Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Donley, Hughes, Euille Declare 300 Hours Is Too Much Staff Time For Arlandria

Active copy of the Implementation Schedule – Last Update 2006?!

On Oct 13th, City Council discussed (and deferred action on) the creation of an Arlandria Action Plan Advisory Group (AAPAG).

As proposed, the AAPAG would be charged with, among other things, helping decide how to spend the $500K of Capital Improvement Planning funds that are allocated for Arlandria Streetscape revitalization (more on $500K in CIP here). It would also keep the City on task with actually implementing the vision of the 2003 Arlandria Plan. The AAPAG would be comprised of representatives from Arlandria and the North End neighborhoods: businesses, service organizations, civic associations, etc. The City's Department of Planning and Zoning (P&Z) estimates the need for about 300 hours of their staff time to help facilitate the meetings. Here is the full resolution as it appeared on the docket: (small PDF).

We had already provided Deputy Director of P&Z Karl Moritz with feedback about the draft AAPAG resolution. The only important suggestion we made was to clarify the charge of the new group. We suggested that the group should focus on "removing disincentives to economic development," but that did not make it into the copy that went forward to Council. Because of this, we requested that the vote on the resolution be deferred. This 6-minute video (below) shows discussion of deferral. But in addition, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley questions the purpose of the group and he, Councilwoman Alicia Hughes, and Mayor Bill Euille doubt whether we should spend 300 hours of staff time on Arlandria. (Video is also available here.)

Vice Mayor Donley is worried that Arlandria area stakeholders might ask for money if given an official voice. But, as Councilman Krupicka rightly stated, the entire reason the group is being formed is to jump-start the long stalled plan, and, in the current fiscal climate, to figure out how to do more with less.

Community organizing, volunteerism, and policy changes could go a long way towards making the community better for current residents and businesses and more appealing for redevelopment. There is energy in the community towards improving things, even if it means chasing down donations from garden centers, mentoring an area youth, or just fighting to clear a perceived zoning hurdle. These actions all make a difference and are virtually free to the City, and are things neighbors have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do.

Then there's the little issue of spending the $500K in CIP in a way that maximizes its impact. And quite frankly, who cares if we do request funding for a project that Council may not have known about? Isn't it the job of Council to determine priorities? If we get out the pitchforks and march down to City Hall, they can still say, "No, these other projects are more important." They should not preclude us from asking and fighting for every scrap we can get.

The North End neighborhoods in the Arlandria area have been largely ignored by the City for years, and now the mere idea of spending 300 hours of staff time causes Vice Mayor Donley, Councilwoman Hughes, and Mayor Euille to balk about needing the staff resources elsewhere. Assuming that P&Z employs roughly 45 people (at about 2,000 hours per person per year), that means 300 hours equates to 0.33% of available P&Z staff time. Implementation of the Arlandria Plan was listed as one of the top priorities for P&Z staff time this fiscal year by last City Council (#5 on the list). Do some new members of Council want to retroactively change any other established decisions? Or have they just not retained information about the City's forgotten neighborhoods on the North End? When Donley and Hughes talk of other priorities, they seemingly haven't read the list of P&Z priorities for this year.

I've asked people to e-mail the Mayor and City Council before about issues that affect neighborhoods near us. This time, though, an e-mail to the Mayor and City Council will affect our ability to have a say. P&Z isn't suggesting 300 hours towards this project because they have so much time to throw around. Those 300 hours are needed to let staff help the AAPAG understand the costs of various projects, administer the group, and research and answer questions about City ordinances, policies and available incentives. City Council must enthusiastically retain the commitment to 300 hours of staff time for AAPAG... if for no other reason than just to show they understand Alexandria is bigger than Old Town and Del Ray. There is a tremendous opportunity to revitalize a community. Please ask for the support of the whole Council.

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