Thursday, May 27, 2010

“A new day for Arlandria”

Authored by Melissa Garcia

The panel on the Birchmere stage.
Arlandria Action Plan organizers Maya Contreras and Brandi Collins partnered with the Alexandria Economic Development Partners (AEDP) to host the Arlandria Developers Forum at the Birchmere. The group gathered on Monday May 17th to discuss challenges and opportunities to redevelopment in Arlandria. (Video of the forum is available on the City of Alexandria website here).

A ‘been there, done that’ skepticism gave way to enthusiasm as the panel of developers -- experts involved in well regarded projects throughout the DC metro area -- discussed ways to synergize community involvement and City commitment to leverage what they consistently referred to as a vibrant, affordable area.

Longtime business owner Gary Oelze of the Birchmere, who hosted the event, challenged the group to execute change in the area. “I’ve been here for a long time.  I started the Birchmere 44 years and brought it Arlandria rather than Shirlington or Clarendon. I've seen 4 or 5 of these planning committees before. We would LOVE to see something happen and to be a part of it."

Val Hawkins, President of AEDP jump-started the meeting with his response, “It’s a new day for Arlandria.”

The developers shared their vision of Arlandria reaching its potential. Developer Jair Lynch, from Jair Lynch Development Partners felt the close proximity of the Birchmere and Four Mile Run Park could spawn an artist community and would be conducive for free concerts. “It is good to find a neighborhood right on the edge, trying to define itself.” Cameron Pratt of Fouglar-Pratt thought restaurants featuring live musicians would do well in the neighborhood. “This (the Birchmere) is one of the top music venues in the nation.”

The lack of transportation infrastructure was seen as a major hindrance by both the panel and the audience. Connie Ring, representing the recently redeveloped Alexandria Crossing said, “The key is to find solutions to the transportation issue. The best environment for public housing residents is to be in a vibrant community with access to transit.” Pratt felt obstacles to accessibility imposed limitations on development “Transportation and infrastructure keep it from being a Shirlington or Clarendon. “ Lynch concurred. “If we had a cut through, that would be a game-changer.”

Mayor Bill Euille, felt the group should provide for sustained diversity as property owners, the city, and developers come up with something that can be implemented. “We want something positive to happen – it’s been a long time in the making.”

Predictably, representatives from Tenants and Workers United balked at the prospect of development, asserting low income residents would be priced out of the neighborhood.

Census bureau statistics contradict that fear: turnover rates in Arlandria are the highest in the city (35% of Arlandrians move year). And with only 10% of the Arlandria population remaining for 5 or more years, more than 90% of the current renters will no longer live here by the time redevelopment occurs. Additionally, there is a long standing commitment to support the many, various subsidized housing projects throughout Arlandria and to create new affordable units in any new development. And since Arlandria residents have the longest commute time in the City, bringing businesses and jobs to the community could go a long way toward stabilizing the neighborhood. The collective impression of the panel was positive - that the small improvements and development would improve the livability of the neighborhood while maintaining the diversity that gives Arlandria its character.

The group was left with a thought-provoking question from the panel: “What do YOU want Arlandria to be?”

“What we learned and discussed were existing hindrances to redevelopment, existing opportunities and assets, and strategies that can strengthen the ‘sense of place’ in Arlandria and encourage appropriate redevelopment. Our panelists re-affirmed that selecting and implementing these strategies will require the collaboration and partnership of the community, property owners, developers, and the City,” said Contreras.

Vision from the Arlandria Plan, 2003
The organizers and expert panelists were all clear that without community involvement, Arlandria revitalization could continue to stall. If you are interested in seeing the vision of ‘”A new day for Arlandria” become a reality, please start by watching the video, taking this survey, and passing it on to your friends and neighbors. Please share your comments and ideas here in the comments section of the Arlandrian. If you would like to be involved in executing some grass-roots initiatives locally or representing Arlandria at upcoming council meetings, contact Melissa, Kevin or Nick here on the Arlandrian blog or at: info@arlandria.org.
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