To the Editor:
The City Council candidates’ forums for debate have given us opportunity to carefully listen and see a full range of what’s next and to imagine just how the biggest dig ever – the construction, planned and present - in Alexandria might occur.
Being asked to sanction only part-time council members for an outsized number of huge development projects is a serious responsibility, especially since once the concrete is poured, it’s there for centuries.
With hundreds of millions of dollars of decisions in play, waiting in the wings, or under wraps with Planning and Zoning or Transportation and Environmental Services, we’ve learned the hard way that it’s risky to rely on a deeply flawed decision process. It would be a great relief if each candidate were put through a public battery of tests and interviews that could lay out the skills, experience, and management training and abilities that we must have to avoid another BRAC. Instead we have the smoke and mirrors of politics.
What’s ahead for Alexandria’s biggest dig?
- Beauregard’s redevelopment
- historic district’s waterfront and its lack (unlike Del Ray) of a neighborhood protection plan
- $275 million Potomac Yard Metro,
- 11.4 million square feet Potomac Yard development,
- 25 acre GenOn site
- transportation corridor for Beauregard (and BRAC)
- Landmark, King Street Metro expansion (for BRAC buses)
- Bus Rapid Transit and streetcar along Rt. 1
- Eisenhower Avenue widening
- Harris Teeters near Farlington and in Old Town
- Prince Street and Cummings hotels
- Cameron Park/S. Pickett
- Seminary Hills Towers
- changes at Carlyle,
- prime property on King and Patrick streets
- and much more
It is useful to reference the City’s Active Developments Projects report, due for update the end of August. It is sobering to see the enormous task ahead of the densest town in Virginia and to imagine whether or not it will soon look like the crowded suburban sprawl of Los Angeles. Right now our regional congestion is a close second.
The recurring question is: Do any of these City Council candidates have the knowledge, experience, management and leadership ability to challenge city staff, developers, financiers, residents, construction companies and others so that higher quality decisions are made? This includes asking the right questions in complex negotiations and phased execution, something these big projects require. Without at least one council member who can do this, we run a real risk of repeating BRAC, and as with BRAC and Carlyle, spending a lot to correct the heavy cascade of mistakes that result.
The ideal solution would be to elect all 12 candidates, because only together do they bring everything we need to address this rampant rush to development. The number of projects the city has put on our plate is too big for six part-timers, city staff, and some commissions. We’ve already seen some results of this combo: an unprecedented number of lawsuits against the city, deteriorating infrastructure, failure to plan for rising school enrollment. And while City Council candidate Justin Wilson believes that citizens suing their city is a sign of democracy in action and that only the most crucial human services deserve priority funding attention, I doubt he would agree that a “best city” prize would be awarded for either.
Who can lead, manage, and serve the city on this host of mega-projects? Which of the candidates do we trust to create an honest dialogue with citizens from Beauregard to the historic district’s waterfront? Who can bring all the players together to achieve the level of excellence that Alexandria deserves?
Running a city has a more complex set of considerations than a lobbyist, mid-level manager, dedicated administrator, or even small businessperson can grapple with. We need council members who can move Alexandria to a new performance level --- and that means having the depth of experience and understanding to get us there. It’s an extremely small field to choose from.