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March 2, 2016 Published in Letters/Opinions

Ramsey Houses

To the Editor:

My home is two blocks from Ramsay Homes project. My neighbors and I had no problem with Ramsey Homes:  we enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the 15 tenant families, and the garden-apartment site was never a problem.  Claims of racism are contemptible:  a doubling of the number of units to 30 (per the Braddock Metro Small Area Plan) would have been acceptable to the community:  it was the quadrupling of the density to 60 units and the consequent ballooning of the proposed structure size that has people alarmed.

The four-fold increase in density is contrary to the spirit of the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan (BMNP) and its sister the Braddock East plan that addressed the ARHA properties.  This is just one more weakening of the plan that has been engineered by officials, City planners and developers – which ARHA most assuredly is.

I was an involved participant in the charrettes that led to the BMNP, and this case raises serious questions about the integrity of the planning process.  It reduces citizen confidence that compromises worked out among a wide range of stakeholders will be honored, instead of continuously breached for the latest whim of politicians or their friends in the development community.  In fact, the first egregious violation of the BMNP involved ARHA, which did not observe BMNP’s design guidelines with regard to sidewalk width at Old Town Commons.

But Council’s answer to this is to nullify the plan(s).  Really?  There is absolutely no reason to do this unless it is to pack in more density that the politicians repeatedly deflect from their own backyards.

There are serious issues of equitable treatment involved:  those of us in the Parker-Gray Historic District are subject to regulations that ARHA is always permitted to shrug off.  They can tear down historic structures and swathe the new ones in HardiPlank.  But I live in a corner house and am forced to use maintenance-intensive wood for my siding.   

The majority of the Resolution 830 units are still crammed into one area of Alexandria.  The City has retreated from a commitment to integration.  When the Berg was redeveloped as Chatham Square, 50% of the residents were moved to scattered sites with all the amenities – homes which police acknowledge had little crime and were scarcely distinguishable as public housing in appearance.  Yet when James Bland was redeveloped a few years later, only a third of the residents were integrated into the larger community.  Now Ramsay Homes is becoming Ramsay Towers and we’re also hearing that the Carpenter’s Shelter wants to expand to include 100 units for individuals with serious drug issues that are not yet under control. 

ARHA moans that there is nowhere to offsite residents anymore.  Yet read ARHA’s strategic plan and you’ll be startled to find that offsiting is planned for Hopkins-Tancil in Old Town but not at Andrew Adkins near Braddock Metro or at Samuel Madden Uptown.  That illustrates that offsiting is a purely political issue, not a financial or economic one. 

The latest “compromise” that seems to be on the table involves keeping one original structure on Wythe Street and turning it over to the Black History Museum as meeting space.  That may satisfy the preservationists, but it shows that affordable housing is secondary to politics and audience positioning.  Not only are the museum’s visitation numbers low, tourists are known to be turned away sometimes because there is a single employee to cover two buildings and the solution is to lock up when called away to meetings elsewhere.   Add one more building that the City can’t afford to maintain and shove all the density up against Pendleton Street homes?   No way.  

Just flip the rendering so the preserved building is on the Pendleton Street and put families back in it – not tables and chairs.

Respectively,
Charlotte Landis

 

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