continuing fight over plans to redevelop the city’s waterfront. But it’s also a struggle over who controls the future of a community — those who own and develop property or those who live, work and vote there.
Plans for a large area
The area marked for redevelopment is huge. At 430 acres, it is more than four times the size of the Pentagon and its parking lots and 100 acres bigger than the Mall in Washington.
Within the seven distinct neighborhoods lie two elementary schools, a botanical preserve and a separate nature park. There’s also a 496-room, 30-story Hilton, a grocery store and retail center, and the Mark Center, where 6,400 Defense Department employees will be working by September. Not far away lies the redeveloping Columbia Pike neighborhoods in Arlington and the Baileys Crossroads area of Fairfax County.
About 5,500 townhouses and low-rise garden apartments nestle peacefully amid mature trees and expansive green lawns in the western reaches of Alexandria. The 5,000 people who live in the buildings marked for demolition work as nursing assistants, sous chefs and construction workers, among other jobs.
Rents have been rising in the neighborhood simply because more people are looking for places to live close to employers, the city and developers say. Two years ago, 2,300 apartments there were considered affordable to those who make less than the median income; a year later, only 829 were still in that price range, and there’s been a 40 percent turnover at many of the buildings.
The five developers who own the Alexandria rentals — the JBG Cos., Duke Realty, Southern Towers, Home Properties and Hekemian Development — have the right under existing zoning permits to build more than 10 million square feet in the Beauregard area, 5.6 million square feet of which has been constructed. So when several of the developers went to the city with plans to exercise their rights, city officials began to look at how they could leverage those plans into improvements for the area.