James K. Hartmann began work as Alexandria's city manager in January. Hartmann, 52, came to Alexandria from Spartanburg, S.C., where he had been the county administrator since 1999. Staff writer Annie Gowen asked him to discuss his first six months on the job.

Q What drew you to Alexandria initially?

A My wife and I came here on a reconnaissance mission in August -- even before I had applied for the job -- and we stood in front of City Hall, and I knew then this was going to be the place. It was a feeling of excitement of being in some place so historic and yet so new -- attracting all kinds of development and cultural opportunities.

How have your impressions of the city changed after six months on the job?

I think I'm more energized now than I was when I was thinking about the job, but certainly I can see the challenges ahead. Obviously we're going to have budget challenges next year. . . . I think there are legitimate concerns [among the citizens] about rising property values. We don't have control over that; that's a market influence.

But our concern is: How do we run the city organization as efficiently as possible? I'd like to find additional capacity to increase our effectiveness without having to rely upon similar rates of [tax] growth, so we don't have to grow at a rate we have been.

Any other differences?

I didn't realize the magnitude of what was going to happen with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and how the effect of making ramp changes could cause gridlock immediately throughout the city. They made one lane change, and it caused major problems for commuters.

It allowed me to look at how do we respond to that as an organization.

We had lots of discussions with police and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge folks to cooperatively solve those issues and work towards a solution. We increased public signage on streets and put police officers on ramps to help keep traffic moving.

Were you surprised at the depth and the organized outcry of the anti-tax groups during the budget process? One of your colleagues said it was one of the most contentious budget cycles in recent memory.

I'm not going to say I was surprised, but if you look back at the past five years and what the increase in property values has done to everybody, the cumulative impact was not lost on us or [the] City Council during deliberations.

What do you think are the biggest problems facing Alexandria today?

One thing I had not foreseen coming in was the amount of development heading for Alexandria -- Potomac Yard, [the redevelopment of] Landmark Mall and the Eisenhower East neighborhood. Certainly the Braddock Road area is a very hot market. It's well over 10 million square feet of new development with projects that are approved or in the pipeline.

I became a little nervous about our capacity to handle that. So, we'll be adding staff -- planning, code enforcement and public works staff -- as well as having some building code and site plan fee adjustments.

Some residents have commented that housing prices have risen so much in Alexandria in the last few years that even the city's own manager is still renting. How do you respond to that? Have you found a place to live yet?

The city manager is renting because the city manager cannot sell his house in Spartanburg. I'm renting an apartment near the Braddock Road Metro. As soon as I sell my house, I intend to buy something and my wife [Marcia] will join me.

James K. Hartmann