The Alexandria City Council on Saturday rezoned the Beauregard area, signaling a major redevelopment which will result temporarily in the loss of 2,475 apartments rented mostly by people with low to medium incomes.
The 6 to 1 vote came after four hours of testimony during which one resident broke down in tears over worries about the future of her family’s home.
Over the next 30 years, half of the existing apartments will be demolished and replaced by 5,000 new apartments, townhouses and condominiums. The five major property owners in the area agreed to finance $159 million worth of community improvements, including a new fire station, a hotel, offices, retail stores, parks and a new athletic field. The roads will be rebuilt and a bus rapid-transit route will be constructed.
In exchange, the developers can add more housing to the area. But it is likely that much of it will be more expensive than the existing garden apartments. The city negotiated a deal that at least 800 new or existing apartments will be made affordable to medium- and low-income renters for the next 40 years.
Opponents said it wasn’t enough, given the number of families that would be displaced. Proponents said that none of the existing apartments were guaranteed to be affordable and that rents have been increasing in the past two or three years.
The most dramatic moment occurred when resident Veronica Calzada told the council that she was going to speak as a mother of two and then broke down in tears, unable to continue. Her 11-year-old son, Edwin, and her husband, Hector Pineda, rushed to her side while her 5-year-old son, Adrian, patted her face and offered her a tissue. After several minutes, she took the microphone again.
“I ask that you put your hand on your heart. I ask that you understand we are not asking for anything free,” she said. Her children go to local schools while she and her husband work as housecleaners. “We know the laws don’t protect us.. . . But I want to have my children receive the kind of education we, their parents, couldn’t receive.”
The project was approved in concept a year ago, and this rezoning vote was the final chance for the council to look at the plans in general. From now on, as each area is readied to be redesigned, small areas will come to the council for approval. Destruction of the first apartments will not start until the end of the year, at the earliest, and the redevelopment will proceed in stages.
Many current residents will be eligible to move into other affordable units, with expenses paid by the city. But the 800 affordable units won’t all be available at the same time, and residents will have to go through an eligibility test to make sure they qualify.
Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg (D), who was the sole no vote, tried and failed to increase the number of guaranteed affordable units from 800 to 1,320, and then 1,050.
But the rest of the council said they considered the 800 units to be a floor, and ordered the staff to come up with ways to increase that number by 250 or more.
Mayor William D. Euille (D) called the rezoning “an unprecedented commitment to preserving and protecting affordable housing.”
Through a years-long process, the city conducted community outreach and bargained with developers, he said, to create a plan that also includes “infrastructure improvements, a strengthened transportation system, and a public/private partnership that will provide resources so these enhancements can be realized.”
Council member John Taylor Chapman (D) managed to add in a requirement so if there’s any money left over from construction of the new fire station or the transportation changes, it will go toward affordable housing.
He also got the developers to agree to let residents know more specifically when their apartments are set to be razed.