The Alexandria City Council discussion on whether to allow a new apartment-retail complex in Arlandria, along Mount Vernon Avenue near Four Mile Run, was full of fascinating moments, that (alas) we didn’t have enough room to include in the print edition of today’s story.
After three hours of passionate testimony from opponents, who fear that gentrification will push up rents in the relatively low-cost area, and some supporters of the building, the council members clearly were feeling embattled. Mayor William D. Euille (D) reminded residents that he grew up in public housing in the city and reprimanded a speaker who attacked “you guys,” because the city is not the developer. Council member Rob Krupicka (D) assailed Tenants and Workers United, which organized the outpouring of opposition, essentially accusing the community organizers of attempting to control City Hall’s communications with citizens in the area.
She then noted the similarity between the Arlandria residents’ charges of too much city deference to developers and those of residents opposed to the city plan for the Alexandria waterfront. Let’s do for Arlandria what we did for the waterfront, she said, and made a motion to delay the vote and set up a group similar to the waterfront work group. The waterfront work group has spent 16 weeks haggling over whether there are any substantial agreements, and it is due to release its advice to the council Tuesday.
Donley, the mayor from 1996 to 2003, pointed out that Hughes had voted against accepting federal funds for affordable housing. He also defended the city’s role over the years in encouraging developers to provide affordable housing and said Alexandria is “the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia that has true public housing.” The city supported the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative, whose residents and leaders were among its critics Saturday, and the city has been planning and reaching out to residents in the area for decades, Donley said. Although “you might not have been around,” he told Hughes, “a lot of us were.” Hughes has been on the council since 2009.
Hughes took offense at Donley’s tone, defending her vote against accepting the federal funds. Donley fired back with a challenge to “bring something to the table that is a serious proposal, a serious commitment of funds, instead of just giving speeches.”
Council members Paul Smedberg (D) and Redella S. “Del” Pepper (D) also defended the city’s record on affordable housing. Pepper said the Arlandria apartments could be affordable to working-class residents if they could obtain federal Section 8 vouchers.
The 28 affordable apartments that are set aside out of the 478 to be built “are actually a generous offer because these are brand-new units,” Pepper said. The city normally cannot force builders to include below-market rental units in their development, and these came about after some area residents met with the developers in October, officials said.
City planners detailed the extent to which they tried to reach out to the community over the past three months. But whether the disconnect came from residents’ inability to attend group meetings during working hours, the failure of Tenants and Workers United and other representatives to attend meetings and keep their constituencies informed, or the planning department’s failure to communicate effectively, the residents said, clearly and repeatedly, that they want a say in the future of their neighborhood.