Rodney A. Lawrence, a JBG partner who oversees its northern Virginia projects, said the area will become a “walkable community with housing options for a broad demographic range of people.”
Lawrence noted that JBG has been working on the project for about four years, and just a year ago the City Council endorsed the concept.
“You need a broad mix of residential, retail, office,” Lawrence said. “The city deserves a lot of credit for this, for taking a bold move to think about this. It takes a long-term vision to recognize balance is important.”
Under Virginia law, a property owner like JBG has the right to raise rents, raze its buildings and rebuild whatever it wants, as long as it abides by local zoning laws. But city government offers a tantalizing carrot: If developers accept more oversight, stricter zoning and negotiate other amenities upfront, they can build a more dense, and more valuable, neighborhood.
That’s the route taken by JBG and the other developers — Duke Realty, Hekemian-Foster Fairbanks, Home Properties and Southern Towers.
In return, Alexandria negotiated $158.6 million worth of new infrastructure in the area, including a fire station, parkland and a rapid-bus transitway. The affordable housing alone is one of the largest developer contributions ever made in the region, according to JBG and the city.
Officials also say the tax dollars brought in by the new residents and businesses would amount to hundreds of millions in coming decades.
Former vice mayor Kerry Donley has strongly endorsed the plan, pointing out the benefits for housing, transportation, public safety and infrastructure.
Worried about leaving
Johanna Wilder has lived in the Brookdale section of Beauregard for 22 years. An immigrant from Holland, she raised two children in her $1,300-per-month one-bedroom-plus-den. She worked for 25 years for the telephone company and for the past 20 years has had a part-time job at the Kennedy Center as head usher in the children’s theater.
“I love the trees,” she said Tuesday afternoon, looking up from a crossword puzzle on her patio. “I personally like all the different cultures here, too. They’re not all white Americans.”
But she said she’s not surprised the landowners want to redevelop. “The buildings are getting quite old and kind of ugly; they’re not keeping them up,” she said.
Wilder would like to stay in her neat-and-clean home, but both her children now live in Arkansas and if she has to move, she’d go there, she said.
“It’s going to be devastating to a lot of people,” she said.
City officials say they are working to ease the transition for tenants. Under an agreement between the city and the developers, existing renters in good standing will have the first chance to move into the new apartments when their current buildings are scheduled for demolition. The city also is chipping in to help alleviate the burden on some lower-income families, promising cash payments of between $750 and $1,550 to help people move out while construction is underway. The very poor and the elderly will get double that amount.
Tenant and Workers United, a 23-year-old community organization that works with low-income residents, has been trying to organize the opposition for more than a year.
“The improvements, and where the overall concept is at, at this point is a good start,” said Aurora Vasquez, TWU’s co-executive director. “But we need to change the conversation from numbers, units, taxes and taxation to people. . . . We should be approaching this holistically.”
TWU last month called on some of JBG’s investors, such as the giant California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the Yale University endowment, to pressure the developer to provide low-cost housing for all existing tenants.
JBG’s spokesman called that effort “a misinformation campaign” and said it had no effect once the investors were fully briefed.
On a recent afternoon, Aguilar, the mother of two, said some neighbors are looking to move farther from the District, to places such as Woodbridge or Manassas.
She knows that she, her husband and their children eventually could be among them, but for now she is keeping her fingers crossed.
“People like us, who are paying their rents on time, we are trying to be good tenants,” she said. “We might have to move. We could never buy a house, but we might buy a trailer. I think we’ll stay until the end.”