A far-reaching plan to redevelop the Beauregard area of Alexandria passed the City Council on Saturday after an all-day public hearing that featured heated testimony, chanting demonstrators who were escorted from the chambers by police, and a woman who fainted from lack of food and drink.
The council voted 6 to 0, with one abstention, to allow the five developers who own 5,000 apartments in the area to demolish half of them and rebuild more expensive rentals. The developers plan to double the square footage devoted to housing to 10 million. The city negotiated a deal that will provide 800 units of guaranteed affordable housing for the next 40 years in exchange for an additional 2.4 million square feet of development. Developers will also pay $66 million for traffic improvements, $11 million to build a city fire station, and more than $12 million for recreation and other public amenities, including 40 acres of new open space.
The plan prompted opposition from some residents who objected to increased density and traffic, and from tenants who said they were being forced out of their homes. While many of the apartments there now are among the most affordable in Alexandria, none were guaranteed to stay that way, and residents said rents are already rising.
“We always get accused of not listening,” but the city made multiple changes to the plan in response to citizens’ concerns, said Mayor William Euille (D). “The bottom line here is this is one of the largest public-private partnerships in the history of the city.”
City officials said that if the plan for the area, which is west of Interstate 395, did not pass, developers had the right to knock down the rental housing and build more units without agreeing to provide any affordable housing or any of the amenities in the plan. Council members said the 800 set-aside units was a minimum number and they would work with nonprofit organizations and seek other financing strategies to add to it.
Opponents of the development said the city had not negotiated hard enough and argued for a delay. Council member Alicia Hughes said she was not ready to vote yes and didn’t want to vote no but was unable to get other council members to agree to delay the vote until September. She abstained for the final vote.
The plan’s passage is the equivalent of a general design, and many details will be worked out during rezoning. Council members said a tenant survey will be completed before rezoning.
The hearing drew a packed house and ran seven hours, with emotional testimony from tenants in orange T-shirts holding signs in Spanish and English and economic arguments from the plan’s supporters. Several candidates in the coming City Council elections also spoke, prompting testy exchanges with current members.
Near the end of the nonstop testimony, One opponent fainted while waiting to speak. She was treated for Emergency medical technicians treated her for dehydration and low blood sugar and testified an hour later.