To the editor:
On Nov. 1, the contest for the 2024 local Alexandria elections began. There were no banners and balloons. There were no contestants at the starting blocks, waiting for the pistol shot to begin. There were no signs saying, “Sign Up Here.” There were no notices in the newspapers.
Instead, the first shot over the bow was the contentious Planning Commission hearing, covering 5.5 hours and 52 speakers. The seven commissioners on hand were all appointed by the City Council. And, unlike the Council members, those on the Planning Board are not held accountable by the voters at elections.
But Council members are.
The Nov. 1, 2023, hearing will be first on the check off list when residents head to the polls again next November to assess the actions of the Council AND the Planning Board. At the top of the list will be the responses by both groups to this volatile topic, relying primarily on staff-driven input, and not on extensive responses by tax-paying residents and voters.
In spite of numerous requests to defer the planned Nov. 28 final vote by Council on radical changes to the Single Family Housing code, the Significant Seven steamrolled ahead 7-0. Chairman Nathan Macek turned a deaf ear not only to remarks by the audience seeking a more serious and measured approach to this plan, but he also ignored pleas from several of his own Board members who wanted to vote individually on components of the 132-page plan, which includes 41 text amendments.
Perhaps Planning Board member Stephen Koenig set the stage for a cavalier approach when he spoke dismissively of citizen input at a public session of Agenda Alexandria on Oct. 23. Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, he announced that he had “no intention” of reading the full 132-page document, “line by line.” And he emphasized he had “no qualms” about voting for the document, though he admitted he was unprepared to discuss the details buried within the massive transformational plan.
Another surprise was that three Council members have not bothered to hear one word of testimony before making up their minds. This is “Justin’s Plan,” so of course, he would be for it. But on Nov. 14, Alyia Gaskins and Kirk McPike announced their decision, with no public testimony. The two have already fallen into place for the prescribed 7-0 vote. They should remember that the Accounting Rule applies to local elections: “Last In, First Out.”
It appears again that the Council’s job is to rubber stamp anything the Planning Board sends them. These seven elected members are ignoring the “will of the people” and instead are cheering for the developers, using the old mantra: “Alexandria never met a developer it didn’t like.” And, as their guide post, they turn to the 2019 vote, when Council approved the debacle of the Seminary Road plan, in spite of enormous city-wide objections.
In an autocracy, there is no need for boards or commissions or councils. The head of the Fiefdom decides. Here, we hear again that “The Fix is In,” and it makes no difference how many residents object, as with Seminary Road, or the Kehrig Estates, or the Duke Street corridor, or the faulty upheaval of the 5325 Polk Open Space Park.
Our hope is that four Council members will find the will power to vote NO on this flawed plan. Seminary Road’s mistakes affected a few blocks. The Single Family Housing flawed plan will affect every square inch of Alexandria and every resident in what is already the state’s highest rate of density. Don’t do it!
Kathleen M. Burns