The Alexandria City Council paved the way for large-scale redevelopment of the Beauregard corridor on Saturday by approving rezoning to implement the Beauregard Small Area Plan, with Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg casting the lone dissenting vote.
Silberberg argued that the plan, which calls for the city to subsidize the rent for 800 units of long-term committed affordable housing, didn’t provide enough affordable housing given the displacement of thousands of low- to moderate-income residents to make way for upscale condos and apartments. Nine people spoke in favor of providing more affordable housing in the Beauregard plan during a public hearing before the council vote.
Meadowbrook Apartments resident Veronica Calzada broke down sobbing as she prepared to speak and later addressed the council while holding back tears.
“We know the laws don’t protect us, but still they should be aware, they should have a heart and know that what they’re doing is driving us out and hurting us,” Calzada said. “And I wouldn’t be here if it was just for myself. I’m here because this is for my children.”
'The Final Chapter'
Neota Hall, who has rented in the Beauregard area for 30 years, told the council that providing affordable housing required tough political choices.
“We need to recognize that this is not just a West End problem,” Hall said. “The Beauregard area is the final chapter in the gentrification of Alexandria that has been taking place for years. The dedication of 800 affordable units is unprecedented, but it’s unprecedented because we have failed to take significant action in the past.”
Lynbrook Apartments resident Oscar Medina pleaded with council to provide more affordable units. “I ask that you put yourself in our place, you put yourself in our position and realize we did not all have the same opportunities that you all have, standing before us today, but that we have just as much a right to those opportunities, for the simple fact that we’re human beings,” he said.
The plan calls for 2,475 apartments to be demolished. Council also accepted a last-minute proposal from Ken Wire, an attorney for Southern Towers, to add up to 135 units of affordable housing for a 10-year period at that high-rise apartment complex.
City staff told council if the plan isn’t approved, landlords would renovate or redevelop their properties and increase rent to unaffordable levels. Councilman Tim Lovain said only 40 percent of the Beauregard corridor's rental stock is affordable now, and that is already declining. Some of the remaining properties that are not demolished will be affordable, such as at Southern Towers, he said.
The council ultimately voted to accept amendments approved by the Planning Commission to bring affordable units to market as soon as possible and seek alternate funding sources for additional units where feasible. Members also approved an amendment form Councilman John Chapman to redirect any excess funds from public amenities in the area to affordable housing.
'This is About People's Lives'
Silberberg failed to receive a second on a motion to require the city to provide at least 1,320 affordable units as part of rezoning conditions using a mix of tax revenues and additional developer contributions. Councilman Justin Wilson accused Silberberg of pulling numbers out of the air in terms of housing units and potential developer contributions.
“If anything, this proposal right here, this proposal means the destruction of all the affordable housing in this plan area. Because this will be a poison pill on this plan and will mean the folks who are proposing this plan will walk. And we can say all we want that we think they’ll stay in there, it’s only a little bit of money and maybe they’ll do it, but the fact is, I’m not willing to play games with people’s lives,” Wilson said, to boos from the audience.
Silberberg retorted that she developed the call for 1,320 units after working with city staff. “I am trying to increase the affordable housing units in the Beauregard plan,” she said. “That is a very simple statement. And that’s not just a statement, that’s real. And this is about people’s lives, and that’s why I made the motion.”
Four people at the public hearing also spoke against the plan’s provision to create a road parallel to Beauregard Street in the Adams neighborhood that will abut the townhouses of Seminary Heights. Council agreed to finalize the location of the road through the permitting process later.
Council last year approved the 30-year Beauregard plan designed to create an urban town center with mixed-use development on Alexandria’s West End.
Planning Commission OKs Beauregard Rezoning
Beauregard Survey: More Affordable Units Needed for Very Low-Income
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Beauregard Tenants Protest Redevelopment Plans [VIDEO]