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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Find Blocks Adjacent to Historic District to Add in Alexandria
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Find Blocks Adjacent to Historic District to Add in Alexandria

“Let’s call these concessions what they are — bribes,” remonstrated a resident opposed to the Heritage megaproject. “We don’t need to have guns put to our heads to meet our goals of affordable housing,” she continued as if describing extortion.

The Historic Alexandria Foundation reassures us, “No one opposes affordable housing in the neighborhood – all of us agree that more affordable housing is very much needed and can be increased here,” as if by waving a magic wand instantly would appear such housing that does not “violate the character of the historic district.” The developer is willing to sink “north of $100 million” into increasing substantially the number of affordable units — not the "onesies and twosies" for which city council has granted egregious extra density too often in the past, not the paltry 10% Councilmember Seifeldein caught flak from some of his colleagues for insisting upon, but approximately 25% of the total units. The developer acquired the property a little over a year ago and needs a return on investment. If the city council turns the developer down, the existing affordable housing will be replaced by new or rehabbed “by-right” buildings with zero affordable housing.

You cannot be “for” affordable housing but hamstring the market conditions needed to bring it about. And you cannot be “for” affordable housing but “not in my backyard.”

The 2018 mayoral primary was, in a sense, a referendum about whether we should insist upon “thoughtful, appropriate development that fits in and is to scale, and will protect our neighborhoods and quality of life” http://www.alexandriagazette.com/news/2015/nov/04/its-mayor-silberberg-alexandria or instead accede to “projects that are more dense than we probably would have otherwise, have less open space than we otherwise would have, that preserve less around historic fabric than we otherwise would have,” http://www.alexandriagazette.com/news/2018/sep/21/new-era-affordable-housing-alexandria/, which is what won out.

The Historic Alexandria Foundation is compellingly correct that the Heritage project “is an alarming departure from the principles of limited size and scale which have guided development since the creation of this historic district 75 years ago.”

In no regard is the proposed Heritage behemoth thoughtful, appropriate development that fits in, is to scale, which will protect the neighborhood. While some might argue that the portion of the Heritage in the historic district today is a non-complying 62 feet, the Board of Architectural Review, which possesses the expertise on protecting the historic district, emphatically found the proposed design unacceptable. The Board of Architectural Review's judgment is what frames the project as having no business being in the historic district. The solution, however, is to redraw the historic district boundary to exclude the Heritage site so it does not set an adverse precedent for elsewhere in the historic district. Concurrent with doing so, to reassure the public that this is not a precedent endangering the rest of the historic district if future developers propose out-of-scale projects with generous affordable housing components, city council should charge the Board of Architectural Review with finding suitable blocks adjacent to the historic district to add to the historic district.

Dino Drudi

Alexandria