With three days until the election, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and challenger Andrew Macdonald tackled the thorny issues of West End development, transportation and transit during a forum Saturday morning at the Goodwin House, a home for seniors off Beauregard Street.
Audience members posed questions primarily focused on development in the West End, including BRAC 133 at Mark Center and the Beauregard Small Area Plan. Euille, a Democrat, said the West End in particular poses problems for pedestrians. The Beauregard plan will improve pedestrian access, he said.
Euille also addressed concerns that the city could have avoided the building of the BRAC 133 building in Mark Center.
“Yes, it was a mistake,” he said. “But, you know what? We, the city government, can’t tell the federal government what to do when they want to do it.”
BRAC was ultimately located in Mark Center because it cost $2 million less than the Victory Center site on Eisenhower Avenue, Euille said.
Macdonald stressed the importance of working with neighboring jurisdictions to coordinate transit routes. He also said many local residents feel left out of decision-making processes involving transportation and development.
“Communities are often feeling that we haven’t thought it out very well, that we really figured out what we’re doing with all this spending and how much of an impact it will have on the new development,” Mcdonald said.
Macdonald said residents’ concerns about transportation issues weren’t taken into account in the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan and the Beauregard plan.
Euille stressed that the Beauregard plan was developed by a group of local residents. The property owners in the area had no cohesive plan for redevelopment and were brought together under the plan to work with the community and city to develop a comprehensive plan, he said.
People who currently live in affordable housing on Beauregard Street ultimately would have been forced out due to redevelopment and rising rental rates, Euille said. The city’s plan has reserved at least 800 affordable housing units for the next 30 years.
“The folks who live there today were concerned about being forced out,” he said. “The market would have forced them out anyway.”
Macdonald said he’s not against neighborhood redevelopment plans but said the community didn’t necessarily support the Beauregard plan. He also argued that local residents were left out of the planning process.
“My feeling is, it’s not that we don’t want a plan, but we want a plan that the community has a real buy-in and feels comfortable with,” he said.
Macdonald added: “I don’t think we do a very good job with negotiating and working with the community on these things right from the scratch. And in the Beauregard case, yes there were meetings. Citizens were involved. But the real plan as coming straight from the developers’ camp."
Euille also said the Beauregard plan would encourage pedestrian walkability and increase neighborhood connectivity.
“My vision for the West End… is a West End that is attractive, that we can have a higher quality of life, that we can enjoy just like the rest of this city, for people who live in Del Ray and Old Town,” he said. “There’s no reason the West End needs to be chopped up like it is and you can’t function without using a car.”
Macdonald said his vision for the West End was whatever the community supported.
“Are we really creating a sense of place as we develop?” he asked. “Are we really creating the communities and the walkable nature, or are we really just adding more lanes for cars?”
In response to a question from the audience, Euille said he would vote against a question on the ballot limiting the use of eminent domain but added he doesn’t support taking private property to sell to another private owner. Macdonald said he remained “on the fence” on the question.
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