The brouhaha that broke out last month between the Alexandria City Council and the city’s public housing authority over demolishing and replacing four run-down apartment buildings has calmed in advance of a Saturday vote to rezone the property.
But some tensions remain.
The council and the board of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority agreed Tuesday to a six-page plan on how to work together to replace the 74-year-old Ramsey Homes, built as segregated housing for African American defense workers.
The plan lists the goals of the city and ARHA, whose board is appointed by the council. It says the two entities will work together to study whether a 53-unit, two-building project is necessary, or whether an alternative such as a single building with 49 units could work.
The plan requires, among other things, “no surprises,” and stipulates that “once an issue is resolved, it’s resolved.”
Residents opposed to ARHA’s original redevelopment plan argued for six hours last month that replacing the 15 low-income apartments at 699 N. Patrick St. with 53 low- to moderate-income units made the project too dense and would sacrifice a historic site.
The council rejected ARHA’s proposal on Feb. 20, then voted four days later to give the process another chance. To do so, they had to bridge the long-running tension between the council and ARHA, and between the council and the city’s new mayor.
“This is not just about Ramsey,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg (D), in a nod to ARHA’s plans to sell or redevelop many of its other properties around the city in the near future. “We’re trying here to hit a reset button.”
The anger that flared between Silberberg and other council members at the Feb. 20 meeting was not in evidence on Tuesday. At the same time, it was clear that the mistrust between the bodies had not entirely evaporated.
Silberberg pressed housing officials about how many units they would seek to build and how much green space would be left.
“It concerns me that there’s no certainty as far as density,” she said.
The mayor later expressed concern that any agreement reached by the council on Saturday could be cited as a precedent in the future by private developers who also want to change zoning without specifying how many units they will build.
“This has to be an exception to an exception,” agreed council member Redella “Del” Pepper (D).
Council member Paul Smedberg (D), the strongest critic of the housing authority, said the city should not need a special agreement for its staff and the authority’s staff to work together.
He refused to answer a housing authority commissioner’s question about whether city money is available to pay for preserving one of the Ramsey buildings.